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General Order No. 11

May 22, 2019

It appeared in the Memphis Daily Bulletin the same day as the Emancipation Proclamation.  Everyone knew the Emancipation Proclamation was coming.  Lincoln had revealed it months earlier when he gave an ultimatum to the Confederacy.  The other document was a surprise to the public and to President Lincoln.  General Halleck, speaking for Lincoln, wrote to General Grant from Washington: “A paper purporting to be a Genl Order No. 11 issued by you Dec 17 has been presented here… If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.”

Why was Lincoln displeased?  Because, as Halleck wrote, General Order No. 11 proscribed “an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks.”

Why had Grant issued such an order?  In the words of the order he had written, Grant believed they were guilty “as a class [of] violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders.”  With three words, “as a class,” Grant had condemned the entire Jewish community.

There is no doubt that Grant wrote the order himself.  It could be argued that Grant said more than he meant.  It could be argued that Grant’s action was precipitated by the recent imposition of Grant’s father, whose business partners were Jewish.  However, it cannot be argued that Grant was in the right or somehow not responsible.

Grant revoked the order on January 17, 1863.  He had learned a great lesson and would in the future work hard to deal fairly with all people.  Years later, still embarrassed by his wartime prejudice, Grant became President despite the long memories of many who might have become his political allies.  Some members of the Jewish community were more forgiving and would eventually give him a unique opportunity to demonstrate his high regard for them.










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