Lincoln, Grant and the Jews

In December 1862, in the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant, in charge of the Western territory, initiated the most sweeping anti-Semitic regulation in all of American History. He issued General Order No. 11, “which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, within 24 hours and any Jews remaining will be arrested.” Although only a tiny handful of cotton traders were Jewish (Grant could not name a single violator), anti-Semitism flourished, as Grant wrongfully blamed the Jews for the “raging black market in Southern cotton.” At War’s beginning, the Union navy blockaded the South, preventing them shipping their cotton to foreign ports. Grant had authority to issue trade licenses in his area. Several of Grant’s officers obtained a permit, traveled South by boat, purchased cotton, sold it North, acquiring great wealth. Leading historians trace Grant’s Order to his father, Jesse, a cunning businessman, who denigrated his son for his past financial failures. Jesse decided to obtain a cotton permit from his son. On his way, he stopped in Cincinnati and convinced the Mack brothers (who were Jewish) to invest in his cotton venture. To his credit, Grant turned down his father, however, unable to express his rage against his father, he took it out on the Jews with his infamous Order.

In Paducah, Kentucky, “Union officers gave the town’s 30 Jewish families-all longterm residents- none of them speculators – with several families having sons in the Union Army- 24 hours to leave.” Paducah’s resident Cesar Kaskel took the first train to Washington and dispatched a telegram to President Lincoln pleading for a meeting.

Kaskel met with Lincoln, who knew little or nothing of Grant’s Order. Kaskel described Grant’s Order as an “outrage against humanity.” Kaskel had the foresight to bring documents with him, signed by leading Paducah citizens and military authorities, as proof of their good citizenship and loyalty to the Union. Lincoln read the documents, made a heart-warming Biblical reference to Father Abraham protecting the children of Israel and revoked Grant’s Order. Lincoln became world wide hero to Jews. Grant later claimed that he had signed the document without reading it.

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