U.S. politics has never been pretty. Even as the colonists declared their independence from England, they were busy arguing with one another. Rather than Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives), however, the early Americans were divided between the Republicans (liberals) and the Federalists (conservatives). If you find political fighting today abhorrent, just imagine what it was like before political correctness!

In 1800, Benjamin Nones, a veteran of Washington’s army who was awarded a citation for bravery while serving in General Pulaski’s legion, discovered the no-holds-barred methods of American politics, the hard way. Following the Republican convention in Philadelphia, the local Federalist newspaper included a vicious attack against Nones (who had attended the convention), decrying him as “a Jew, a Republican and poor.”

Nones’ response, which had to be published in a different newspaper, was both passionate and eloquent: “I am a Jew. I glory in belonging to that persuasion, which even its opponents, whether Christian or Mahomedan, allow to be of divine origin…which has preserved its faith secure and undefined, for nearly three thousand years…”

About his Republicanism he was equally eloquent: “In republics we have rights, in monarchies we live but to experience wrongs…How then can a Jew but be a Republican?”

Nones was certainly poor. An immigrant from France, he arrived just before the war. After the war, he tried to make a living as a notary, but with a large family at home (he had 14 children) money was always tight.

Nones was an active member of Philadelphia’s Jewish community. He served on the board of the Society of Ezrath Orchim and was the president of Congregation Mikveh Israel. Nones, who was also known for his abolitionist views, died in 1826.

This Treat was written in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, which is celebrated in May.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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