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Gen. Grant’s Expulsion of the Jews

Looking at the infamous Civil War edict

Adam Chandler
December 19, 2012

As a native Texan, I frequently end up dispelling the myth about Texas’ special ability to secede from the United States. If you need a primer, I’ll just say that much of it has to do with the fact that Texas won its independence from Mexico and was its own country for nine years before it was annexed by the United States. This is the reason for Texan nationalism, this is why most any Texan school child can tell you more than you’d ever thought you’d know about Stephen A. Austin, the Siege of Bexar, Davy Crockett, and William Barrett Travis, and this is why some believe a close reading of the American annexation agreement gives Texas the right to secede.

Unfortunately, there is no New York Times blog about the Texas Revolution, so I’ve had to settle for the Disunion blog about the Civil War–which is actually quite good. Today, for instance, I came across Jonathan Sarna’s piece about General Ulysses S. Grant’s order to expel the Jews from areas under his command. Grant thought it would be the most effective way to end illegal trading.

Lots of non-Jews, including many soldiers, likewise pursued fast money by trading in illicit goods. Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana (who himself secretly speculated in cotton) reported in early 1863 that “every colonel, captain of quartermaster is in secret partnership with some operator in cotton; every soldier dreams of adding a bale of cotton to his monthly pay.” In Memphis, the leading city in Grant’s territory, “the amount of plunder & bribery” was “beyond all calculation,” according to Dana. “Honesty is the exception and peculation” — that is, embezzlement — “the rule.”

Nevertheless, in the eyes of Grant and of many other Americans, all smugglers and speculators and traders were Jews, whether they were actually Jewish or not — just as Southerners dubbed all Northerners “Yankees,” whether or not they hailed from New England. Grant wanted as few of them as possible in the area under his command.

In case you were wondering, President Lincoln rescinded the order. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering, where could I read more about this crazy anti-Semitic moment in American history? And I realized, Jonathan Sarna has a wonderful book on the topic. It’s called “When Grant Expelled the Jews.”

Check it out if you haven’t.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.