Jonathan Sarna: The Jewish Vote





On Dec. 17, 1862, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, concerned about smuggling and enraged by the discovery that his own father was conspiring with Jewish clothing manufacturers to move southern cotton northward, issued General Orders No. 11, which expelled “Jews as a class” from the territory under his command....

Given the Emancipation Proclamation, and Grant’s subsequent string of military victories, furor over the order quickly subsided in 1863, and practically nothing more was said about General Orders No. 11 for the next five years. But in 1868, when Grant became a candidate for the presidency of the United States, the order took on fresh significance. Indeed, it posed an unprecedented and deeply vexing dilemma for Jewish Americans. Could they vote for a man— even a national hero—who once had expelled “Jews as a class” from his war zone? If not, would this set Jews apart from the multitudes who viewed Grant as the savior of his country? Worse yet, might it raise the ugly specter of dual loyalty, suggesting that Jews cared more about “Jewish issues,” such as anti-Semitism, than about the welfare of the country as a whole?

Concern about “factional politics,” of course, dated all the way back to the beginning of the republic....

Jews, however, had not faced this problem before in a presidential election. Anti-Semitic charges had marred some presidential campaigns, notably the tempestuous campaign of 1800 when local Federalists desperately tarred their opponents as Jews and foreigners, but nobody imagined that the major party candidates in that election—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—were themselves enemies of the Jewish people. In 1868, by contrast, the candidate himself was the issue. Much of the country loved him, while a great many Jews found it hard to forgive him....



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