Questioning Jewish Loyalty to the Union:

Grant’s General Order Number 11 and Anti-Semitism during the Civil War

Bonnie K. Goodman
35 min readDec 11, 2020


By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS


Rise of Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

The Shylock stereotype was behind Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s reasons for ordering General Order Number 11, on December 17, 1862, expelling “Jews as a class” from areas of Northern occupied former Confederate states Tennessee, Mississippi, and the Border State of Kentucky. General Order Number 11 stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-Semitism on a large scale. At the time, prominent Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise called it an “outrage, without precedent in American history.” [1] Historian Jonathan Sarna notes General Order Number 11 became known as “the most sweeping anti-Jewish legislation in all American History.” [2] Historian Allen Nevins indicates that although the Jewish population was small, “circumstances repeatedly made the American Jews the focal point of a significant and far-reaching struggle to establish principles of exact justice and equality and make them triumph over ignorance, prejudice, and intolerance.”[3]

In his authoritative work, American Jewry and the Civil War (1951), historian Bertram Wallace Korn explains “It was in the midst of this nightmare of profiteering that the most sweeping anti-Jewish regulation in all American history was issued… There has never been a duplication of the Grant order of expulsion of Jews from the Department of the Tennessee.” [4] The Anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic Order had deep roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union-occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice. [5] Korn notes, “Some of the most prominent people in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews.” [6] This anti-Semitism within the Union army ranks led to General Grant’s General Order №11 that called that all Jews to be expelled in his district, which covered the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

General Grant’s Order was a rare and extreme moment where anti-Semitism resurfaced its ugly head and reminded American Jews of what they experienced in Europe. As historian Jonathan Sarna points out in his book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, “So it is instructive to remember that, for all of America’s much-vaunted distinctiveness, there was a brief moment, amid the horrors of the Civil War, when Old World prejudices displayed themselves. Some Jews at the time wondered whether their new homeland was coming to resemble antisemitic Europe at its worst.” [7] The only other instance even close to General Order Number 11 was in Talbotton and Thomasville, Georgia, when in September 1862, town leaders expulsed their German Jewish residents because they accused them of speculation, they blamed them for their economic problems, high prices, scare availability of necessary goods, and then the appearance of counterfeit money. During the war, Simon notes, “Prejudice pervaded both North and South; Grant hardly invented it.” [8]

Rising immigration from Europe in the 1840s and 1850s brought about a general anti-immigrant sentiment. Most of the nearly three million immigrants in the decade from 1845 to 1854 flooding the country were coming from Ireland and Western Europe, predominantly Germany. Catholics and Jews began coming to the United States in the first real mass immigration. Immigrants were leaving an economic depression and the failed political revolutions in central in 1848–49. [9] The first wave of immigrants began arriving in the 1830s, with 600,000 arriving that decade. In the 1840s, one and a half million came, while 3 million arrived in the 1850s. [10] Since 1820, among the immigrants that arrived, 1.3 million were German, with 1.7 Irish immigrants, most were Catholics. [11]

America was quickly becoming an urbanized and industrial country. In 1820, eighty percent of the population lived in rural areas and farms. By the 1850s, nearly half lived in the growing number of cities across the country, especially in the North, which was industrializing more quickly than the South. In the years “1845–1854,” the nation added “2,939,000 newcomers… some 14.5 percent to the population of the United States.” Historian John Simon indicates in his essay, “That Obnoxious Order,” “Such enormous numbers created social, economic, and political strains on Americans who called themselves natives, a group that always excluded the Indians.” [12] In his groundbreaking book Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925, Historian John Higham indicates about the expulsion of Jews from in Grant’s jurisdiction ‘as the principal nativistic incident of the war years.’” [13] Naomi Cohen agrees that later nineteenth-century American Jews singled out the Civil War years as the onset of significant anti-Semitism in the country.

Since colonial times, American Protestants had a dislike for Catholics, restricting their rights in the colonies. Independence and the Bill of Rights brought religious freedoms. The increase in Catholics brought old prejudices to the forefront. Nativism started after the War of 1812 as immigration to America began in earnest. Protestant Americans feared the Catholic Church might take over control. As Arthur Hertzberg in his book The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History explains, “The Irish were supposedly bringing the pope and his minions, the priests and the bishops who were then appearing in America in substantial numbers, to burrow under and to destroy the purportedly, clean, simple, decent vales that American Protestantism had taught. [14]

From 1834 to the Civil War, religious riots and violence included burning down twenty Catholic churches. In the 1850s, two nativist political parties merged with their purpose to oppose immigrants, “anti-alienism,” the Know-Nothings, and the American Party. As Simon explains, “Resentment of foreigners and their religions gave rise to political groups of nativists. This reached a high tide in the Know-Nothing surge of 1854 and the American Party of 1856.” [15]

General Grant attended one meeting of the Know-Nothings. President Abraham Lincoln, however, opposed the nativist party. In 1855, Lincoln wrote about his opposition to the party:

“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocracy. [16]

As Civil War loomed and the debate overtook preeminence, immigration and fear of the other remained on the back burner. They flared up again during the war, between immigrants and longtime Americans. In the North and South, immigrants were burdened for fighting in the war. In the North, drafts instigated a large draft riot in 1863, with Irish Catholic immigrants objecting to the burden. In the South, planters and the upper classes could obtain exemptions leaving the brunt of the fighting to the poorer and the immigrants. On the opposite side, longtime Americans’ resentment of immigrants flared up with these encounters, and stereotypes rose up. As Simon recounts, “Nativism never disappeared. Tensions and animosities from the preceding decade provided tinder awaiting a spark. Ethnic and religious stereotypes remained a staple for newspaper articles.” [17] Nativism was reserved for the German and Irish Catholic immigrants, in comparison, Jewish immigrants were arriving in small numbers. [18]

