“Jews as a Class”

In December 2015, Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump announced his intention to impose a ban on all Muslims coming into the United States in response to various terrorist attacks done by militant radical jihadists. The question of whether such an action could be legally and practically enforced made historians look back to the treatment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. However, there is a better reference point for singling out a religious group, which happened 153 years ago this week.

General Grant Expelled the Jews

In the heat of the American Civil War, Major General Ulysses S. Grant was eager to establish military advantage. One of the ways he sought to accomplish this task was to curtail illegal smuggling of cotton and other goods out of the South which helped finance the Confederate’s war efforts. One group that Grant saw as being particularly involved in the trade was the Jews.

As such, on December 17, 1862 Union General U. S. Grant issued General Order No. 11 which stated:

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.

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.

No passes will be given these people to visit headquarters for the purpose of making personal application of trade permits.

By order of Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant”

As clearly spelled out, the order singled out one minority group – in its entirety – to be expelled from their homes within Grant’s territory (western Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi). This order continues to stand as the most anti-Semitic act by the US government to this day.

Grant expel jews
Jonathan D. Sarna’s book on Grant Expelling Jews in the Civil War

The Objection

As detailed in Jonathan D. Sarna’s book “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” there were many objections to Order No. 11 at the time:

  1. Treat smugglers as individuals. While there were certainly Jewish smugglers profiting from the war, American laws require action against the people who actually commit the crime, and in some cases, people who aid and abet the illegal activity. In no situation does the law enable prosecution of an entire category of people who have no connection to the illegal activities.
  2. Prosecute all smugglers. There were many non-Jews involved in the smuggling trade. The North itself enabled the sale of cotton which it hoped would be used to finance its own war efforts while it penalized the South. Yet Grant’s orders do not punish all smugglers, but only Jewish one’s together with co-religionists, reeked of anti-Semitism and illogic.
  3. Non-violence, nor calls for violence. None of the smugglers committed any violent acts against other Americans. While Grant argued that the smuggling itself helped fund the Confederacy, neither Jews as individuals, nor any Jewish group overall called for harming the Union. All of the smugglers – Jews and non-Jews alike – were simply seeking a profit.
  4. Jews were serving in the Union Army. There were roughly eight thousand Jews serving in the Union army, including nine generals. The broad edict by Grant would have forced his own soldiers to be expelled from the region.

President Lincoln thought the order was inappropriate and countered the order. Lincoln commanded his general chief of the army, Henry Halleck, to revoke the order on January 4, 1863. Halleck wrote a letter to Grant which stated:

“It may be proper to give you some explanation of the revocation of your order expelling Jews from your department. The President has no objection to your expelling traitors and Jew peddlers, which, I suppose, was the object of your order; but, as it in terms proscribed an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deemed it necessary to revoke it.”

Grant, who was later to become president of the United States, deeply regretted his Order No. 11 later in life, according to Sarna. He created a cabinet that included more Jews than any previous administration. When he was asked in 1875 why he issued such a bigoted order, he simply replied that in wartime “nice distinctions were disregarded. We had no time to handle things with kid gloves.”

Which has a similar ring to some calls against Muslims in America today.

Muslims in America Today

On December 8, 2015, the Wall Street Journal led with an editorial “The Obama-Trump Dialectic” which blamed the rise of Donald J. Trump’s illiberal suggestions of how to treat Muslims on the failures of Obama to confront militant radical jihadists.

The Obama failures regarding calling out and responding to radical Islam are plentiful, but beyond the scope of this article.  The question is Trump’s desire to treat “an entire religious class” (to use the Lincoln-Grant phraseology) as a single unit.

Trump had two principle ideas of handling Muslims as of December 2015:

  1. a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”
  2. a database for tracking all Muslims in the United States

Each of Trump’s ideas treats all Muslims as a distinct minority subject to rules that do not apply to any other people.  The distinction is based on religion, as was the case for Jews in 1862, which was objectionable to President Lincoln.

1. Immigrants: The first idea relates to incoming immigrants, not US Muslim citizens.  As such, while objectionable in principle, it is different than applying discriminatory laws against US citizens who have broad protections under the law.  Trump’s arguments for foreign Muslims today are different than for Jews in 1862, as they also are in comparing Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe in the 1930s and 1940s:

  • There were no global Jewish militants threatening to destroy America, like radical jihadist groups ISIS, Al Qaeda, and others today
  • Foreign Jewish groups did not kill thousands of Americans as was the case of Muslim foreigners over the recent past
  • There was no Jewish state for Jews 150 years ago or during World War II to act as a natural safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution, while there are 57 Muslim countries to absorb fellow Muslim immigrants
  • Jews were not engaged in any violent activities in America in the 1860s or during World War II, while Muslims today are engaged in several international wars and have attacked America
  • Jews have always been a very small minority, while there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world leading to a potentially much more significant immigration issue
  • Jews have a long history of being expelled from countries, and hoped for a tolerant country in the United States which was founded on the principle of religious freedom; Muslims do not have a history of being expelled, but they also hope to enjoy America’s freedoms

Regarding Muslim immigration, Obama’s failures to call out Islamic terrorism is magnified by his refusal to take a strong stand on border control, according to Republicans and the WSJ.  Trump said that the ban would only be temporary until the government better understands the situation.

