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A painting of George Washington
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“To whatever nation they might belong.”
LAND OF THE FREE

George Washington promised that refugees would find “safe and agreeable asylum” in the United States

Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor

In the wake of US president Donald Trump’s executive order barring and restricting refugees from several Muslim-majority countries, some Americans are unearthing past expressions of the country’s generosity to those fleeing the threat of violence abroad.

A letter from the country’s founding father to a refugee from another era is among the artifacts being shared on social media: In 1787, first US president George Washington wrote to the Dutch political revolutionary Francis Adrian Van der Kemp to welcome to him the United States. Van Der Kamp was one of 40,000 refugees who left the Netherlands after an unsuccessful political uprising.

Washington was touched by the plight of Van Der Kamp and his fellow refugees. He assured Van Der Kamp that the United States would be a place where those who have faced devastation might “settle themselves in comfort, freedom and ease.”

A portion of that letter is quoted below:

I had always hoped that this land might become a safe & agreeable Asylum to the virtuous & persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong; but I shall be the more particularly happy, if this Country can be, by any means, useful to the Patriots of Holland, with whose situation I am peculiarly touched, and of whose public virtue I entertain a great opinion.

You may rest assured, Sir, of my best & most friendly sentiments of your suffering compatriots, and that, while I deplore the calamities to which many of the most worthy members of your Community have been reduced by the late foreign interposition in the interior affairs of the United Netherlands; I shall flatter myself that many of them will be able with the wrecks of their fortunes which may have escaped the extensive devastation, to settle themselves in comfort, freedom and ease in some corner of the vast regions of America.

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