On this week of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, my thoughts go back to the first day of Hanukkah in 1862.
We think we are so safe in our homes, but history teaches us that situation can change in seconds.
On that day, December 17, 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order 11, which ordered all Jews living in parts of three states under Federal military control to vacate their homes and leave those states within 24 hours. It is a sad, and not well known, incident of the United States Civil War.
A copy of the order can be viewed online.
The history of why Grant issued this order can be read at the links above, but to summarize, some Jewish merchants (and Christian merchants also) were engaged in the sale of black market cotton, which benefited the Confederacy.
This is 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 [of the Tennessee] 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."
What happened next? Newspapers all over the country (thanks to the Associated Press) took up the cause of the displaced Jews. Others felt it was a correct decision. Some Jews decided to visit Lincoln in person to plead their cause. Quoting from the Sun Sentinel article above:
"A Jewish merchant from Paducah named Cesar Kaskel traveled to Washington on a mission to have the order overturned. Upon arrival he was able to arrange through an Ohio congressman a meeting with the president."
When Lincoln hard about the order, he immediately countermanded it. Please keep in mind that during this period, Lincoln was getting ready to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which would free slaves in states in active rebellion against the United States - while meanwhile, General Grant was expelling another minority from their homes.
And what about Grant? He repented this order both publically and privately, but it followed him for the rest of his life. As students of history know, after the War ended, General Grant ran for President in 1868. General Order 11 was a campaign issue. In his defense, Grant (after the fact, of course) said:
"I have no prejudice against sect or race, but want each individual to be judged by his own merit. Orders No. 11 does not sustain this statement, I admit, but then I do not sustain that order. It never would have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection."
Could Jews vote for Grant? They could, and they did. Grant won the election.
History teaches us many things. With the 150th anniversary of our Civil War, we will learn a lot about a chapter of our history that still has relevance to us today.