General Orders No. II

I’m continually being (pleasantly) surprised by historical facts I’ve not known.  There are undoubtedly many many more I don’t know – and look forward to the discoveries.

Jonathan D. Sarna’s novel, When General Grant Expelled the Jews “sheds light on one of our most enigmatic presidents, on the Jews of his day, and on the ongoing debate between group loyalty and national loyalty that continues to roil American political and social discourse.”

From the book:

Americans today are surprised to learn that Ulysses S. Grant once expelled “Jews as a class” from his war zone. It seems incredible that Jews could be grouped together as part of a single “class” and ordered from their homes. So it is instructive to remember that, for all of America’s much-vaunted distinctiveness, there was a brief moment, amid the horrors of the Civil War, when Old World prejudices displayed themselves. Some Jews at the time wondered whether their new homeland was coming to resemble antisemitic Europe at its worst.

In the end, only a few Jews were seriously affected by General Orders No. II. A fortunate communications breakdown and Abraham Lincoln’s prompt decision to revoke the order greatly limited its impact.

. . . Readers today who grew up hearing squalid tales of Ulysses S. Grant’s drunkenness, incompetence, and antisemitism will be surprised to learn that Jews had once viewed him more positively. Jews who lived during Grant’s own lifetime, however, would have been unsurprised. They had watched Grant rehabilitate himself with the Jewish community and were familiar with his many Jewish friends and admirers. As a result, they participated wholeheartedly in the national mourning that followed his death in 1885, and later in the dedication of his tomb. They did so, in spite of General Orders No. II, for they recognized, as Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise noted at the time, that Grand had “often repented” of his order and “that the wise also fail.”


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