American Protestants accepted Jews more than Catholics; however, that exception was reserved for the older Sephardic families that Protestant Christians held in higher regard. Historian Leonard Dinnerstein recounts in his book Antisemitism in America, “Most Protestants regarded Catholics and Jews as inferior and adherents of these faiths often perceived themselves as outsiders in a Protestant nation, at best tolerated but not embraced…. As the numbers of Catholics and Jews increased in this country, however, and there were always at least ten times as many of the former as there were of the latter even in colonial America until the twentieth century, Catholics were more intensely abhorred than Jews were.” [19] Protestants were more accepting of Jews; however, their fellow immigrants, German and Irish Catholics had centuries-old anti-Semitic prejudices ingrained from the Catholic Church’s teachings. Historian Leonard Dinnerstein points out, “There was also increased hostility to Jews from both Americans and immigrants. The number of people of varying stripes verbally, and sometimes physically, attacking Jews in their midst rose precipitously in the 1850s and positively exploded in both the North and the South during the Civil War.” [20]

Since before the war, the status of Jews was superior to Catholics, some Jews were involved with the nativist Know-Nothing Party. The party had no policy against Jews, which, as Korn indicates, “Jews were perfectly free, if they too were prejudiced, to support that party.” [21] Congressman Lewis C. Levin of Philadelphia supported the party and delivered speeches praising the party and against Catholic immigrants. Levin was married to a Catholic and served three terms as a Congressman for the nativist American Party. [22]

Early on American Jews harbored prejudice against Catholics. Mordechai Manuel Noah (1785–1851) wrote in one of his publications, “the Irish could not understand or appreciate the excellence of this [the American] form of government.” [23] Noah was the first Jewish leader from a Sephardic New York family; Noah held a consular position, was the sheriff in New York, a land surveyor, and judge; he also had six newspapers. However, most Jews opposed the prejudiced party. Alabama Congressman Philip Phillips of Mobile, husband of Confederate firebrand Eugenia Phillips opposed the Know-Nothing Party. Phillips wrote a widely reprinted article, “Religious Proscription of Catholics,” in the Mobile Register against the party’s politics. The Jewish paper The Asmonean urged American Jewry to oppose the party.

American Jews represented only one percent of the country’s population; they were part of the growing number of immigrants flooding the country from Europe. There was a backlash to the American Jewish population growing threefold. After the American Revolution in 1790, there were only 2,000 Jews in America; by 1840, that number grew to 15,000, there were 50,000 in 1850, and it exploded “to some 150,000 on the eve of the Civil War.” [24] Korn called it “American Jewry’s greatest period of expansion prior to the 1880s.” [25] The majority settled in the urban centers where there were economic opportunities.

Jews in Central Europe were involved in the uprisings and revolutions of 1848. In addition to the reasons, Christians fled Europe; Jews were looking to escape the anti-Semitism and limited opportunities. As Korn recounts, “Not only were the rights of citizenship denied them, but freedom of residence, of travel, of education, of occupation, of religious expression — all these facets of life were subject to discriminatory regulations.” [26] Most of all, European Jewry yearned for political equality, which was continuously denied to them in Europe. America was the immigrant’s solution as Sarna indicates, in “America opportunity was unlimited and freedom guaranteed to people of all faiths — Jews included.”[27] In Europe, Jews lived with medieval restrictions; most were denied citizenship and “freedom of residence, of travel, of education, of occupation, of religious expression,” their entire lives subject to restrictions, discrimination and regulations. [28] Korn explains, “Practically all of the immigrant Jews came to the United States to taste the nectar of the freedom which was denied them in their native lands.” [29]

In their essay “‘Shoddy’ Antisemitism and the Civil War,” historians Gary L. Bunker and John J. Appel claim ethnocentrism took over in the years leading up and during the war, and it collided with anti-Semitism. Bunker and Appel indicate, “Such beliefs added potency to already virile ethnocentrism; the resultant effect markedly increased the probability of some form of intolerance.” [30] The influx of Jews was not natives; they spoke German upon immigrating and dressed differently as other immigrants and but with Jews, as with Catholics, there were religious differences. They also worked primarily as peddlers and merchants. They were “concentrated” in the cities, and the shylock stereotype was at the center of anti-Semitism during the war; words such as “avaricious,” “exploitative,” and “politically subversive” commonly were used to describe Jews.[31] Simon indicates, Jews became easy targets because they worked mostly as merchants, and according to the “age-old stereotypes,” they were “easily identifiable by their manners, accents, and surnames.” [32]

In the North, where the concentration of Jewish immigrants lived, the anti-Jewish feeling was more significant than in the South, where Southerners were accepting because of race. Especially in the South, because of slavery, Jews were considered as white their racial status was not debated. As historian Leonard Rogoff notes in his article, “Is the Jew white?: the racial place of the Southern Jew,” “Jews were accepted as white, but their precise racial place was not fixed.” [33] More Catholic immigrants decided to make their homes in the North. They brought some of the greatest anti-Semitism to the American Jewry. The Catholic immigrants also revived the blood libel charge against the Jewish population, which led to 500 Irish ransackings a New York Synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1850. Throughout the 1850s, Jews experienced similar verbal and sometimes physical attacks primarily in the North in cities such as “Philadelphia, Cleveland, Syracuse, Detroit, and Baltimore.” [34]

