cover image When General Grant Expelled the Jews

When General Grant Expelled the Jews

Jonathan D. Sarna. Nextbook/Schocken, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4279-9

In December 1862, Gen. Ulysses Grant, suspecting Jews of smuggling goods into the Confederacy, issued General Orders No. 11, expelling them from the “Department of the Tennessee.” A widely respected historian of American Jewry (American Judaism), Sarna tells the story of the order and its revocation by Lincoln three weeks later thanks to intervention by Jewish merchant Cesar Kaskel and others. Sarna focuses less on the order itself than on its repercussions during Grant’s presidential bids in 1868 and 1872 and his two administrations. For perhaps the first time in American political history, there was widespread talk of a “Jewish vote” and a debate within the Jewish community over whether it should promote collective interests. While some Jews saw Grant as a modern-day Haman, others, such as businessman Simon Wolf, had “dreams of... reconciliation.” Wolf’s view seems to have prevailed. Sarna documents how Grant came to rue his notorious order, becoming a philo-Semite and appointing 50 Jews to office, most notably Benjamin Franklin Peixotto as consul (ambassador) to Romania, with a mandate to work on behalf of victimized Jews. Thoroughly researched and crisply written, this is a very fine work that will interest students of both American and modern Jewish history. Photos, map. (Mar.)