12/17 – General Order No. 11

Grant as president in the 1870s. (Wikipedia).

On this day in 1862, American Major-General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11, a decree ordering the removal of all Jews from Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. Grant was commander of all Union (northern, “Yankee”) forces during the American Civil War, and he sought the eradication of illegal markets trading in Southern cotton. For whatever reason, Grant perceived that much of the trade – which benefited the Confederate (Southern) war industry – was run “…mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” Grant’s order was, needless to say, controversial even by the standards of 1862; it was revoked a month later by US President Abraham Lincoln.

General Order No. 11 is striking in its misinformed bigotry; it’s also significant for its effect on American politics. After the 1868 election, Grant became the first sitting American president to attend a synagogue service, during which he allegedly apologized again for Order No. 11. Most significantly, perhaps, Grant pursued an agenda of human rights and condemned European mistreatment of Jews. It seemed that the backlash from his strange order in 1862 significantly changed his way of thinking.

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