In the 1850s, anti-Semitism rose with attacks on Jews in newspapers, churches, politics, and popular culture. Reverend Isaac Mayer Wise observed in his paper the Israelite, “Every pastor and every insignificant little preacher, every common jester, and every political rogue raised blows upon the Talmud and the Jews. A rascally Jew figured in every cheap novel, every newspaper printed some stale jokes about the Jews to fill up space, every backwoodsman had a few such jokes on hand for use in public addresses; and all this called forth not one word of protest from any source.” [35]

At times, widespread anti-Semitic campaigns against American Jewry often began with just a Christian’s personal dislike or conflict with an individual Jew. Similarly, Grant was later motivated to issue his General Order because of his father Jesse Grant’s business association with cotton traders, the Mack brothers. At times government officials attempted to institute laws to keep Jews from settling in their jurisdictions. In 1855, the California House of Representatives’ Speaker, William W. Stowe, tried to impose high taxes and Sunday laws to keep Jews out of the state.

American Jewry was not organized; although there was no specific schism as there were with Northern and Southern Baptists and Methodists, American Jews had their regional loyalties. For the most part, it affected their views on slavery and determined which side they supported when the war started. As Simon recounts, “Before the Civil War, American Jews lacked national organization, and generally those North or South followed regional politics and practices.” [36] American Jews lived in the anti-Semitism they encountered along the way because it was less than experienced in Europe and not government-sanctioned. As Dinnerstein explains, “American antisemitism was on a much lesser scale than Jews had known in Europe, and with no legislative restrictions or governmental support for opposition to them, Jews maneuvered around the bigotry.”[37]

The American Government might not have sanctioned any laws that supported anti-Semitism domestically. Still, they agreed on top foreign policy trade deals that included anti-Semitism measures. In 1850, the “American Minster to Switzerland” A. Dudley Moore negotiated a commercial treaty with the Swiss Confederation. An article in the treaty allowed Swiss cantons the right to refuse Jews’ entry and not allow them to benefit from the treaty, only Christians, and the ability to expel any Jew conducting business in their canton. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Senator Henry Clay opposed the clause. President Millard Fillmore wanted the clause removed from the treaty.

The controversy became known as L’Affaire Swiss. Rabbinical leaders in both North and South opposed the anti-Semitic clause and lobbied the government to advocate religious tolerance abroad. Among those leading the movement were “Rabbis Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, David Einhorn of Baltimore, J. M. Cardozo of Charleston, and Capt. Jonas Phillips Levy of New York.” Former Representative Phillip Phillips of Alabama and Jonas Levy advocated the government on behalf of American Jews. In the Senate, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan led a movement opposed to ratifying the treaty. Cass would later become Secretary of State and notably delivered a speech on the Senate floor on April 19, 1854, placing his support in America’s Jewish population. Despite Senate support for Jewish rights, the treaty had a different language. Still, it retained the anti-Semitic clause when Congress passed during President Franklin Pierce’s tenure. Neither did Pierce’s successor James Buchanan change the treaty. [38] In 1860, China and Japan put similar clauses in their treaties with America, only allowing Christians to worship freely. Again, Jewish leaders objected to the included clauses and lobbied that any American of any faith should have their rights.

Throughout the 1850s, as the country became even more divided, the American government refused to intercede upon the American Jewish community’s request for any foreign issue outside the United States’ scope. On July 23, 1858, Papal authorities in Bologna seized a seven-year-old Jewish child Edgardo Mortara. The American Jewish community wanted Secretary of State Lewis Cass and President Buchanan to intervene. Motara had been very sick when he was two, and a Catholic servant in the home baptized him thinking he would die. The church recognized the Baptism and took the child from his family. Returning the child to his family garnered support from Jews and Protestants in England and America. They believed the Catholic Church went too far. President Buchanan, however, refused to be involved in a foreign country’s affairs and feared to alienate the growing Catholic population in America. [39] Buchanan’s Secretary of State responded, “It is the settled policy of the United States to abstain from all intervention in the internal affairs of another country.” [40] A Jewish journalist claimed President Buchanan did not intervene because it could affect the large Catholic vote, but in 1840, when Van Buren interceded, there was no Muslim vote in America to hinder. The President’s decision greatly disappointed American Jewry. Dinerstein recounts, “‘Jewish inability to influence the American government on behalf of Edgar Mortara convinced leaders that they needed a defense group ‘to secure and maintain Jewish civil and religious rights at home and abroad.’” [41]

In 1859, as a response to Buchanan’s inaction, American Jewish leaders decided to form a group, the Board of Delegates of American Israelites. The Board mostly worked to fight discrimination and anti-Semitism in America. Dinnerstein explains, “For the most part, it gathered statistics, fostered Jewish education, and when asked arbitrated congregational disputes. Occasionally, the Board represented “Jewish” positions and interests to political figures.” [42] The Board lasted through the difficult years of Civil War and Reconstruction, where anti-Semitic instances ran high. They “convened on the eve of the American Civil War, an event that coincided with the worst period of antisemitism in the United States to that date. Economic distress and political tensions ignited vicious reactions to Jews as Americans.” [43] The Board dissolved in 1878, uniting with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. The Board, however, attempted to intervene and to advocate overturning Grant’s General Order. Still, President Lincoln was quicker in revoking it.

