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December 17: General Grant’s General Orders

Lawrence Bush
December 17, 2016
General Ulysses S. Grant’s General Order No. 11, ordering the expulsion of all Jews in his military district in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky, was issued on this date in 1862 as part of his effort to crack down on black-marketeering during the Civil War. The order would be revoked at President Lincoln’s insistence on January 17th of the following year, following extensive protest by the Jewish community about Jews being singled out -- and “in the end,” writes Jonathan Sarna in When General Grant Expelled the Jews, “General Orders No. 11 greatly strengthened the American Jewish community” by allowing it to discover its political power as a community. Grant had previously shown signs of anti-Jewish prejudice in July, 1862, when he he had instructed the commander of the District of Mississippi to “examine all baggage of all speculators coming south . . . Jews should receive special attention.” Once he won election as President, however, he made a public statement about having “no prejudice against sect or race . . . [General Orders No. 11] never would have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection.” "[N]o president prior to Grant did as much for individual Jews in America and in support of Jews oppressed in foreign lands. Grant spoke out against the conduct of the Russian government towards its Jews in 1869, and in defense of Romanian Jewry the following year, even appointing a Jew, Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, as U.S. consul in Bucharest, where Peixotto actively worked to defend Romania’s Jews while also encouraging their emigration to the U.S. The President’s conduct was a break with precedent: Buchanan, for example, had refused to speak out on the Mortara case of 1858, one of the most notorious anti-Semitic incidents of the period, in which a Jewish child in Italy was taken from his parents, with papal support, after his family’s servant revealed she had baptized him in secrecy." --Mitchell Abidor, Jewish Currents.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.