January 4, 1862 (Sunday)
“And so the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan,” Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have said.
“Yes,” Jewish refuge, Cesar Kaskel, purportedly replied, “and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”
“And this protection they shall have at once.”
This conversation probably never happened. At least, it didn’t happen as recorded. But some conversation took place on this date between Cesar Kaskel and President Lincoln, and because of it, results were seen.
On December 17th, General Ulysses S. Grant made the bold move of expelling all Jews from his department. The order was apparently meant to drive out the crooked cotton speculators and sutlers who traded with the enemy and Union officers alike. Both William Tecumseh Sherman and Grant (and others) bitterly complained about the infestations of “Jews” along the Mississippi. Grant’s General Order No. 11 took care of that, vanquishing not just Jewish merchants, but all Jewish people. It made no mention at all of non-Jewish cotton speculators.
About a week and a half later, news of the order reached Paducah, Kentucky, where thirty or more Jewish people were evicted not only from their homes, but from their state. They were rounded up and forced to board a steamship that would remove them from Grant’s sight.
Cesar Kaskel was one of those Paducah refugees. The day after he was removed, he sent a telegram to President Lincoln while he waited to board the the Charley Bowen. Having not heard a reply by the time he got to Cairo, Illinois, forty odd miles down river, Kaskel decided to simply go to Washington himself.
He, along with a few friends, made their way, probably by rail, east. Along the way, he gained support from the Jewish communities outside of Grant’s department. A rabbi and merchant from Cincinnati both wrote letters which Kaskel carried with him.
In the meantime, Kaskel’s telegram lay in the War Office unread by anyone. The press picked up the story, but it didn’t make splashing headlines. News was spreading faster than Kaskel could move. Before he reached Cincinnati, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, editor of the newspaper Israelite had heard about it from those expelled from Holly Springs, Mississippi, They had been forced to walk fifty miles to Memphis to catch their boat out of Grant’s domain.
Rabbi Wise published bold statements. He urged people to go to Washington to be heard. And while Kaskel was already on his way, independent others also took to the road.
So many began to trek to the capital that Rabbi Wise, a conservative in every other aspect of his life, became worried of too much protest. The backlash could be tremendous. The Jews could become the new Blacks, so to speak.
Kaskel probably knew little of this when he arrived in Washington on the 3rd. That night, he met with a prominent, but former, congressman from Cincinnati. John Addison Gurley, had lost the 1862 election, but still found himself in favor at the White House, so he stuck around Washington acting as a sort of lobbyist/socialite. This came in fairly handy.
On this date (or possibly the night of the 3rd, depending on which rather embellished story you believe), Gurley and Kaskel made their way to the White House to have an audience with President Lincoln, who saw they right away.
This is when the above “Father Abraham” conversation was to have taken place. Specifically, it probably did not. Kaskel was probably shocked that Lincoln had no idea what he was talking about, and explained the removal order. Lincoln apparently told him that he would fix it.
And so he did. On this date, Lincoln had General-in-Chief Henry Halleck wire General Grant:
A paper purporting to be General Orders, No. 11, issued by you December 17, has been presented here. By its terms it expels all Jews from your department. If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked.
It may have taken a few days to get to Grant, but on the 7th, he rescinded the order:
By direction of General-in-Chief of the Army, at Washington, the general order from these headquarters expelling Jews from the department is hereby revoked.
On the 21st, feeling that Grant was owed a bit of explanation, Halleck spelled it out: “The President has no objection to your expelling traitors [Halleck possibly meant “traders”] 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.”
While it seems fairly certain that Lincoln had not heard of Grant’s order prior to his meeting with Kaskel, Henry Halleck cannot claim similar ignorance. On December 31st, Halleck received and endorsed with his signature Kaskel’s original telegram from Paducah.
With the order revoked, the fervor didn’t just go away. Though the Jews already on the road to demand redress by the President, continued on their journey to thank him, many were still understandably outraged.
Many lodged formal protests and demanded an apology from Grant (which never came). The press (and not just the Cincinnati Israelite) took up the banner as well. The New York Times found it humiliating that “it remained for the freest Government on earth to witness a momentary revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.”
To many, Lincoln was simultaneously freeing the slaves and protecting the Jews. Cesar Kaskel made it back to Paducah in record time. Upon his arrival, he was the first to inform the Union provost marshal that, by order of the President, he and all the Jews, were allowed back into Grant’s department, and to live in peace in their own homes.
((Sources: American Jewish Historical Quarterly, Volume 17; Anti-Semitism in America, Volume 6; The Fate of Liberty:Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties by Mark E. Neely; When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan D. Sarna; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p530, 544; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p9; New York Times, January 18, 1863.))