The political and economic unrest sparked anti-Semitism, or as Korn called it, “Judaeophpbia” in the North more than in the South. As Korn notes, “The Civil War provoked a more serious expression of anti-Jewish sentiment than had ever before appeared in American life.” [44] Dinnerstein indicates, “Jews were often held responsible for the frustrations, anger, disappointments, fear, insecurity, anxiety, shame, and jealousy that the war generated.” [45] The Civil War was the first time in America; there was widespread anti-Semitism. Isaac Leeser believed Christians were more willing to accept the age-old Christian prejudices. Leeser wrote in his paper the Occident, Clerical intolerance, “Is the seat of danger to liberty of conscience and perhaps the permanence of free institutions of all kinds.” [46] The incident was symptomatic of the growing trend in anti-Semitism with the Union army and in the North and the intrusion of anti-Semitism in the idyllic southern coexistence, Southern Jews had with their Christian neighbors before the war.

The virulent anti-Semitism in the North was mostly from Union army leaders. Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Benjamin “the Beast” Butler, and the lower ranks of army officials and commanders included anti-Semitic policies official and unofficial and opinions of the Jews in their midst that reeked of age-old stereotypes. As Bunker and Appel point out, “The anti-Semitic behavior of influential military leaders such as Grant, Butler, Hurlbut, and Sherman further exposed the roots of institutional intolerance.” [47] Although there were instances of anti-Jewish prejudice throughout the war, Korn recounts, “The Judeophobia which reached a high-water mark in General Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious Orders Number Eleven.” [48] American Jews, who were loyal to their respective sides, were shocked at the anti-Jewish attack by a Union official. American Jews and especially immigrants, believed in the equality America promised its citizens. Korn explains, “Jews had thought of themselves as indistinguishable from their neighbors except in religious faith.” [49]

Around 7,000 to 10,000 Jews served in the Union; in contrast, only 3,000 Jews served in the Confederate army. As Korn notes, in all, they represented “4 or 5% of the estimated Jewish population in America.”[50] Jews rose in the ranks of both the Union and the Confederate army. According to historian Henry Feingold, “The South had 23 Jewish staff officers including David De Leon, who served as Surgeon General, and A. C. Meyers, who served as Quartermaster General.” In the North, “Four Jews attained the rank of General in the Union Army.” [51] There were a few companies and regiments that were entirely Jewish. Very few of the Jews wanted to be part or create Jewish companies in the armies choosing to serve along with their Christian neighbors fighting for either side.

The differences in policies between the Confederacy and the Union towards Jews could not be more glaring. Although the Confederacy was officially a Christian nation, a Jew, Judah Benjamin, served as Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man in the cabinet as Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. The Confederate army looked to accommodate and help their Jewish soldiers. Jewish army chaplains were allowed from the onset of the war. In 1864, General Robert E. Lee “pledged” “to facilitate the observance of the duties of their religion by the Israelites in the army” and permit them “every indulgence consistent with safety and discipline.” [52]

In contrast, Jews experienced the worst incident of anti-Semitism in America until that point with Grant’s General Order Number 11. In addition, there were behind the scenes daily diatribes against Jews from army officials. Until July 1862, the Union did not allow Jewish army chaplains. It was a battle in itself for it to be permissible. As Ash points out, “General Orders №11 was not an isolated instance, for the traumatic nature of the Civil War generated an undercurrent of anxiety and conflict which could and did surface frequently in a somewhat familiar pattern of animosity and bigotry. Repeatedly the targets were Jews.” [53]

During the Civil War, loyalty was a significant issue, especially in the three Border States. All three states, Missouri, Maryland, and Kentucky, had issues of dual-loyalty. In his doctoral dissertation, Loyalty on the line: Civil War Maryland in American memory, David Kenton Graham notes, “As a slaveholding state that did not secede, Maryland, along with Missouri and Kentucky, occupied a unique position in terms of its governmental policies on race and race relations.” Kentucky, which became under Grant’s purview in the Department of the Tennessee, was unique in its divided loyalties during the war. It had a shadow government with admission to the Confederacy, adding to the tensions. Kentucky was central geographically to both sides and was why the Union and Confederacy looked to occupy it early in the war, with the Union succeeding on that front. The state included Confederate sympathizers. Its population was divided, fighting in both the Union and Confederate armies.

After the war, Kentucky’s historical memory sided with the Confederacy. As historian William A. Blair notes in his book, With Malice toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era, “Scholars have spilled a lot of ink in trying to figure out why a state a state that remained in the Union “became” Confederate after the war ended — or to use the phrase of historian E. Merton Coulter, the state “waited until after the war was over to secede from the Union.”[54] Blair, however, indicates the in Kentucky, the seeds were sown during the war, “Yet the conversion from Yankee to Rebel identity was very much under the way during the war, with the Lincoln administration and military superiors who ruled the state supplying ample reasons for supporters of the Union to wonder if, during the fraction of the nation in 1861, they had made the right choice after all.” [55]

Union military officials used loyalty oaths to determine whether it was a citizen who sided with the Union or the Confederacy. Missouri state treasurer George Caleb Bingham noted in June 1862 about loyalty oaths, “The statement of a single individual . . . was to be taken as conclusive [and] it was not, for a moment, deemed necessary, that any investigation, in form, should take place. . . . [before they] drew a line, sufficiently legible, between Unionists and Secessionists.” [56] Confederate sympathizers, who refused to take the loyalty oath, risked expulsion to the Confederate side. Removals were commonly used throughout the Civil War.

