Thursday, December 17, 2015

Grant's Gaffe

While common sense tells us that generalizations and labelling can be damaging both to individuals and the greater society, it seems to be a fact that politicians sometimes forget that principle. Take, for instance, the time that General Ulysses S. Grant decided that the word “Jew” was interchangeable with the term profiteer.

In 1862, Major-General Grant was in charge of the military district that included Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky and was responsible for issuing trade licenses that permitted merchants to cross into the south. It was a time-consuming task that frustrated him. While there were certainly many Jews involved in the black market, there were many black marketeers who were not Jewish.  There were also many Jews who had settled in the territory prior to the war.

On December 17, 1862, General Grant issued General Orders Number 11 (although this was actually one in a series of related orders) that specifically stated:

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 24 hours. 

The orders went into immediate effect and quite a few Jewish families were displaced. Almost as quickly, however, the Jews took political action to stop the deportation. Led by Cesar Kaskel, who had been expelled from Paducah, Kentucky, they went straight to Washington, D.C., and ended up speaking directly to President Abraham Lincoln at the White House. 

It is interesting to note that when the President commanded the order to be repealed, the note Grant received was gently worded: “A paper purporting to be General Orders Number 11...If such an order has been issued...”

The seemingly anti-Jewish decree was brought up again when Grant ran for president in 1868, but Grant actually received a large portion of the Jewish vote.

Some say that Grant was motivated by his hatred of the people who constantly petitioned him for trading rights. On the other hand, many think that Grant simply erred in using general vocabulary and referring to Jews rather than Jewish peddlers. 

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