Thursday, March 22, 2012

Did You Known that Jews Were Once Expelled from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Other Parts of the United States?

I like to think that I have a pretty good grasp of history. I’ve taken plenty of history courses and read plenty of history books over the years. I’m not suggesting that I’m an expert in all things historical or in all epochs or regions. But I do feel like my knowledge of American and Jewish history, in particular, is at least above average. That’s why I was so surprised when I learned about General Order No. 11 issued by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, in the midst of the Civil War.

What did General Order No. 11 say?

  1. 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 the Tennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
  2. 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.
  3. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.

On the same day that he issued General Order No. 11, Gen. Grant wrote to the Secretary of War to explain his reasoning:

I have long since believed that in spite of all the vigilance that can be infused into Post Commanders, that the Specie regulations of the Treasury Dept. have been violated, and that mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders. So well satisfied of this have I been at this that I instructed the Commdg Officer at Columbus [Kentucky] to refuse all permits to Jews to come south, and frequently have had them expelled from the Dept. [of the Tennessee]. But they come in with their Carpet sacks in spite of all that can be done to prevent it. The Jews seem to be a privileged class that can travel any where. They will land at any wood yard or landing on the river and make their way through the country. If not permitted to buy Cotton themselves they will act as agents for someone else who will be at a Military post, with a Treasury permit to receive Cotton and pay for it in Treasury notes which the Jew will buy up at an agreed rate, paying gold.

There is but one way that I know of to reach this case. That is for Government to buy all the Cotton at a fixed rate and send it to Cairo, St Louis, or some other point to be sold. Then all traders, they are a curse to the Army, might be expelled.


General Order No. 11 was revoked just a few weeks later on the orders of President Lincoln.

But still…

I’ll readily admit that I’m not a Civil War buff and that Reconstruction was my least favorite era of American history to study. But this I would have remembered.

Maybe it was discussed in one of the numerous days of Sunday School that I missed. Maybe I skimmed that particular chapter in one of the numerous history books that I read in high school and college. Maybe.

Anyway, I happened upon the story of General Order No. 11 a few nights ago when someone on Twitter posted a link to a fascinating, in depth article in Slate by Jonathan D. Sarna. The article is a bit on the long side, but for anyone interested in either Civil War or Reconstruction-era history or Jewish history, the article is well-worth reading. And no, the focus of the entire article is not on the immediate impact of General Order No. 11 on Jews and their expulsion. Rather, the article focuses on the aftermath of General Order No. 11 in the post-War era and, in particular, the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. One of the conclusions that Sarna draws is summed up by this paragraph:

[D]uring the eight years of Grant’s presidency, memories of General Orders No. 11 surfaced repeatedly. Eager to prove that he was above prejudice, Grant appointed more Jews to public office than any of his predecessors, and, in the name of human rights, extended unprecedented support to persecuted Jews in Russia and Romania. Time and again, partly as a result of his enlarged vision of what it meant to be an American and partly in order to live down General Orders No. 11, Grant consciously worked to assist Jews and secure them equality.

In other words, the focus of the article is on how one anti-Semitic act, taken on the basis of anti-Semitic stereotypes eventually led to greater inclusion of Jews in the political process.

Go. Read. Then come back and tell me what you think.

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At Thursday, March 22, 2012 4:21:00 PM , Blogger Greg Purvis said...

Sounds as if Grant was forced to examine his own subconscious and cultural prejudice, and woke up a bit. Rather as if he had a "What have I done?" moment. Good story, I was not aware of it either.


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