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Handout D: From Toleration to Liberty Document Guide

Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation Document Guide

Directions: Using Handout A, context clues and/or a dictionary, white a short definition for each of the following words. Then answer the questions that follow.


  1. liberal
  2. liberty of conscience
  3. immunities
  4. indulgence
  5. inherent
  6. natural rights
  7. bigotry
  8. sanction
  9. persecution
  10. demean
  11. effectual
  12. merit

Context Questions:

  1. Who wrote this document?
  2. When was this document written?
  3. What was the purpose of this document?

Comprehension Questions:

  1. What does Washington believe will maintain Americans as a “great and happy people”?
  2. What does Washington declare that all in America possess?
  3. Put the following excerpt of Washington’s letter into your own words: “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 natural rights.”
  4. Put the following excerpt of Washington’s letter into your own words: “… the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…”
  5. What, according to Washington, are the only requirements of citizenship?

Critical Thinking Questions:

  1. Keeping in mind that “toleration” refers to a government policy, was Washington correct that we have moved from religious toleration to religious liberty?
  2. Is there any significance in the fact that Washington closed his letter with a prayer?
  3. One historian has described Washington’s letter as articulating the “conscience of a nation” with respect to religious liberty. How would you assess that claim? Explain.
  4. Religious conflict has been prevalent and bloody throughout world history. Why do you think that, with a few exceptions, Americans of various faiths have been able to live side by side in peace? Explain.


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