Paducah was a perfect storm of the northern interference on a small Border state town with dual loyalties primarily to the Confederacy. Paducah was a trade center. The mercantile interests turned to speculation as the war wore on, leading to an explosion of suspicions, shylock stereotypes, and anti-Semitism against the Jewish population. They were mostly immigrants, who supported the Union and at odds with the Christian majority who supported the Confederacy. The Order came as President Lincoln was preparing for his Emancipation Proclamation to free all slaves in the rebel Confederate territory. At the same time, Grant chose to expulse the Jews in the department. As Sarna recounts, “The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on some contemporaries. The Memphis Daily Bulletin published the two documents, one above the other. The juxtaposition of these events also shaped the responses of several Jewish leaders to Grant’s Order. They feared that Jews would replace blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority.” [57]

Grant’s Order was directly related to Southerners’ Northern suspicions of those on the Border States about where their loyalties lied during the war. Jewish loyalties were always questioned throughout history more because the nation feared their devotion was to their co-religionists as opposed to their country. In America, Jewish loyalties were also questioned. In the American Revolution, the small Jewish population was mostly patriots, but a small number remained loyal to Britain in the war. Now a sizeable population of American Jews were Southerners with loyalties to the Confederacy, southern institutions, slavery, and states’ rights. Grant’s fears about questionable loyalty to the Union, especially in Kentucky, and the occupied Confederate states compounded with age-old Jewish stereotypes and anti-Jewish prejudice. These two issues of loyalty collided and resulted in the worst incident of anti-Jewish prejudice in American history until that point.

Dual Loyalty, the Civil War, and American Jewry

Throughout history, Jews struggled against the accusation that they had dual-loyalties, and they were more loyal to their fellow co-religionists than the country they lived in. [58] The definition of dual loyalties has a long history in Jewish history. It invokes a different image than the dual loyalties of Border States during the Civil War. As Julie Hirschfeld Davis recounts in the article, “The Toxic Back Story to the Charge That Jews Have a Dual Loyalty,” “For centuries, Jews were regarded as a nation with their own distinct culture and laws, rather than merely a religious group.”

Especially during times of war, Jews have been accused of “betraying their country” and “undermining in its security.” Historian Deborah E. Lipstadt explains, “The notion of dual loyalty is a linchpin of the anti-Semitic stereotype… They had been so exposed to this stereotype, it had become so much the pivot point, and the central element of anti-Semitism that Jews have other loyalties, that it seemed like it must be true, and they were ready to believe the worst…. The dual loyalty canard that has plagued Jews is the fertile soil in which centuries of these stereotypes have taken root and grown.” [59]

Lipstadt has called dual loyalty the “classic antisemitic accusation” that the Jew has “no national roots or loyalties.” [60] Since biblical times, host countries have accused Jews that they are more loyal to their fellow Jews than to the country where they live. This made them suspect and possible enemies. Hand in hand with questioning Jewish loyalty to co-religionists over the country has been the shylock accusation that Jews are more loyal to money than their country.

Lipstadt discussed the accusation in an NBC News interview with Chris Hayes, “Why Is This Happening? Tracing the roots of anti-Semitism with Deborah Lipstadt: podcast & transcript” Lipstadt called it the “Money-grubbing Jew who’s not loyal to anyone except the other Jews.”[61] Lipstadt explains it comes from the New Testament and Christians blaming Jews for Jesus’s crucifixion. Lipstadt explains the New Testament believed, “The Jews wanted Jesus killed, wanted him crucified because he wanted to chase the money changers out of the temple. And they went to the Romans and asked the Romans to do this, and at first, the Romans refused. And the Romans, of course, had all the power. But they managed to convince Rome to do it. And then, of course, he was crucified, even though they knew that he was telling the truth, he was the son of God, he was a divine figure, et cetera, et cetera.” Jews as disloyal and loyal only to money are central to the Catholic story of the crucifixion. Throughout the early Christian era, the crusades, and the Middle Ages, the story instigated anti-Semitism against Jews.

The question of loyalty and money became central to the anti-Semitic myth through the millennia. Lipstadt explains, “The sort of connection to money and the money changers and kind of monied interest, the ability of a small marginal group to get larger groups to do their bidding, like a kind of unseen power and when a kind of wily, devilish intelligence. Those three factors appear in that story and those to you are pretty essential to what would become the kind of cannon of anti-Semitism in the past.”[62]

The Romans were the first ones to question Jewish loyalty in their state. Romans noticed Jewish loyalty to their co-religionists as a threat. Benjamin Isaac writing in his essay “The Ancient Mediterranean and the Pre-Christian Era,” notes Tacitus observed, “Jews, maintain strict loyalty to one another,” however, they “feel hostility and hatred towards all others. They instituted circumcision to distinguish themselves from other peoples. Those who are converted to their way of life accept the same practice, and the earliest habit they adopt is to despise the gods of others, to renounce their country, and to regard their parents, children, and brothers as of little consequence.” [63]

Issac notes, “The idea that Jews were exclusively loyal toward each other occurs first in Cicero’s work, Cicero, Pro Flacco, 66ff, where he explicitly asserts that there were large numbers of Jews in Rome who were hostile to the aristocracy and could influence public meetings. the issue of conversion clearly is a new one that disturbed Roman authors, for Jews were regarded disloyal elements in society, and non-Jews who converted to Judaism were therefore deemed traitors.” [64] Tacitus also felt that “proselytes to Judaism were the worst, for they were traitors to the religions of their birth, to their native countries, and their original families.” [65]

