Abraham Lincoln and the Jews

In a remarkable episode from the Civil War that is not as widely known as it might be, General Ulysses S. Grant issued Order No. 11 on December 17, 1862 expelling all Jews from those portions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi where his forces had taken the field.

Equally remarkable, President Lincoln did not say he would “stand by” his generals or that “we must give the military the tools it needs” to accomplish its mission. Instead, he rescinded the Order.

A century-old account of General Grant’s short-lived ban on Jews has recently been published online.

During the Civil War, President Lincoln repeatedly suspended habeas corpus and authorized other serious infringements on civil liberties. But there are some things that are not done in America, it appears, even when the survival of the nation is at stake. This was one of them.

General Grant’s action was not entirely irrational and prejudice-driven. An estimated 25,000 of the nation’s 150,000 Jews lived in the South and were loyal to the Confederacy, according to a 2005 Library of Congress exhibition. And some Jewish merchants would “roam through the country contrary to government regulations,” Grant complained.

“The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers which I suppose was the object of your order,” wrote Gen. Henry Halleck to Gen. Grant, somewhat inelegantly. “But as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deems it necessary to revoke it.”

The story received only cursory, two-sentence treatment in the preeminent Lincoln biography (“Lincoln”) by David Herbert Donald, which mistakenly attributed Halleck’s “Jew peddler” phrase to Grant (p. 409).

And Grant himself did not mention Order No. 11 in his Memoirs. He deliberately omitted it, his son explained in a 1907 letter, because “that was a matter long past and best not referred to.”

To the contrary, however, this principled exercise of restraint by the President in time of war seems well worth remembering and pondering today, when basic civil liberties are again in dispute. (At his confirmation hearing today, Attorney General-nominee Michael Mukasey was unable or unwilling to categorically reject the possibility of indefinite detention of an American citizen without trial.)

The most detailed account of the origins and aftermath of General Grant’s Order No. 11 expelling the Jews from the areas under his control seems to be a 1909 book entitled “Abraham Lincoln and the Jews,” self-published by author Isaac Markens (pp. 10-17). That book, long out of print, was recently digitized and published by Google Books and is now freely available.

In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant was an honored guest at the dedication of Adas Israel, which is now the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.

No Responses to “Abraham Lincoln and the Jews”

  1. George October 20, 2007 at 12:52 PM #

    Well, it’s not so surprising that Lincoln did not allow Grant to get rid of all the Jews in a region. And it’s not so surprising that Bush hasn’t locked up all the Arabs or Moslems or Iraqis or Iranians living in regions of the US. Those two share the “principled exercise of restraint by the President in time of war,” limiting “indefinite detention of an American citizen without trial” to individuals where there is specific reason to do so.

    Unfortunately, it’s also not so surprising that presidents like FD Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson expelled and concentrated entire classes of peoples from particular regions.

    As you say, it’s important to keep this in mind, lest we vote in a new president like FDR and Jackson.

  2. tarran October 20, 2007 at 7:45 PM #

    I’m kind of confused about one thing: was the ‘survival’ of the United States really in any doubt in the war? Last I checked, the Confederacy merely wanted out of the union. The casus belli, the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter, was carried out because the Federal Government intended to continue collecting import taxes from freighters entering Confederate waters. I don’t think the Confederacy had any designs on conquering the United States at any point in the war.

    Am I wrong?

  3. steve October 21, 2007 at 3:57 PM #

    It was the intention of the South to destroy the United States of America. Also, it was their intent to enslave or keep in enslavement citizens of the United States and to spread its evil existence to other States as they were encorporated West into the United States of America.

  4. Gavin Peters October 21, 2007 at 5:53 PM #

    “Steve” may be right. Of course, the constitution also holds that no state in the United States can be split without that states legislature’s consent.

    Sadly, I have not found such consent for the creation of West Virginia.

    It seems, steve, that some people, discussing American history or even legal matters, may wish to not only split hairs finely, but split them both ways.

    - Gavin

  5. Jpeditor October 23, 2007 at 3:04 AM #

    “. But there are some things that are not done in America, it appears, even when the survival of the nation is at stake.”

    You mean like indicting and arresting “journalists” and other scum who leak our secrets and undermine our war against the islamo-fascists?

    Keep it up, we’ll get there…

  6. Apollo October 23, 2007 at 10:29 PM #

    A very mild correction: he did not expel Jews from all of Kentucky and Tennessee. In December 1862, General Grant oversaw operations in the Department of the Tennessee, which included only those portions of Tennessee and Kentucky west of the Tennessee River (a small portion of those states), and whatever portions of northern Mississippi that were controlled by Union forces. The book’s reference to action by the Jews of Cincinnati is interesting insofar as they were not directly effected. That would also explain why the Jews of Paducah, which was within Grant’s department, acted with more alacrity.

    See here.

    [You're right, thanks --SA]

  7. EvilPoet October 24, 2007 at 9:57 AM #

    George W. Bush and the Jews

  8. Butler T. Reynolds October 26, 2007 at 8:45 AM #

    Was Lincoln being principled or just calculating? I don’t give the tyrant much credit beyond just being shrewd.

    Regarding “Steve’s” comment that it was the intention of the South to destroy the United States of America. That’s a first for me. My impression was that they wanted to leave it, not destroy it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the Confederacy either. I’ve found their constitution uninspiring. Oh, and that slavery thing ain’t so honorable if you ask me.


  9. JB November 2, 2007 at 2:34 PM #

    Remember that Grant later became president. He used to be considered the worst president of all time … but now I’m not so sure.