January 22, 2017
Seth Bornstein By Seth Bornstein, Executive Director, Queens Economic Development Corp.
Dear President Trump:
Washington, DC – The peaceful transition of power in this country is remarkable. Since George Washington handed over the reins of government to John Adams in 1797, we have set the standard for the rest of the world.
What happens tomorrow is part of a great historical trajectory that has never failed us.That’s because we have a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” as Abraham Lincoln wrote.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Back when it was New Amsterdam in the 1600s, New York City was more of a fiefdom. Director-General Peter Stuyvesant made the rules and bucked little resistance. In 1657, he butted heads with residents of a town called “Vlissingen,” which is now known as Flushing. As you know, Queens people can be a little feisty. But even in the 17th century, they had a tolerant “live and let live” attitude. I think that’s because our predecessors weren’t impressed with heritage, religion or family connections; it’s always been about who you are as a person. So when the dear Director-General banned the practicing of all religions except that of the Dutch Reformed Church — which clearly went against the evolving trend of religious tolerance — Vlissingen residents were ticked off in a major way. And like any in-your-face Queensite, they made their thoughts known. Four hundred and nine years prior to the advent of Twitter, they got together and wrote a letter to the authorities in the Netherlands, the European country that charted New Amsterdam.
The Flushing Remonstrance was one of the first documents in which citizens articulated a right to religious freedom. The authors were taking a big risk and looking out for the minorities in their community. They stated that the “law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sons of Adam…” Some of the signers were arrested, but the leadership in the Netherlands eventually supported the Remonstrance, and in 1663, Director General Stuyvesant had to end religious persecution.
Talk about chutzpah! The words and actions of these Queens folks laid the foundation for religious freedom…and all the other rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments of the Constitution. For this reason, I keep a copy of the Remonstrance in my office. This ballsy little document is a constant reminder of how our country evolved for the betterment of its citizenry. More importantly, it’s a testament to the power of doing the right thing.
I’m taking the liberty of sending you a framed copy. You might wish to place it in your office. If so, I hope it serves as a reminder of your Queens roots and our country’s origins as a multi-cultural democracy. May it be a source of strength for you, too.
Seth Bornstein, Executive Director,
Queens Economic Development Corp.