Jewish loyalty became an issue in Rome because it was an empire instead of separate and individual Hellenistic states; an empire required fidelity from its citizens. As Isaac points out, “The socio-historical position in Rome was clearly different from that in the Hellenistic world, the Jews were also accused of being misanthropic and unsociable, but the matter of conflicting loyalty did not come up because the Hellenistic kingdoms did not represent integrated empires. As noted, the Jews formed an unusually significant minority in Alexandria and were the focus of violent conflict, but in Rome, it was their alleged collected loyalty (and thus disloyalty to Rome) that attracted particular attention. In this respect, opinions about the role of Jews in Rome resembled arguments of later centuries and into modern times.” [66]

Writer Dave Scheter in his article, “Questioning the Loyalty of Jewish Americans,” defines dual loyalty as “The accusation that Jews are more loyal to their religion — and/or, since 1948, to Israel — than to the lands in which they live, has been at the root of much of the suffering inflicted on the Jewish people throughout history.” [67] The dual loyalty accusation was used by countries and nations to “oppress” Jews, deny them rights and unleash violence and pogroms against them.[68] The question of loyalty only became a greater issue in the age of enlightenment after France first emancipated Jews. With the Jewish population no longer segregated but apart of the larger nation-state, the dual loyalty canard increased.

Although the anti-Semitic accusation that Jews maintained “dual loyalties” has followed them throughout their time in the Diaspora, especially in Christian countries, Ruth R. Wisse in her book Jews and Power believes it was detrimental for Jews to have dual loyalties throughout the history of the Diaspora because it was “ politically illogical” to betray their country of residence. Wisse explains,

“Those who accuse Diaspora Jews of “dual loyalty” on the assumption of the clanishness would induce Jews to betray their country of residence have not given enough thought to the political circumstances that govern the life of the Jews “in exile.” It was politically illogical for Jews to betray the rulers whose protection unless those rulers first betrayed them — even then, how could Jews assume they would find any trustier alternatives? The advantages of power that rulers always enjoyed over their Jewish subjects made it far likelier that Jews would prove disloyal to their co-religionists than to those who could offer inducements for betrayal. Proving oneself to rulers was the precondition; since Diaspora Jews in predemocratic societies accommodated to, rather than competed with, local sovereigns, they lacked the incentives for the kind of disloyalty of which they so often stood accused. Jewish communities did encourage internal unity, but rather than discourage political loyalty to the powers that be, their leader usually required such loyalty as part of their demand for Jewish solidarity. Those modern Jewish revolutionaries who advocated the overthrow of governments were expressly defying Jewish leadership.” [69]

Even in America, where Jews experienced the most rights and equality they ever did, religious freedom did not mean that Jews could be loyal to their co-religionists above their country. Steven Beller notes in Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction that dual loyalties were not tolerated. Beller explains, “ “This nationalist ‘either/or’ logic was quite ‘rational’, quintessentially ‘rational,’ and an abhorrence for divided loyalties could be seen in the citizenship laws of many countries, including in American law, where loyalty to the United States alone was required.” [70]

In the new nation, the first American presidents included Jews in their “avowals of religion, freedom, and equality, denounced prejudice against them, sympathized with their historical suffering, and praised their morality. No endorsement was more significant than that of George Washington.” The first president George Washington replied to a letter from congregations of American Jewry and he visited the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Washington’s response indicated he did not believe fidelity to Judaism as a religion. Being an American meant a dual loyalty and freedom of religion allowed for these loyalties without conflicting American patriotism.

Historian Frederic Cople Jaher indicates in his book, The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formation, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France, in Washington’s “America, Judaism and patriotism were not contradictory. Believing that creedal communities could harmonize with the national community, the president asserted that ‘toleration’ is no longer ‘spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.’ In propounding this higher standard of religious liberty, Washington linked interfaith equality with respect for Jews. ‘May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwells in this land,’ he told the Newport congregation, ‘continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants” (Marcus 1975). Even more than his rhetoric, Washington’s behavior enhanced esteem for Judaism.” [71]

In America, increased immigration resulted in the reemergence of the fear of Jewish dual loyalties. As soon as Jewish immigrants arrived from Central Europe or the Germanic or Austrian Poland, they looked to Americanize themselves. They wanted to belong and integrate into American society to avoid anti-Jewish sentiment. Steven R. Weisman argues in his book, The Chosen Wars: How Judaism Became an American Religion, “The tension within Judaism is, are we a people, a nation, a tribe, a religion?” Jews have been uncomfortable seeing themselves as a people — even the ‘chosen people’ — and, through various episodes throughout history, worked to show that they were just as patriotic and loyal as anyone else.” [72]

American Jews tried in every way to integrate and be accepted by their Christian neighbors. Jews differed the most from their Christian neighbors because of their religion and the only American religion not to believe in Jesus Christ. American Jewry looked to Americanize their religious observances to integrate better. The Orthodox, lead by Isaac Leeser, looked to modernize their traditional observances slightly. Still, other Jews looked at the German Reform movement to Americanize and Christianize the Jewish religion. Isaac Mayer Wise led the American reform movement revolutionizing the American congregation. At the same time, American Jews grew their religious and communal institutions with clubs, philanthropic, and charitable institutions.

