From the Jewish Library: U.S. Grant and the Jews

 

When General Grant Expelled the Jews  by Jonathan D. Sarna, Publisher: Schocken, 2012

By Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

Sheila Orysiek

SAN DIEGO — The American Civil War tested the character, fortitude as well as the civic structure of the United States such as in suspending the Writ of Habeas Corpus.  The outcome of the war would determine if race, ethnicity or color  could legally be a factor in limiting access to the rights of citizenship.

Religion was also – from the very beginning of colonization – part of the picture. Many areas of the country were virulently anti-Catholic.  Others believed that “pagans” such as Chinese, should be banned.  The war then exposed another underlying religious bias.  The cauldron was now further stirred as the country divided between loyalties to the North and South.

Living in the midst of this volatile mix were small communities of Jewish citizens.  During the Civil War, they, too, were divided; some fighting for the North and some for the South.  Many took up arms, many suffered physically, emotionally as well as economically.  However, as is almost always the way in human affairs, there were also those who took advantage of the chaos of the time to enhance their personal fortunes.

On Dec, 17, 1862, angered by speculators and smugglers who were making a profit from aiding the South, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11 which stated that:  “The Jews, as a class, violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Dept. and also (military) department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within 24 hrs from the receipt of this order.”

Grant’s department covered a huge area stretching from the State of Mississippi to Illinois and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.  The key words “as a class” represented the first time that an official government document punished an entire group of people for the nefarious activities of a few.  The next occasion would be almost 100 yrs later when President F. D. Roosevelt meted out much the same punishment to the Japanese community.

And yet, by the time of his death, Grant had earned the accolades and friendship of almost every Jewish leader and spokesman.  How did that happen?

Well, read the book……………

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Orysiek is a freelance writer who specializes in the arts and literature.  She may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

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