(It is unfortunate to me that as this article stands, the bulk of it was work done by others, not me, and I cannot take credit — feel free to copy as you wish. My intent was to expand what I could find, and I did so, but it turns out that other sources were very thorough and the independent research I would be proud of is largely absent here, at least for now. I keep this article on the page because I feel it is a little-known part of history, and also in hopes that I will some day expand it.)
General Order No. 11 was the title of an order issued by Major-General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, during the American Civil War. It became notorious for its instruction for the expulsion of all Jews in his military district comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. The order was issued as part of a campaign against a black market in Southern cotton, which Grant thought was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders”.
Following protests from Jewish community leaders and an outcry by members of Congress and the press, it was revoked a few weeks later by order of President Abraham Lincoln. Grant later claimed it had been drafted by a subordinate and that he had signed it without reading.
Despite the ongoing civil war, an extensive trade in cotton persisted between the North and South. Northern textile mills were dependent on Southern cotton, while the trade with the North was needed for the economic survival of Southern plantation owners. A limited trade was permitted by the US Government, under license by the Treasury and the US Army. However, this system led to extensive opportunities for corruption, with unlicensed traders bribing army officers to allow them to buy Southern cotton without a permit.
Grant was responsible for issuing trade licenses in the Department of Tennessee, an administrative district of the Union Army that comprised the portions of Kentucky and Tennessee west of the Tennessee River, and Union-controlled areas of northern Mississippi. At the same time, he was heavily engaged in prosecuting the campaign to capture the heavily defended Confederate-held city of Vicksburg, Mississippi and was under pressure to deliver results. He resented having to deal with the distraction of the cotton trade and was angered by the endemic corruption of the system which saw “every colonel, captain or quartermaster … in a secret partnership with some operator in cotton”. He became convinced that Jews were mostly responsible for the black market in cotton and issued a number of directives aimed at black marketeers.
On November 9, 1862, he sent an order to Major-General Stephen A. Hurlbut directing that he “Refuse all permits to come south of Jackson for the present. The Israelites especially should be kept out.” The following day he instructed General Webster to “Give orders to all the conductors on the road that no Jews are to be permitted to travel on the railroad southward from any point. They may go north and be encouraged in it; but they are such an intolerable nuisance that the department must be purged of them.” In a letter to General William Tecumseh Sherman, he explained that his policy was occasioned “in consequence of the total disregard and evasion of orders by Jews”.
The continuing prevalence of the illegal cotton trade prompted Grant to tighten restrictions further. On December 8, 1862, he issued General Order No. 2 mandating that “cotton-speculators, Jews and other Vagrants having not honest means of support, except trading upon the miseries of their Country … will leave in twenty-four hours or they will be sent to duty in the trenches.” Nine days later, on December 17, 1862, he issued his General Order No. 11 to strengthen his earlier prohibition.
Grant’s father Jesse Grant was involved; General James H. Wilson later explained, “There was a mean nasty streak in old Jesse Grant. He was close and greedy. He came down into Tennessee with a Jew trader that he wanted his son to help, and with whom he was going to share the profits. Grant refused to issue a permit and sent the Jew flying, prohibiting Jews from entering the line.” Grant, Wilson felt, could not strike back directly at the “lot of relatives who were always trying to use him” and perhaps struck instead at what he maliciously saw as their counterpart — opportunistic traders who were Jewish. Bertram Korn has suggested that the order was part of a consistent pattern. “This was not the first discriminatory order [Grant] had signed […] he was firmly convinced of the Jews’ guilt and was eager to use any means of ridding himself of them.”
General Order No. 11 decreed as follows:
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.
In a letter of the same date sent to Christopher Parsons Wolcott, the assistant United States Secretary of War, Grant explained 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.”
And further, “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.”
The order went into immediate effect, with Jewish traders and families in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky being forced to leave the territory. Such a sweeping interpretation may not have been intended by Grant; his headquarters expressed no objection to the continued presence of Jewish sutlers, as opposed to cotton traders. However, the wording of the order singled out all Jews, irrespective of their occupation, and it was implemented accordingly.
A group of Jewish merchants from Paducah, led by Cesar J. Kaskel, dispatched a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln in which they condemned the order as “the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it”. The telegram noted it would “place us . . . as outlaws before the world. We respectfully ask your immediate attention to this enormous outrage on all law and humanity ….” Throughout the Union, Jewish groups protested and sent telegrams to Washington, D.C.
The issue attracted significant attention in Congress and from the press. The Democrats condemned the order as part of what they saw as the US Government’s systematic violation of civil liberties and tabled a motion of censure against Grant in the Senate, attracting thirty votes in favor against seven opposed. Some newspapers supported Grant’s action; the Washington Chronicle criticized Jews as “scavengers … of commerce”. Most, however, were strongly opposed, with the New York Times denouncing the order as “humiliating” and a “revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.” Its editorial column called for the “utter reprobation” of Grant’s order.
Kaskel led a delegation to Washington, D.C., arriving there on January 3, 1863. In Washington, he conferred with Jewish Republican Adolphus Solomons and a Cincinnati congressman, John A. Gurley. After meeting with Gurley, he went directly to the White House. Lincoln received the delegation and studied Kaskel’s copies of General Order No. 11 and the specific order expelling Kaskel from Paducah. The President told General-in-Chief Henry Wager Halleck to have Grant revoke General Order No. 11, which Halleck did in the following message:
“A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.”
