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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Subordinates enforced the order at once in the area surrounding Grant's headquarters in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Some Jewish traders had to trudge 40 miles on foot to evacuate the area. In Paducah, Kentucky, military officials gave the town's 30 Jewish families--all long-term residents, none of them speculators, and at least two of them Union Army veterans--24 hours to leave.

Fighting the Order

A group of Paducah's Jewish merchants led by Cesar Kaskel dispatched an indignant telegram to President Lincoln condemning Grant's order as an "enormous outrage on all laws and humanity... the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it." Jewish leaders organized protest rallies in St. Louis, Louisville, and Cincinnati, and telegrams reached the White House from the Jewish communities of Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.

Cesar Kaskel arrived in Washington on January 3, 1863. Two days earlier, the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect. Kaskel conferred with influential Jewish Republican Adolphus Solomons and then went with Cincinnati Congressman John A. Gurley directly to the White House. Lincoln received them promptly, studied Kaskel's copies of General Order No. 11 and the specific order expelling Kaskel from Paducah, and commanded Halleck to order Grant to revoke General Order No. 11. Grant complied three days later.

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led by Rabbi Isaac M. Wise of Cincinnati called on Lincoln to express its gratitude that Grant's order had been rescinded.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

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.