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Did Emma Lazarus Read a Letter Washington Wrote to LaFayette?

July 4, 2014

by beckandstone

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Independence Day, several documents well worth reading come to mind. You may wish to read Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, which on our site shows the words that would be deleted from the final version in italics, and the words that would be added in brackets. You might also read Calvin Coolidge’s speech in observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration—one of our collection of 50 Core Documents. But today your faithful blogger is  returning from a month spent with her French goddaughter Camille, a young person born in America who feels love for our country along with her love for and loyalty to France. So let us instead consider one of several warm letters written by George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette. This one, of June 25, 1785, shows Washington congratulating his friend on his safe return to France after a visit back to the young American republic whose independence he had helped to secure. It also shows Washington’s healthy priorities. Although America’s supreme leader in wartime, he writes to his friend that he will now speak of peace. This passage draws on language from the Sermon on the Mount while prefiguring that in Emma Lazarus‘s famous poem, which became the inscription on our State of Liberty—itself a gift from our friends in France. Vive les deux Républiques!

As the clouds which overspread your hemisphere are dispersing, and peace with all its concomitants is dawning upon your Land, I will banish the sound of War from my letter: I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment, Increase and Multiply: as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the oppressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden, or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither and abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey: the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro— the channels of Potomac and James river . . . .

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