JBuzz Reviews April 20, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Jewish vote in elections past and present

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jewish vote in elections past and present

Source: Brandeis Hoot, 4-20-12

Professor of American Jewish History Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) recently published his new book “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” discussing the election of 1868 in comparison to today’s political climate.

During the election of 1868, Jewish voters faced a daunting choice. Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant was the man who had issued Order 11 on Dec. 17, 1862, expelling the Jewish people from Grant’s war zone. While it was eventually exposed that Grant issued his order for partially personal reasons related to his father, it was still viewed as a harsh act. The order was revoked on Jan. 4, 1863, upon reaching the desk of President Abraham Lincoln. It held consequences for the Jewish people both psychologically and physically, as some of them were mistreated in the process of relocating.

As Sarna argues, the election of 1868 presented a dilemma for Jewish liberals. “Domestic policies of the republicans during that time period were very much to their liking, but how could they vote for a man who had expelled Jews from his far zone, in what was the single most anti-Semitic act in the United States,” Sarna said.

Sarna describes this choice for the Jewish liberals as an internal one, a question of whether a person should “vote for a party bad for the country in order to avoid voting for a man who is bad for the Jews.”

Sarna wants to get across that Jewish liberals at this time were in turmoil, trying to measure out the “percent of yourself as an American and sense of self as a Jew” and which percent would overcome the other.

He draws a direct parallel to the 2012 elections, arguing that today, there is a “sense on the part of many Jews that Obama is not as supportive of Israel as his predecessors.” If Jewish liberals do not wish to vote for Obama because they question the strength of his support for Israel, their other choice is to vote for the Romney, whose platform goes against what many liberals believe politically.

Sarna believes that “lots of Jews in both cases will find their situation very parallel to the election of 1868.”

Like the election of 1868, Jewish voters have to consider their obligations as Americans as well as their obligations to the Jewish community. Sarna discussed whether a person can forget they are Jewish in a voting booth, or whether that is an identity that cannot be left outside the voting polls. Making connections to further back in history, Sarna even related the election of 1868 to the Federalist papers—their “concern over factions” and “putting the needs of country first regardless of group interest.”

Sarna does admit that the impact of the Jewish vote in both the election of 1868 and today may be over-exaggerated. Grant won the election of 1868, yet it may have been more because of black voters who approved of his efforts to improve their lives and grant them rights. Indeed, Sarna believes that the “power of the Jewish vote was exaggerated by four to five times,” and that people believed there were more voters than actually existed.

At the time, the media was concerned with the ramifications of Order 11, so the Jewish vote came to the forefront despite the fact that the number of Jewish voters was not as large as imagined.

JBuzz News March 15, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Barach College Jewish Studies Center Presents ‘General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews’

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jewish Studies Center Presents ‘General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews’ with Jonathan Sarna

Source:  EON: Enhanced Online News, 3-15-12

On March 21, 2012, The Jewish Studies Center at Baruch presents a talk entitled “General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews” with featured speaker Dr. Jonathan Sarna. The event is scheduled at 1 p.m. in Engelman Recital Hall, located on the first floor of the Newman Vertical Campus, 55 Lexington Avenue.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

“the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

Dr. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s 50 most influential American Jews, he was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community, and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life. Dr. Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than twenty books, including the Jews and the Civil War: A Reader and A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew. He is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been praised as being “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

The discussion is co-sponsored by Baruch’s Alumni Relations Office and the Office of College Advancement. For more information, contact Jessica Lang, Director of the Jewish Studies Center, at (646) 312-3975 or jessica.lang@baruch.cuny.edu.

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12

WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95

 

Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”