Episode 107: Smollop: General Order No. 11

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It is almost like when a celebrity gets drunk and tweets.

So there was this little skirmish in the 19th century, you may have heard of it…
Grant and troops in Virginia, 1864A bunch of men had to spend a long way from home, on gross and paltry rations. A man eats enough hardtack, he gets constipated. When that happens, why, a man might get downright unreasonable…maybe even racist.

In 1862, in the heat of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant initiated one of the most blatant official episodes of anti-Semitism in 19th-century American history. In December of that year, Grant issued his infamous General Order No. 11, which expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

The ensuing back-and-forth between Lincoln and Grant, and the hue-and-cry raised by this strange and racist order, is nicely outlined by the JVL. Let it be said that there was polite handwritten drama, sent rapidly back and forth by courier, 19th century beautifully quilled oh-no-you-didn’t from December 1862 until mid-January, 1863. Lincoln then pulled the I-am-the President-you-little-bitch card, and revoked the order.

Grant proceeded to run for president in 1868, and pull the big American political move. He distanced himself from what he had done, saying that well, it was certain Jews’ cotton operation that had concerned him, and look, he has Jewish friends, and…

Blah blah blah.

One never-learned history lesson: If you don’t ever want something thrown back in your face, do not commit it to writing. No email, no quill and parchment. No written medium.

Basically, the Jewish people (whom he referred to as “the Israelites”) bothered him, his soldiers having a side business in the cotton trade and therefore being distracted from battle bothered him, two birds, one stone. The cotton trade was the Jews’ fault, GIT OFF MY LAWN!

Grant's crocodile tearsMaybe he did eventually regret his actions. But I’m not the only one who cried politicking foul. I love this political cartoon by Bernard Gillam from 1882, showing Grant’s crocodile tears.

And it goes deeper and gets uglier, involving more politicians as they egged each other on. Remember in Gone with the Wind
when Rhett Butler was having trouble being reintroduced to fine society because he’d been a war profiteer, i.e., made money off the Civil War whilst other men had been fighting it? Well, multiply that ugliness with some racism, squared with some willful misreading/mishandling of the Bible, and you get incendiary talk about “traitor carpetbaggers who killed our Lord and Saviour”!

I cringed typing that. I want to apologize to y’all, and to my keyboard, and to my fingers…

Ew. I feel like I need to clean my keyboard.

So, inflammatory racist words about the Jewish people and ranting about war profiteers were becoming interchanged, and Grant liked the sound of that, and he took up his Mighty Pen. Thus began the ugly tale.

A new book has been written by a Jewish American author, addressing this awful edict, and Grant’s campaign and presidency in the light of some-of-my-best-friends-are-Jewish: Did he really make amends, or was it more political nonsense? I’m certain Sarna has addressed that question far better than I ever could: When General Grant Expelled the Jews * Jonathan D. Sarna

Library of Congress: From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America

Bands from this episode:

  • Grantwhine
  • GITOFFMYLAWN (neopunk)
  • Executive Mansion (how the White House was referred to in all these back-and-forths)


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