A Brief History
On December 17, 1862, the stormy history of civil rights in United States was once again shamefully marred when Major General Ulysses S. Grant, future President of the United States, issued his infamous General Order No. 11 which expelled all Jews from Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi, the states in the military district he commanded.
It seems the smuggling and black marketing common to most war zones was grating on Grants nerves, and like so many people before and after him, he figured the Jews were to blame. Besides being responsible to win the war militarily, Grant was also responsible for all trade and commerce within the territories he controlled.
Not sure if they were going to be expelled as well, some Jewish officers voluntarily resigned. Irate members of the Jewish community made sure that word quickly got to Washington, and an outraged President Lincoln had the order was rescinded just a few weeks after it had been issued.
Later, when Grant became a politician and ran for the Presidency, the issue of his blatantly discriminatory order was brought up again. Like any good politician he deflected blame; in his case, he claimed that a subordinate had drafted the order and that he had signed it without reading it.
Although this explanation still makes Grant seem like a slipshod administrator, the fact that he had written a letter to the Assistant Secretary of War explaining his reasons for issuing the order certainly makes it seem like an intentional act. Apparently, “Expulsion-Gate,” as the incident might have been called today, was not enough to ruin a political career back then, as Grant was elected and then reelected President. Surprisingly, Grant captured a majority of the Jewish vote!
History and Headlines Epilogue: In 1874, Grant became the first U.S. President to attend a religious service in a Jewish Synagogue when he was present for the dedication of the Adas Israel Congregation in the capital. It might have been an effort on his part to atone for his poorly considered order a dozen years previously.
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