Anglo-Jewry and the Development of American Jewish Life, 1775-1850

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AMERICAN political independence, declared in 1776, was followed by decades of cultural dependence on Great Britain. Sydney Smith's famous taunt in 1820, ^"In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book ? or goes to an American play ? or looks at an American picture or statue ?" evoked small response, for in truth even Americans were reading British books and going to British plays. In the decades between 1775 and 1850, however, Americans began to achieve a national culture independent of that of Britain. It is impossible to fix a date in which the balance of cultural payments shifted to favour America; according to many Europeans, it never has. In the major areas of American cultural life, however, the six decades between 1790 and 1850 may be noted as the years in which Americans, proud of their political independence, began to seek their destiny as a civilization without deference to that of Great Britain.

small aspect of the cultural relationship between America and Britain during these years is the influence of English Jews in American Jewish life. This influence was exceedingly limited, and is certainly not a decisive factor in the development of American Jewry during this period. Once I had thought differently and sought to establish conclusively a period of Anglo-Jewish dominance in American Jewish history, when the forms and conventions of Anglo-Jewry, developed in response to peculiarly British conditions, were transported to America, there to shape the incipient communities. This would, I had hoped, have established an English "period" of American Jewish history to stand alongside the preceding "Sephardic era" and the subsequent "German" and "Russian" periods. Since I do not share the morality of historians who seek to prove what did not happen, I present the discussion that follows as a brief assessment of the specific influences of Anglo-Jewry in America well aware that these influences stand apart, though not isolated, from the mainstream of American Jewish history.

Two basic facts have become clear. First, that some American Jews were born and raised in England. These "Anglo-American" Jews fall into two categories : first, the pre-revolutionary Anglo-Jewish families who sent representatives across the Atlantic to America, with such names well-known in both countries as Hendricks, Franks, Gomez, and Waag2; and second, the immigrants who came both before and after the American Revolution from the lower social strata of English Jewry. A third group deserve con? sideration : the immigrants who were born on the continent, came to England, and from here to America. England was for two centuries the gateway to America; immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe frequently came to England intending to go no further and they or their children came on to the United States. These people came under the influence of Anglo-Jewish life for varying periods, but to some extent all had become oriented toward the religious and social institutions of England before coming to America. The second category of immigrant may be embodied in Simon Nathan,

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