On 17 December 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant issued Order No. 11, expelling all Jews from his military district — parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi.
In a fit of fury over war profiteers, Grant issued the order as he was trying to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. He ordered that “Jews, as a class” were to be expelled, effective 24 hours from the proclamation. If they didn’t leave, they would be imprisoned. There was no room for appeal.
Before official word of Order No. 11 made it back to Washington, a Jewish merchant named Cesar Kaskel rode from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., where he convinced outgoing congressman John Addison Gurley of Cincinnati to get him in to see the president.
Amazingly enough, Kaskel was able to see Abraham Lincoln and told him of the order. Lincoln, of course, knew nothing about it. He revoked the order immediately, on 4 January 1863. That’s just three days after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
In the meantime, only a handful of Jews had experienced military force, and apparently even that was minor. But the news spread quickly of Grant’s order, and condemnation from Jewish leaders was swift and fierce.
When Grant ran for the presidency in 1868, it became an issue. Even though he had publicly apologized and repudiated the order, Jews didn’t forget about it. Being only 1% of the population, Jewish voters didn’t have much impact on Grant’s election, but he didn’t forget his blunder, either.
President Grant went on to appoint more Jews to his administration than any other, and often repeated that he had made a mistake with Order No. 11. He said the order “never would have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection.”
In other words, he hit “send” before thinking about it.
To read more about this little episode, try:
The New York Times on Jonathan Sarna’s book When General Grant Expelled the Jews.