On this day in 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant lashes out at at Jewish cotton speculators, who he believed were the driving force behind the black market for cotton, and issues an order expelling all Jewish people from his military district, which encompassed parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.
At the time, Grant was trying to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. Grant’s army now effectively controlled much territory in western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and parts of Kentucky and Arkansas. Grant had to deal with numerous speculators who followed his army in search of cotton. Cotton supplies were very short in the North, and these speculators could buy bales in the captured territories and sell it quickly for a good profit. In December 1862, Grant’s father came to visit him along with friends from Ohio. Grant soon realized that the friends, who were Jewish, were speculators hoping to gain access to captured cotton. Grant was furious and fired off his notorious Order No. 11: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from receipt of this order.”
This didn't last long.
The fallout from his action was swift. Among 30 Jewish families expelled from Paducah, Kentucky, was Cesar Kaskel, who rallied support in Congress against the order. Shortly after the uproar, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Grant to rescind the order. Grant later admitted to his wife that the criticism of his hasty action was well deserved. As Julia Grant put it, the general had “no right to make an order against any special sect.”
Not surprisingly, Grant’s order got a good deal of attention in the 1868 presidential campaign — the first time a “Jewish issue” played a role in presidential politics. Grant didn’t deny that General Orders No. 11 had grossly violated core American values. “I do not sustain that order,” he wrote humbly. “It would never have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection.”
But it was as president that the full extent of Grant’s regret became clear. He opposed a movement to make the United States an explicitly Christian state through a constitutional amendment designating Jesus as “ruler among the nations.” He named more Jews to government office than any of his predecessors — including to positions, such as governor of the Washington Territory, previously considered too lofty for a Jewish nominee.
Grant became the first American president to openly speak out against the persecution of Jews abroad. In response to anti-Jewish pogroms in Romania, he took the unprecedented step of sending a Jewish consul-general to Bucharest to “work for the benefit of the people who are laboring under severe oppression.” All in all, the eight years of Grant’s presidency proved to be a “golden age” in US Jewish history. When he died in 1885, he was mourned in synagogues nationwide.
It was a remarkable saga of atonement. From scourge of the Jews to their great friend in Washington; from the general who trampled Jewish liberty to the president who made protection of their rights a priority. Only in America.
Thanks a lot, Jewlysses S. Grant.
Oh there's also this little clarification:
What tangible damage did the expulsion do? Very little, as far as Mr. Sarna, chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History and the co-editor of “Jews and the Civil War: A Reader” can tell. He can provide no individual accounts of families fleeing the order, no more than four affidavits about the expulsion and no reports of physical hardship beyond those who claimed they had been jailed briefly, treated roughly or forbidden from changing out of wet clothes. It is not the magnitude of the incident that makes it so enduring, ugly or willfully ignored.
This could have been anuddah shoah!