As detailed in “A Logical Approach to Immigration from Personal History,” there is a successful history of the US processing immigrants fleeing persecution to make sure that proper vetting takes place.  It would NOT ban all Muslims, but instead require them to first be situated out of harm’s way in a displaced person’s camp, say in Jordan, at which point vetting would occur.  Women and children would be permitted into the US first, followed by men at some point in the future.

Most significantly, not every situation is the same.  Muslims in Myanmar are different than Sunnis and Shiites from the Middle East.  Each may or may not have valid reasons to seek asylum in the USA.

Trump’s call for an edict against “Muslims as a class” regarding immigration recalls Grant’s comment during wartime that “nice distinctions were disregarded. We had no time to handle things with kid gloves.”  But today, there is time to manage a logical vetting process – which is more robust than put forward by President Obama.

2. Muslim Citizens. While non-American Muslims are not afforded protection of US laws (but only those that relate to immigration policies), American Muslims are full citizens with full rights and protections.  They account for 0.9% of the US population.  While some may have committed terrorist acts, the vast majority have not.  Further, there is no indication that there is a widespread plot to harm America or American interests.

Like the Jews in 1862, there is no basis of treating all co-religionists as a single “class,” while the treatment of the Jews was punitive, and the Trump suggestion for Muslims would just be placing the group under surveillance.

The US government just ended its vast metadata collection program.  That database was on all Americans that helped to track connections between potential terrorists.  Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie stated that ending that program was a big mistake, as using data collection and analytical tools helped locate would-be terrorists and keeps Americans safe.

Chris Christie RJC
NJ Governor Chris Christie addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition
in Washington, D.C., December 2015

(photo: First.One.Through)

A new modified approach of data collection in which people who make calls to, or visit war zones, such as Iraq and Syria, would be tracked may be an appropriate next step.  That would be more logical and fair and not treat all Muslims “as a class” simply for their religious beliefs, but based on actions.  An action-based monitoring system and database would capture information on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.


On December 10, 2015, the liberal newspaper The New York Times led with an editorial “The Trump Effect, and How it Spreads” which blamed the entire Republican party as being a bunch of racists.  As opposed to the Wall Street Journal editorial two days prior, it did not place any blame for the popularity of Trump’s positions on the many failures of the Obama administration.

While liberals and conservatives would both agree that a government’s primary concern is for the safety of its citizens, it does so within the framework of laws. America has laws requiring the separation of church-and-state and also does not have a class-based entrenched society.  The foundation documents of the country are that “all men are created equal, and they should be treated equally under the law.

General Grant made an anti-Semitic order during the Civil War, but society was fortunate to have Abraham Lincoln who realized the deep inherent flaw of punishing an entire group of people.  In the middle of that episode, Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which freed the slaves.  Lincoln understood that if all men are to be equal, it must include every minority – blacks or Jews.

General Grant had Lincoln to keep his anti-Semitic edict in check, and Grant ultimately proved to be a good friend of the Jews.  His Order No. 11 was issued in the fervent hope of winning the war and protecting the Union.

Donald Trump has no power today so his words can best be kept in check by public voices, and ultimately the public vote.  Both Republicans and Democrats have spoken out against his suggestions as being un-American.  Indeed they are.

However, just as Grant was acting out of the interest of protecting America (with a very bad idea), it did not mark him as a permanent anti-Semite. It is similarly possible that a President Trump would place many Muslims on his cabinet.

Trump’s calls to treat Muslims “as a class” is wrong and racist. However, it does not mean that he will ultimately harbor anti-Muslim animus, just as Grant reformed in a time of peace.  The NY Times suggestion that all of the Republican candidates are racists is as narrow-minded and bigoted as Trump’s declaration.  However, it is more unlikely that the Times changes its biased viewpoints, than Trump modifying his.

Related First.One.Through articles:

I’m Offended, You’re Dead

Dancing with the Asteroids

The Gap between Fairness and Safety: WMDs in Iraq and Iran

Not Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the Girders

The Banners of Jihad

Finding Mr. Right-Wing

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15 thoughts on ““Jews as a Class”

  1. Apples and oranges. General Grant expelled US Jews from their US homes. Mr Trump wants a moratorium on Muslim immigration till we can get a handle on proper vetting of this group of immigrants. While it is true that not all Muslims are terrorists; it is also true that most terrorists are Muslim.

    A CIC’s first duty is to keep Americans safe. Also as you noted, there is absolutely no right to immigrate to America. The Constitution does not cover non-Americans. President Carter expelled all Iranians on visas during the hostage crisis. FDR, a hero of the left, interned Japanese citizens he deemed a threat in a time of war.

    Further, Islam, unlike Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism is not just a religion. Islam is a political, legal and social system. Recent polls have shown that the number of Muslims, even within the USA, who would like to see Shariah implemented is enormous. Shariah is not compatible with Western/US values, ethics, and society. It directly contradicts our Constitution.

    Also the disastrous example of Europe is before us. The experiment of allowing unvetted mass immigration of Muslims has wreaked havoc in Europe. Rapes, FGM, veiled women, anti-Semitism, no-go areas and violence have followed the rise in the Muslim population in Europe. They have not assimilated. instead they seek to bring their way of life, Shariah, there. Why would we want that here?

    Finally, unbeknownst to many, Muslim immigration to the USA has soared in the last 8 years under Obama. This year alone we are on target to bring in 300,000 Muslims, larger than the population of DesMoines, Iowa. Is this what we really want?


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