On January 5, a letter came from the United Order Bne B’rith Missouri Lodge of St. Louis, reading, “An Order, Expelling and Ostracising all Jews as a class has been issued by Maj. Genl U. S. Grant and has been enforced at Holly Springs, Trenton, Corinth, Paducah, Jackson and other places. In the name of the class of loyal citizens of these U.S. which we in part represent. In the name of hundreds, who have been driven from their houses, deprived of their liberty and injured in their property without having violated any law or regulation. In the name of the thousands of our Brethren and our children who have died and are now willingly sacrificing their lives and fortunes for the Union and the suppression of this rebellion. In the name of religious liberty, of justice and humanity-we Enter our solemn Protest against this Order, and ask of you — the Defender and Protector of the Constitution — to annull that Order and protect the liberties even of your humblest constituents.” The letter was signed by Secretary Morris Hoffman and President Henry Kuttner.
On January 6, a delegation led by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, called on Lincoln to express its gratitude for Lincoln’s support. Lincoln expressed surprise Grant issued such a command and said, “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad.” He stated he drew no distinction between Jew and Gentile and would allow no American to be wronged because of his religious affiliation.
January 8 brought a stronger condemnation from the Board of Delegates of American Israelites at a special meeting of its Executive Committee in New York. Henry Hart presided, and Myer S. Isaacs was secretary when the following resolutions were presented and adopted:
Be it therefore Resolved that we have heard with surprise and indignation intelligence that in this present Century and in this land of freedom and equality an Officer of the United States should have promulgated an order worthy of despotic Europe in the dark ages of the World’s history.
Resolved that in behalf of the Israelites of the United States, we enter our firm and determined protest against this illegal unjust and tyrannical mandate depriving American Citizens of the Jewish faith of their precious rights, driving them because of their religious profession, from their business and homes by the military authority and in pursuance of an inequitable prescription.
Resolved that the Israelites of the United States expect no more and will be content with no less than equal privileges with their fellow Citizens, in the enjoyment of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as guaranteed by the Constitution of this Republic.
Resolved that it is peculiarly painful to the Israelites of the United States, who have freely tendered their blood and treasure in defence of the Union they love, to observe this uncalled for and inequitable discrimination against them. Claiming to be second to no class of Citizens in support of the Constitutional government, they regard with sadness and indignation this contumely upon the Jewish name, this insult to them as a community, on the ostensible ground that individuals supposed to be Jews have violated “regulations of trade established by the Treasury Department and Department Orders.”
Resolved that it is in the highest degree obnoxious to them, as it must be to all fair minded American Citizens, for the general body to be made accountable for acts of particular persons supposed to belong to their denomination, but as has been frequently demonstrated, in many cases really professing other creeds. That if an individual be guilty of an infraction of discipline or offence against military law or treasury regulations, punishment should be visited upon him alone, and the religious community to which he is presumed to be attached, should not be subjected to insult, obloquy or disregard of its consitutional rights as a penalty for individual offences.
Resolved that the thanks of this Committee and of the Israelites of the United States be and they are hereby tendered to Major General H. W. Halleck, General in Chief U. S. A. for the promptness with which he revoked General Grant’s unjust and outrageous order, as soon as it was brought to his attention.
Resolved that a copy of these resolutions duly attested, be transmitted to the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, Major General Halleck and Major General Grant and that the same be communicated to the press for publication.
One of Halleck’s staff officers privately explained to Grant that the problem lay with the excessive scope of the order: “Had the word ‘pedlar’ been inserted after Jew I do not suppose any exception would have been taken to the order.” According to Halleck, Lincoln had “no objection to [his] expelling traitors and Jew peddlers, which I suppose, was the object of your order; but as in terms proscribing an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deemed it necessary to revoke it.” The Republican politician Elihu B. Washburne defended Grant in similar terms. However, Grant’s subordinates expressed concern at the order. One Jewish officer resigned in protest and Captain John C. Kelton, the assistant Adjutant-General of the Department of Missouri, wrote to Grant to note his order included all Jews, rather than focusing on “certain obnoxious individuals,” and pointed out the Jews serving in the Union Army. The order was politically unsustainable and Grant formally revoked it on January 17, 1863.
After the Civil War, General Order No. 11 became an issue in the presidential election of 1868 in which Grant stood as the Republican candidate. The Democrats raised the order as an issue, with the prominent Jewish Democrat and rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise urging fellow Jews to vote against Grant because of his alleged antisemitism. Grant repudiated the controversial order, asserting it had been drafted by a subordinate and he signed the document without reading. He wrote in reply to a correspondent:
“I do not pretend to sustain the order. At the time of its publication, I was incensed by a reprimand received from Washington for permitting acts which Jews within my lines were engaged in … The order was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a set or race to themselves, but simply as persons who had successfully … violated an order.”
The episode did not cause much long-term damage to his relationship with the American Jewish community and he won the presidential election, taking the majority of the Jewish vote and he later named several Jews to high office.
Synagogue Dedication of 1874
Grant’s General Order #11 of 1862 implied the deportation of Jewish Americans from certain military zones, but it was revoked before any such action was taken. The order damaged Grant’s reputation among many Jewish leaders. Although the motivations with Grant were political, Grant did his best to restore and maintain good relations with the Jewish community. In an effort of reconciliation, 12 years after the order, President Grant and all the members in his Cabinet attended a dedication of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. The dedication ceremony took place in 1874. This was the first time an American President attended a synagogue service.
The sources of this essay were taken from primarily online references. However, the inspiration came from the following book:
Gregory, Leland. Stupid American History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions Andrews McMeel, 2009.