Sunday, December 23, 2007

Grant, Lincoln, and General Order Number 11

Expelling Jews has long been associated with European pogroms. The concept that Jews should be removed (or killed) is not something that is thought of as a part of American history. But it has happened. General Grant, under the auspices of the Lincoln Administration, did indeed order an expulsion of Jews.

Bonnie Goodman at the History News Network wrote December 17, 1862: Grant Issues General Order No. 11 Against the Jews. In it, she details the history of this shameful event.

Goodman wrote, " December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order Number 11, expelling Jews from areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. General Order Number 11 stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-semitism on a large scale. The anti-Semitic order had deeper roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice."

Here is the text of the order:

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 [the "Department of the Tennessee," an administrative district of the Union Army of occupation composed of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi] 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.

Needless to say, this order did not go down well. Although many Southern Jews supported the rebellious Confederacy (such as Confederate Cabinet member Judah P. Benjamin), many Jews were loyal to the Union. Large numbers of Jews were members of the Union Army and they objected to this order as well.

Lincoln wisely moved to nullify this order. Goodman noted, "Lincoln ordered General Halleck, General in Chief of the Army, to revoke the order immediately. Halleck wrote to Grant on January 4, 'A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells [sic] all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.' Grant complied three days later, but mass evacuation of the Jewish communities in Holly Springs and Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky had already been carried out."

Despite the swift action by Lincoln, this still stands out as a bad case of antisemitism in American history. During war time, civil right violations occur frequently and are even sometimes justified. The American Civil War was the most serious challenge to the United States in American history. Lincoln frequently violated the civil rights of Americans during his presidency which probably made him the most unpopular American President in history during his administration. (The critics of President George W. Bush are mild compared to southern opinions of Lincoln...)

However, this order by Grant is troubling. Goodman offers reasons why the future President Grant made this decision. Thankfully, Grant did not allow antisemitism to impact his presidency.


June said...

I never knew this, but it doesn't surprise me that it happened. Our history books tend to make past times seem stoic and noble when in reality they were just as...if not more...crazy than today. I just saw the movie "Charlie Wilson's War". It does a good job of revealing just how the world works. It ain't pretty and it ain't tidy.

Levi said...

I am a fourth generation descendant of Jews expelled by General Order 11. My family, on both sides ended up in Mexico. My family was British on both sides, and worked as cotton brokers. It surprises me how easily American history books 'forget' some things. said...

Levi, if you see this post, would you PLEASE contact me? I would very much like to talk to you about your family's history. Thank you very much.

LogBlurr said...

Levi, you are correct that information is left out. Whether it be a history book or a culture's view about a sensitive subject. The British were against the United States a hundred years earlier. And the South was looking to get support from Britain. The Confederates had British guns as had been Grant's experience. Jewish were not allowed permits to go South of Columbus yet Jews with carpet sacks were still showing-up having great access through waterways perhaps. This was a belief. But who can say it was unfounded that is using facts instead of emotionally passionate claims? I'd like more information in this area.