A riveting account of General Ulysses S. Grant’s decision, in the middle of the Civil War, to order the expulsion of all Jews from the territory under his command, and the reverberations of that decision on Grant’s political career, on the nascent American Jewish community, and on the American political process.
On December 17, 1862, just weeks before Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, General Grant issued what remains the most notorious anti-Jewish order by a government official in American history. His attempt to eliminate black marketeers by targeting for expulsion all Jews “as a class” unleashed a firestorm of controversy that made newspaper headlines and terrified and enraged the approximately 150,000 Jews then living in the United States, who feared the importation of European antisemitism onto American soil.
Although the order was quickly rescinded by a horrified Abraham Lincoln, the scandal came back to haunt Grant when he ran for president in 1868. Never before had Jews become an issue in a presidential contest, and never before had they been confronted so publicly with the question of how to balance their “American” and “Jewish” interests. Award-winning historian Jonathan D. Sarna gives us the first complete account of this little-known episode—including Grant’s subsequent apology, his groundbreaking appointment of Jews to prominent positions in his administration, and his unprecedented visit to the land of Israel. Sarna sheds new light on one of our most enigmatic presidents, on the Jews of his day, and on the ongoing debate between group loyalty and national loyalty that continues to roil American political and social discourse.
The PBS documentary Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray, which features Jonathan Sarna, explores the hidden stories of American Jews during the Civil War. Presented by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, it is available for purchase on DVD at www.shapell.org.
Praise for the book:
“Thoroughly researched and crisply written, this is a very fine work that will interest students of both American and modern Jewish history.”
“Sarna expertly navigates the repercussions of Grant’s shocking order, which galvanized the American Jewish community into action, reminding many who were refugees from European expulsions how insecure they were even in America. . . . Sarna weighs the short-lived order against important Jewish appointments in Grant’s administration, his humanitarian support for oppressed Jews around the world, and lasting friendships with Jews. A well-argued exoneration of a president and a sturdy scholarly study.”
“In this compelling and focused study, Jonathan D. Sarna explores the causes—and assesses the little-known impact—of one of the most troubling incidents in the life of the Union’s greatest commander.”
—Geoffrey C. Ward, coauthor of The Civil War
“An absorbing account of a lamentable act by the North’s greatest general, a dishonorable act committed by an honorable man. This fair and balanced treatment of the event places the commander and the Jews in the context of great conflict. Fortunately, redemption and rapprochement would follow.”
—Frank J. Williams, president, Ulysses S. Grant Association