General Grant and the Jews

The Civil War hero expelled Jews from three states until Lincoln made him rescind the order.

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On January 6th, a delegation led by Rabbi Isaac M. Wise of Cincinnati called on Lincoln to express its gratitude that Grant’s order had been rescinded. Lincoln received the delegation cordially, expressed surprise that Grant had issued such a command, and stated his conviction that “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad.” He drew no distinction between Jew and Gentile, the president said, and would allow no American to be wronged because of his religious affiliation.

After the war, Grant transcended his anti-Semitic reputation. He explained his actions by saying that he had signed the order, which had been prepared by a subordinate, without reading it. Grant carried the Jewish vote in the Presidential election of 1868 and named several Jews to high office. However, General Order No. 11 remains a blight on the military career of the general who saved the Union.

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Michael Feldberg, Ph.D. is executive director of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. From 1991 to 2004, he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, the nation's oldest ethnic historical organization, and from 2004 to 2008 was its director of research.

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