When the Civil War broke out, American Jewry North and South were loyal to their respective sides. In fact, American Jewry was even more patriotic to the Union or Confederacy than their Christian neighbors and overwhelming enlisted to fight in their armies. At the same time, those remaining on the home front, including the women, did everything possible to demonstrate their devotion and help their side’s cause. Weisman notes, “During the Civil War, for instance, Jews joined the military in disproportionate numbers on both sides, in part to demonstrate their devotion to their country in the face of stereotypes that their allegiances were suspect.”

During the Civil War, the worst anti-Jewish stereotypes reemerged; Jews were accused of being Shylocks, smuggling, and dual loyalties. Previously questions of Jewish dual-loyalties were an issue in Europe. The Civil War brought the issue to America in the first war in the country where Jews were a significant portion of the population. Both sides, the North and South, found the Jews in their midst suspicious, believing they supported the other side’s cause. Nativism only added to the distrust since most of the Jewish population was recent immigrants from Central Europe. Nowhere was the question of loyalty more of an issue than the Border States. The entire population was divided between loyalties to the North or the South.

Especially in a state such as Kentucky, loyalties were questioned. During the war, the sympathetic Confederate government wanted to remain neutral and were captured and occupied by Union forces, including General Grant, and were forced to remain apart of the Union. At the same time, factions created a shadow Confederate government, which was admitted to the Confederacy. Both sides commonly used expulsions to deal with disloyal citizens has to take into account when looking at Grant’s General Order in combination with anti-Jewish prejudice. In that environment, Jewish involvement in mercantile interests only added to the stereotypical suspicions with a Union military leadership that harbored anti-Jewish prejudices. The difference between Christian expulsions for loyalty was the reason for the suspicion that the Jews of Kentucky were expelled during the Order. However, loyal to the Union, Paducah, Kentucky was the most Confederate sympathizing towns in the state. The combination created a perfect storm. Grant’s Order served as a harsh wake-up call that anti-Semitism was still very much an issue in the American Promised Land.


Despite the extraordinary moment in American history, very little has been written by historians about the incident. Grant apologized and attempted to minimize his Order’s significance. At the same time, he was alive, and he specifically omitted the incident from his “Personal Memoirs.” Grant’s son Frederick recalled his father’s reasoning, saying, “That was a matter long past and best not referred to.” [73] Grant’s wife Julia referred to it as the “obnoxious” Order, later expressing, “He had no right to make an order against any special sect.” [74]

Biographies of Grant usually mention his General Order. Surveys of American Jewish history also recount the incidents, although from the perspective of anti-Semitism during the Civil War. As during the incident itself, historians looking at the incident from the perspective of Grant or American Jewry and anti-Semitism offer differing views, and Grant’s guilt or blame depends on the viewpoint. President Lincoln, however, remains the hero in the story, having forced Grant to revoke the Order quickly. Historian Allan Nevins believes the real hero was Caser Kaskel. The latter publicized the Order, letting the rest of the Jewish community know of Paducah’s expulsion because of the Order. Nevins writes, “Cesar Kaskel’s gallant captaincy of the campaign against this display of intolerance deserves to be remembered by all lovers of American liberty and fraternity.” [75] Unfortunately, Southern Jewry’s perspective has yet to be examined.

Most of the historiographical debate centers on Grant’s motivation for issuing the Order. In his 1895 book, American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen early Civil War historian Simon Wolf seems to believe a deputy was responsible for the Order despite Grant’s admitting to responsibility in later correspondence. Wolf wrote the order “which was issued over the signature of General Grant, but of which he, at the time, had absolutely no knowledge.” [76] Wolf was friends with Grant and vehemently defended his record. Wolf claimed during his presidency, Grant “did more on and on behalf of American citizens of the Jewish faith, at home and abroad, than all the Presidents of the United States prior thereto or since.”[77]

In a journal article published in 1909, Joseph Lebowich “GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT AND THE JEWS” (1909) blames Grant entirely for the Order but does not believe Grant’s was anti-Semitic. Lebowich wrote, “Grant’s dealings with Jews, both before and after the issuing of Order №11, showed not only his freedom from the slightest taint of antisemitism but proved that he was a friend of the Jew…. [He] was singularly free from race prejudice.” [78]

Historian Bertram Korn’s book American Jewry and the Civil War (1951) is the first significant study of the Jewish experience during the Civil War. Korn examined Grant’s Order when looking at American Judaeophobia in the Union, listing Grant, General William Tecumseh Sherman, and Benjamin Butler as the worst offenders within the Union. A 1965 journal article by historian Joakim Isaacs, “Candidate Grant and the Jews,” has been the standard on how General Order Number 11 played out during the 1868 presidential campaign with Grant as the Republican nominee. Isaacs briefly goes through the Order’s history, but then argues about the Democratic press overly using the event against their opponent. Isaacs notes the conflict American Jews felt about how they should vote in the presidential; however, most voted down party lines.

