Sarna, Jonathan D. “When General Grant Expelled he Jews”, Nextbook, 2012.
A Forgotten Episode of American History
I do not know why I had never heard about this episode in our history as it is fascinating. In the middle of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the expulsion of all Jews in the territory under his command. Jonathan Sarna gives us the first complete look at this and we see how Jews were galzanized and how this transformed his later presidency. Needless to say this left a lasting mark on the politics of this country. Grant is one of the presidents that we do not know much about amd it was during his time that the debate on group loyalty vs. national loyalty raged and, in fact, continues to this day.
This is a non fiction account although it certainly seems like fiction. In 1862 Grant issued General Order No. 11 which expelled all Jews from his military district— Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Grant felt that this would hinder smuggling in and out of the war zone and those responsible for it, Grant thougth, were the Jews. Many people and even some under his control were working in the smuggling profession (for lack of a better word). The order caused great dissension among the Jews and evfentually Grant was able to step back, recoup and gain Jewish support for his presidency. One can only wonder how something like this was able to happen and Sarna explains clearly how this obvious anti-Semetic activity came to take place in this country. Here is the order in its original wording:
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 [of theTennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.
I cannot imagine the uproar in the Jewish community especially for those who came to America after the terrible things that were happening to them in Europe. The book, however, is not about the impact at the time the order was issued but what happened afterwards. Grant tried to atone for the sake of the Jewish community and he began to form relationships with Jewish leaders and actually became quite sympathetic to the Jews. He was able to get his place back and he even had a Jewish pallbearer at his funeral.
Sarna gives us an exciting read and it is a well written look at a period we really know little about. Sarna appears sympathetic to Grant and he shows how he tried to make amends for what he did. I find it hard to accept his issuance of the order and I suppose I am stubborn but no apology would have been enough for me. To answer Groucho Marx’s question as to who is buried in Grant’s tomb, I now know the answer to be a politician and an anti-Semite.
- Posted in: Judaica