Vox Tablet

General Frenemy

In 1862, Ulysses S. Grant issued an order expelling all Jews from his territory. Turns out, that was a good thing. Historian Jonathan Sarna explains.

March 19, 2012
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (seated, center) with a staff of eight, c. 1860-1865.(Matthew Brady, National Archives)

Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (seated, center) with a staff of eight, c. 1860-1865.(Matthew Brady, National Archives)

Best known as the general who won the Civil War for the Union, Ulysses S. Grant later became the 18th president of the United States. Now historian Jonathan Sarna weighs in on Grant’s hotly debated legacy from a little-known angle: In When General Grant Expelled the Jews, the latest title from Nextbook Press, Sarna examines the reasons for and impact of Grant’s General Orders No. 11, issued during the war on Dec. 17, 1862, which expelled all Jews from areas then under Grant’s jurisdiction.

Although it was quickly rescinded, General Orders No. 11 raised fears among Jews that the centuries-old threat of persecution had reached American shores. Throughout the remainder of his life, Grant went out of his way to show contrition: During his presidency, he promoted Jews to prominent positions in his administration and spoke out against anti-Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe. In 1876, Grant was the first president to attend a synagogue dedication. In 1878, Grant became the first president to visit Palestine.

Sarna joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss why Grant issued the Orders, how Jews responded, and what repercussions the episode has on American Jews today. [Running time: 24:07.]

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Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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