Two journal articles had been for a long time the primary literature on Grant’s Order Stephen V. Ash’s “Civil War Exodus The Jews and Grant’s General Order №11,” (1982) and John Simon’s “That Obnoxious Order” (1984). Neither historian’s research area emphasizes Jewish history. Ash is a Civil War historian who studies Tennessee and the North occupation of the South. While Simon was executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association and edited “The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant,” twenty-six volumes of Grant’s personal papers. Ash believes that mounting pressure from Washington might have forced Grant to issue the Order. Simon believes Grant’s father, Jesse Grant’s request for a permit for Jewish traders and associates of his, led Grant over the edge. Simon explains, the incident “provides a psychological explanation for the orders, though hardly a justification.” [79]

Leading American Jewish historian Jonathan D. Sarna gives the full book treatment to Grant’s General Order Number 11 in When General Grant Expelled the Jews (2016). Sarna examines Grant’s entire relationship with American Jewry from Civil War and issuing the Order, through the 1868 election and his presidency. Sarna believes the moment “marked a turning point in American Jewish history” and “set the stage for their empowerment” in America. [80]

[1] Jonathan D. Sarna, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, (New York: Nextbook, 2012), 14.

[2] Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 120.

[3] Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1951, 2001), xi.

[4] Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1951, 2001), 122, 164.

[5] Before 1879, when German Wilhelm Marr coined the term anti-Semitism, the term used to describe discrimination and prejudice against Jews was anti-Judaism or anti-Jewish prejudice. Studies now use the term to describe the prejudice as anti-Semitism even before that date. Older studies such as Bertram Korn’s 1951 book American Jewry in the Civil War use anti-Jewish as the predominantly terminology, Leonard Dinnerstein in his 1994 book Antisemitism in America used anti-Semitism even before the term was used. For the purpose of this essay, both terms will be used.

[6] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 164.

[7] Sarna, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, x.

[8] John Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn. Jews and the Civil War: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2010. (Originally Civil War Times Illustrated 23:6: 12–17 1984), 356.

[9] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 1.

[10] Arthur Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 104.

[11] Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History, 107.

[12] Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 355.

[13] Gary L. Bunker and John J. Appel, “‘Shoddy’ Antisemitism and the Civil War,” in Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, (New York: New York University Press, 2010). (Originally, American Jewish History 82 (1994): 43–71), 311.

[14] Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History, 107–108.

[15] Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 355.

[16] Ibid., Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 359.

[17] Ibid., Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 356.

[18] Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History, 107.

[19] Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 4?.

[20] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 28.

[21] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 275.

[22] Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History, 107.

[23] Ibid., Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter: a History, 107.

[24] Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 356; Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 2.

[25] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 1.

[26] Ibid., Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 2.

[27] Sarna, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, 3.

[28] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 2.

[29] Ibid., Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 2.

[30] Bunker and Appel, “‘Shoddy’ Antisemitism and the Civil War,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 311.

[31] Ibid., Bunker and Appel, “‘Shoddy’ Antisemitism and the Civil War,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 311.

[32] Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 366.

[33] Leonard Rogoff, “Is the Jew White?: The Racial Place of the Southern Jew.” American Jewish History. 85.3 (1997).

[34] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 29.

[35] Ibid., Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 29.

[36] Simon, “That Obnoxious Order,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 356.

[37] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 30.

[38] Ibid., Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 30.

[39] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 31.

[40] Hertzberg, The Jews in America, 111.

[41] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 31.

[42] Ibid., Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 31.

[43] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 31.

[44] Bertram W. Korn, “The Jews of the Union,” The American Jewish Archives Journal, Vol. 13, №2 (1961).

[45] Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 32.

[46] Ibid., Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, 32.

[47] Bunker and Appel, “‘Shoddy’ Antisemitism and the Civil War,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 312.

[48] Bertram W. Korn, “The Jews of the Union,” The American Jewish Archives Journal, 133.

[49] Bertram W. Korn, “The Jews of the Union,” The American Jewish Archives Journal, 133.

[50] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, 119.


[52] Sarna, American Judaism: A History, 114.

[53] Ash, “Civil War Exodus The Jews and Grant’s General Order №11,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 375.

[54] William A. Blair, With Malice Toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2014, 205.

[55] Blair, With Malice Toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era, 205.

[56] Christopher Phillips, Shadow War: Federal Military Authority and Loyalty Oaths in Civil War Missouri,

[57] Sarna, “General Grant’s Infamous Order,” Disunion, The New York Times,



[60] Deborah E. Lipstadt, Antisemitism: Here and Now, (New York Schocken Books, 2019), 224.



[63] Benjamin Isaac, “The Ancient Mediterranean and the Pre-Christian Era,” 5.5.I, 39.

[64] Ibid., Isaac, “The Ancient Mediterranean and the Pre-Christian Era,” 5.5.I, 39–40.

[65] Ibid., Isaac, “The Ancient Mediterranean and the Pre-Christian Era,” 5.5.I, 39–40.




[69] 74–75

[70] Stephen H Norwood and Eunice G. Pollack, Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2008), 63.

[71] Frederic C. Jaher, The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formation, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France, (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2003), 167–168.


[73] Jonathan D. Sarna, “General Grant’s Infamous Order,” Disunion, The New York Times, DECEMBER 19, 2012.

[74] Ibid., Sarna, “General Grant’s Infamous Order,” Disunion, The New York Times,

[75] Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, x.

[76] Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War, 23. Simon Wolf, The American Jew As Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen, (Boston: Gregg Press, 1972), 1895.

[77] Joseph Lebowich, “GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT AND THE JEWS.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, no. 17, 1909, pp. 71–79. JSTOR,

[78] Adam Mendelsohn, “Introduction Before Korn: A Century of Jewish Historical Writing about the American Civil War in Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2010), (Originally American Jewish History 92:4 (2007): 438–454), 23.

[79] Ash, “Civil War Exodus The Jews and Grant’s General Order №11,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 380.

[80] Sarna, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, xiv.

About the Author

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused on Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.



Bonnie K. Goodman

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @