When General Grant Expelled the Jews

When General Grant Expelled the Jews

From the Lloyd Tilghman House to the Floodwall Mural, much of Paducah’s Civil War history is well-known. However, there is one notorious historical footnote from Paducah’s Civil War past that many may not be aware of.


In his book When General Grant Expelled the Jews, Jonathan Sarna examines General Order No. 11 issued by General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862. The order demanded the expulsion of Jews in his military district, which then included Paducah. Several members of Paducah’s Jewish community protested the order – taking their protests all the way to the White House. President Lincoln revoked the order a few weeks later.


“It was the only time in United States history that Jews as a class were expelled from an area,” Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, explains. “And Paducah is significant because it is the first place that we know a whole community of Jews were expelled.”


In his book, Sarna delves into Grant’s justification for the order. The General had a long history of associating Jews with illicit business activity and issued the order in an effort to stop black market cotton trading, which he believed Jews were participating in.


“In fact, smuggling was not a Jewish monopoly but was rampant throughout the South. Grant’s own father was engaged in smuggling and when Grant learned about it he expelled the Jews rather than his own father,” says Sarna.


Sarna also expressed that he was pleased to uncover that Grant really regretted the order and attempted to make amends for it for the rest of his life. “It’s a huge national issue when he runs for president and he really feels terrible about it. After he’s elected he goes out of his way to appoint Jews to public office and make sure they are not persecuted abroad. He’s the first president to go to a synagogue dedication and it’s an issue he continued to express sorrow over. It’s even mentioned at his funeral how badly he felt about it,” explains Sarna.


The McCracken County Public Library hosted Sarna for an Evening Upstairs presentation on his book, When General Grant Expelled The Jews, on November 15. For more information on the library’s Evening Upstairs events, contact Bobbie Wrinkle at (270)442-2510 or at bwrinkle@mclib.net.

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