Judaic Treasures of the
Fortunately, the Library does have a copy of the Kennedy speech in pamphlet form, Civil and Religious Privileges (Baltimore), 1823. We cite one passage:
What does our test law say to the Hebrews: It tells them that they shall perform all the duties, and bear all the burthens of citizens without enjoying common privileges ... We tell them your son may be all that is wise and good, he may take the first honors at school ... let him be as wise and patriotic as Washington, he never can represent the people in the legislature, or command them in the militia.... This bill ought to pass even if it was only to do justice to the long oppressed Hebrew; but it is not for their benefit alone; it is establishing a general principle ... sanctioned by reason, by religion and by common sense ... approved by the patriots of the revolution, sanctioned by wisdom and virtue and tested by experience ... Let us pass this bill ... even on a dying pillow it will comfort us to think that we have done at least one good act in our lives ... establishing religious freedom in Maryland ...
Lay old superstition low
Let the oppressed people go,
To the Bill none say no,
An enfranchising bill was passed in 1825 and confirmed a year later. In that year, 1826, three decades after framing the original petition, Solomon Etting was elected to the City Council and eventually rose to be its president.
In 1840, the head of a Franciscan monastery in Damascus disappeared. Thirteen Jews, including three rabbis, were accused of murdering the monk to use his blood for ritual purposes. Sixty-three Jewish children were taken hostage to force confessions, which were extracted under torture and later recanted by those tortured. Eventually, through the exertions of British and French Jewry, led by Sir Moses Montefiore and Adolphe Cremieux, the surviving accused-two had died under torture-were acquitted and released.
When news of this outrage reached American Jewry, it sprang into action. Meetings to protest the "Damascus Affair" were held in every Jewish community of size, and petitions were sent to the U.S. government urging the use of its good offices to effect the release of the accused undergoing torture. A full account of the meeting held at the Synagogue Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia, was published in a pamphlet, Persecution of the Jews in the East, Philadelphia, 1840. Reverend Isaac Leeser, the main speaker, proclaimed that "the Israelite is ever alive to the welfare of his distant brother, and sorrows with his sorrows." Abraham Hart, at thirty already a prominent publisher and communal leader, offered a resolution: "That we invite our brethren of Damascus to leave the land of persecution and torture and seek asylum in this free and happy land." Three leading Christian ministers in the City of Brotherly Love were present to express sympathy and pledge support.
The pamphlet concludes with copies of correspondence from the Jewish communities of Philadelphia and New York to President Martin Van Buren and the answering letters from the Secretary of State. The Jewish communities respectfully requested the president to instruct the American minister to Turkey and the consular officials accredited to the Pasha of Egypt "to co-operate with the Ambassadors and consuls of other powers, to procure for our accused brethren at Damascus and elsewhere an impartial trial ... [and] to prohibit the use of torture." The State Department had already sent such instructions, and those of Secretary of State John Forsyth to David Porter, American Minister to Turkey, sent August 17, 1840, are significant:
the President has directed me to instruct you to do everything in your power with ... the Sultan ... to prevent and mitigate these horrors.... The President is of the opinion that from no one can such generous endeavors proceed with so much propriety and effect, as from the Representative of a friendly power, whose institutions, political and civil, place on the same footing, the worshippers of God, of every faith and form, acknowledging no distinction between the Mahomedan, the Jew and the Christian.