All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.
Washington's wording is often confusing to modern ears and as a result, "it is now no more that toleration is spoken of" is often glossed over, yet it is at the heart of Washington's statement, his rejection of tolerance.
The idea of George Washington rejecting tolerance in a letter dedicated to promoting civic and religious freedom while rejecting bigotry seems odd to modern minds too attuned to political correctness, yet Washington was expressing an important idea that we have forgotten.
We have been taught that tolerance is a virtue, yet tolerance is no virtue, as Washington rightly wrote. Tolerance is an indulgence, the very word meaning that it is something that a superior class extends to another. Instead in his letter Washington laid out a vision of a nation based not on tolerance but on an equality based on the good republican virtues of civic participation.
When George Washington rejected tolerance, he was innately rejecting a system of inequality and that is exactly what today's emphasis on politically correct tolerance is. Washington rightly described tolerance as something the superior do to the inferior and behind all the liberal platitudes, it is precisely the inherently bigoted attitude behind today's modern tolerance fetish, for to tolerate people, they must be both unequal and odious, so that you must excuse their fundamental defects because of their inherent inequality.
That racist attitude is exactly what stands behind affirmative action in America or behind the willingness to "tolerate" illegal aliens, so long as they are a minority. It is the very attitude behind the "tolerance" for Islamic violence and terrorism. Behind the tolerance stands the intolerant idea that they are our inferiors and therefore we accept from them what we would not accept from each other.
Oppression and claims of inequality are typically used to justify the need for tolerance, those old standbys of class warfare, predating even Marxism and dating back to the violence and terror of the French Revolution when revolt became mob terror, all of it justified by inequality and oppression.
When George Washington wrote his letter to the Newport Synagogue it was 1790 and the French Revolution was beginning to prove unworthy of its ideals. Meanwhile his liberal opponents led by Jefferson were conducting a vicious campaign in support of the French Revolution and against Washington, for his increasing increasing detachment from the events abroad.
George Washington was rejecting unequal classes of people, seemingly privileged by "tolerance", yet in reality relegated to second class status by the political elite, who were happy to use them as a violent mob and yet were unwilling to grant them true equality. Washington instead laid out a quite different vision in a few brief lines for America, a vision of true political equality based on citizenship, not on tolerance by the political elite.
In Washington's America, there was to be no political elite that would extend "tolerance", instead there would be those who would choose to be good citizens and those who would not. That vision was subverted early on, first by Aaron Burr who helped form Tammany Hall, a corrupt political order that was based on political patronage and organized crime disguised as tolerance. The modern day democratic political machine politicians who preach tolerance are linear descendants of the New England and Southern political machines which would co-opt entire populations promising them tolerance.
But tolerance is an illusion, a smiley face drawn over inequality that corrupts the country and those who are "tolerated". Violence, hatred and poverty are bred in the shadow of "tolerance" because tolerance is ultimately a justification for failing to demand the same standard of conduct and commitment from everyone. And when a danger arises, tolerance demands that we shut our eyes to it rather than address it.
I close with one more line from Washington's letter.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.