27 August 2019
Donald Trump is the latest United States president to be cast as a “Christian Zionist,” but it’s a legacy that began two centuries ago with John Adams. The reasoning behind Trump’s support of a Jewish homeland, however, differs sharply from the second president’s belief system, which was recorded in 1819 with musings to a friend about “restoring” an independent Jewish nation to Israel.
After leaving the White House in 1801, Adams maintained correspondence with Mordechai Manuel Noah, the most famous American Jew of his era. Of Sephardic background, Noah wore many hats, including those of diplomat, judge, surveyor, and playwright.
It was as a diplomat that Noah’s religion played a role, however. Evoking the current conversation about “disloyal” American Jews initiated by President Trump, in 1815 Noah was recalled from a posting in Tunis, due — officially — to his religion. Noah’s Judaism, it was said, “[formed] a bar to the exercise of his consular functions,” forcing president James Madison to dismiss him. (Rumor has it, however, that also business interests back home were irked by Noah’s ransom payments to the pirates who’d been terrorizing American merchant ships for so many years.)
In 1819, Noah returned from yet another trip abroad and sent Adams a copy of his travel memoir. Soon afterwards, Noah received a warm response from the 84-year-old legend.