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Book Review: When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna

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When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna is a non-fiction book about Grant’s infamous “General Order No. 11”. Yes, this a non-fiction book – who would have thought?

On 17 December, 1862 Major-General Ulysses S. Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from his military district which consisted of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Grant intended to hinder the activities of people who smuggle things in and out of the war zone which, in his mind, were Jews.

As history later showed, many people, including those under his commend, engaged in the lucrative smuggling trade. General Order No. 11 caused great distress among the Jewish community. Eventually, Grant was able to recoup and even win Jewish support for his presidency.

When I first saw the title of this book, I had to read it twice.

Could it be?

Is this for real?

Yes, When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna is the unbelievable, but true, title of this well-written and well researched book about one of the most deliberate cases of anti-Semitism in the short history of America.

General Order No. 11 decreed as follows:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.

Did you pick up the text?
“Jews, as a class…” after all, many Jews were in the United States after escaping/thrown out of Europe so one can certainly understand the uproar which the verbiage of this order caused.

But the book doesn’t dwell on the impact of the order at the time Grant issued it (the impact was minimal and the horrified President Lincoln reversed it immediately) but on the aftermath. Sarna points to the President Grant (not candidate Grant) trying to make amends to the Jewish community, nurturing relationships, and lifelong friendships with Jewish leaders and generally (no pun intended) being more sympathetic to Jews than his predecessors.

Grant was so successful in redeeming his stature among America’s Jews that Rabbi Edward Benjamin Morris Browne was a pallbearer at his funeral. Since the funeral was on the Sabbath he walked along instead of riding.

Dr. Sarna, a professor at Brandeis University, wrote a compelling, exciting book in which he tries to explain the huge impact General Order No. 11 had on the Jewish community in particular, and on the country at large. From the first major lobbying effort to the campaigns run by candidates, the elections which Grant won had significant effects which lasted to this day.

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format

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