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A Landmark Appointment

May 30, 2019

President Grant gave his first inaugural address on March 4, 1869.  Near the end he spoke of “proper treatment of the original occupants of this land—the Indians,” and promised to “favor any course toward them which tends to their civilization and ultimate citizenship.”

In the penultimate paragraph he mentioned the recently freed slaves.  “The question of suffrage is one which is likely to agitate the public so long as a portion of the citizens of the nation are excluded from its privileges in any State. It seems to me very desirable that this question should be settled now, and I entertain the hope and express the desire that it may be by the ratification of the fifteenth article of amendment to the Constitution.”

Clearly, Grant had aligned himself with the liberal sentiment of his day, but Grant was not always known for his devotion to civil rights.  Since late 1862 he had been associated with the antisemitic General Order No. 11.  Although he quickly revoked the order and was genuinely remorseful, he had not yet earned the esteem of everyone in the Jewish community.  Fortunately for Grant, some important and influential Jews supported his bid for the Presidency in 1868.

One of these was Simon Wolf, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, who had opened his law practice in the nation’s capital the same year that General Grant had issued the infamous order mentioned above.  President Grant appointed Wolf to the office of Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia.  Wolf had not sought the office and was going to decline, but when he finally did accept, he held that position through all of Grant’s two terms and more than a year into the term of Grant’s successor.




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