Newport, Rhode Island’s Presidential Legacy:
Newport, Rhode Island has a rich and storied presidential history, receiving its first official presidential visit in August 1790 when President George Washington visited Newport to celebrate the state’s May 1790 ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
President George Washington in Newport, RI
President George Washington was accompanied by a delegation including Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Governor George Clinton of New York, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Blair of Virginia, and U.S. Congressman William Loughton Smith of South Carolina.
The presidential party arrived in Newport on the morning of August 17th after setting sail from New York City aboard the packet Hancock on August 15. The day was filled with tours, ceremonies, and an evening banquet at Town Hall. While in Newport they lodged at Mrs. Almay’s boarding house. They left Newport early on the morning of the 18th and arrived in Providence that afternoon after a seven-hour trip.
Perhaps the most significant result of Washington’s visit to Newport was the letter he wrote in response to Moses Seixas, warden of the Touro Synagogue, who wrote to the president seeking assurance of religious freedom for Jews. President Washington responded with a letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport” which gave an unequivocal guarantee that the new government would “give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
In what is now known as the Touro Synagogue Letter, President Washington, a year before the Bill of Rights was ratified, reassured those who had fled religious tyranny that life in their new nation would be different, that religious “toleration” would give way to religious liberty, and that the government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and belief.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower kept a Summer White House in Newport, Rhode Island from 1957 to 1960, in a home at Fort Adams now known as “The Eisenhower House”. While in Newport, President Eisenhower signed the 1957 Civil Rights Act, a bill aimed to ensure that all African Americans could exercise their right to vote, and Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect nine African American children integrating a public school.
President Eisenhower was as an avid golfer and was known to have played at least 47 rounds of golf at Newport Country Club during his presidency. He was also frequently seen around driving around Newport in his convertible
President John F. Kennedy in Newport, RI
Of all the Presidents of the United States, JFK is the most identifiable with Newport, Rhode Island. On September 12, 1953 Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier at St. Mary’s Church in Newport.
Senator and Mrs. Kennedy were prominent members of the Newport Society crowd and were frequently seen at Bailey’s Beach, sailing on Narragansett Bay and attending various balls and parties on Bellevue Avenue.
President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy used Hammersmith Farm as their Summer White House from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.