Ulysses S. Grant had an unerring capacity for failure whenever he stepped out of the two areas in life in which he excelled: his happy marriage and his ability to make war. On November 17, 1862 he demonstrated this ability to fail when he issued the notorious general order 11.
1. The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [of the Tennessee] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.
2. Post commanders will see to it that all of this class of people be furnished passes and required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners, unless furnished with permit from headquarters.
3. No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.
Grant had been incensed for some time that traders were ignoring the regulations governing trade in a war zone. Many of these traders were Jews. It is possible that the order may have been aimed at Grant’s father Jesse, who had caused Grant considerable embarrassment by attempting to trade off of his son’s rank in order to profiteer from the war. Jesse Grant was in partnership with a Jewish merchant.
Whatever the motivation, Grant, rightfully, was soon forced to rescind the order by Washington, and did so on January 6, 1863. The order created a furor among American Jews, and Democrats in Congress complained loudly about it. President Lincoln ordered the rescission of the order on January 3, 1863. Meeting with a delegation of Jews on January 6, Lincoln said: “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad.” He told the delegation that he drew no distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and that he would allow no American to suffer because of his religious affiliation.
It should be noted that there is no evidence, other than this order, that Grant was personally anti-Semitic. He spent a fair amount of time thereafter successfully mending fences with the Jewish community after this incident. Each time he ran for President he captured a majority of the Jewish vote. In 1874 he and his entire cabinet attended the dedication of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, marking the first time an American president attended a synagogue service.