Dec 2: Defining Events in American History
Today marks the dedication of the first American synogogue which would become a focal point in our nation’s commitment to freedom of religion. It also is the anniversary of (i) the Monroe Doctrine which has defined U.S. foreign policy in the America’s for two centuries and (ii) the censure of Republican Senator Joe McCarthy which remains a powerful reminder of how national security hysteria can lead to abuses of power.
Dedication of Nation’s First Synagogue
Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, the first synagogue in what will become the United States was dedicated on this date. The synagogue is is the oldest surviving synagogue in North America and only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. from the colonial era.
In 1790, the synagogue’s warden, Moses Seixas, wrote to President Washington expressing his support for Washington’s administration. Washington replied quoting from the Old Testament that
“every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
Washington’s letter is read annually at Touro, with past speakers including Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
The Monroe Doctrine
In his State of the Union message, President James Monroe proclaims American neutrality in future European conflicts, but warns European powers not to interfere in the Americas. Monroe’s declaration was seen as a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets.
Senate Censors Joe McCarthy
The Senate voted 67 to 22 to condemn Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) for acting “contrary to senatorial ethics and tended to bring the Senate into dishonor and disrepute, to obstruct the constitutional processes of the Senate, and to impair its dignity”.
McCarthy had engaged in anti-communist witch hunt, recklessly making unsubstantiated allegations against individuals in and out of government. Denunciations by the U.S. Army Counsel Joseph Welch in which he responded to an attack,
Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness …Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
It led CBS’ Edward R. Murrow to condemn McCarthy
His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men—not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.