Why Jews revere Abraham Lincoln
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Why Jews revere Abraham Lincoln

The infamous General Order 11 

During the Civil War, Maj.-Gen. U.S. Grant, on Dec. 17, 1862, issued an order – Order No. 11 – calling for the expulsion of all Jews in his military district (parts of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee).

At the time, there was a black market in southern cotton, and Grant believed that this illegal market was being conducted “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.”

President Lincoln revoked the order a few weeks later after protests from not only Jewish leaders, but from Congress and the press. The New York Times described the order as “humiliating” and a “revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.”

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Maj.-Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Grant himself later claimed that Order No. 11 had been drafted by a subordinate, and that he had signed it without reading it.

Order No. 11 began being carried out immediately, and – although Grant may not have intended it – the expulsion applied to all Jews, not just to illegal Jewish cotton peddlers. The Jewish Virtual Library writes:

“In Paducah, Kentucky, military officials gave the town’s 30 Jewish families – all long-term residents, none of them speculators, and at least two of them Union army veterans – 24 hours to leave.”

A delegation visited Lincoln, who quickly had the order revoked – via the following succinct message to Grant: “A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms, it expells [sic] all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.”

The Jewish Virtual Library writes: “A handful of the illegal traders were Jews, although the great majority were not. In the emotional climate of the war zone, ancient prejudices flourished. The terms ‘Jew,’ ‘profiteer,’ ‘speculator,’ and ‘trader’ were employed interchangeably. Union commanding General Henry W. Halleck linked ‘traitors and Jew peddlers.’ Grant shared Halleck’s mentality, describing ‘the Israelites’ as ‘an intolerable nuisance.'”

Twelve years later, as president, Grant and his cabinet attended the dedication of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., in 1874, Grant thus becoming the first president to attend a synagogue service.

“After the war,” writes the Jewish Virtual Library, “Grant transcended his anti-Semitic reputation. He carried the Jewish vote in the presidential election of 1868 and named several Jews to high office. But General Order No. 11 remains a blight on the military career of the general who saved the Union.”

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