Tuesday, March 26, 2019


71 years ago today Chuck Yeager became the first human to travel faster than the speed of sound.  This is from Chuck Yeager's twitter feed today.  Yeager turned 96 last month.  What a man!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

General Orders No. 11

On June 9, 1876 President Ulysses S Grant attended the dedication of Adas Israel, the first Jewish synagogue built expressly for that purpose in Washington DC, becoming the first American President to attend such an event.  The President surprised the congregation by staying for the entire three hour dedication ceremony.

On December 17, 1862 Major General Ulysses S Grant, commander of the Department of the Tennessee, issued General Orders, No. 11 expelling "The Jews, as a class" from the Department, which included western Tennessee and Kentucky along with northern Mississippi.  It remains the most sweeping anti-Jewish government action in American history.


The reputation of US Grant has undergone a change in recent decades.   First to be restored was his reputation as a commander.  Under the influence of Lost Cause historians, Grant had been regarded in the first half of the 20th century as an untalented "butcher" who prevailed in the Civil War simply because he had more men and supplies than his opponent, the saintly Robert E Lee.

Today, while Lee is still considered Grant's tactical superior on the battlefield, Grant is rightly recognized as the better strategist, both in terms of his overall approach to achieving victory, and his campaign strategies at Vicksburg (May-June 1863) and during his advance on Richmond (May-June 1864).

More recently Grant's presidency has also come in for reassessment.  Until 20 or 30 years ago, Grant's two terms (1869-77) were considered a failure and he was consistently ranked by historians in the bottom tier of presidents.  Recent biographies and studies have been more sympathetic, particularly about his attempts to protect and provide for the civil rights of the recently freed slaves and his Indian policy.  The studies also tend to absolve him of personal involvement and knowledge of the corruption scandals that plagued his administration.  I haven't yet read the most recent and acclaimed of these new biographies, Grant by Ron Chernow, but from what I've read it may go too far in trying to rationalize away his failures.  My assessment is that Grant was better as president than considered thirty years ago but it would still be difficult to assess his presidency as a success.

With that background where and how do the events of 1862 and 1876 fit in how we should think about Grant?  To understand the best source is Jonathan D Sarna's book, When General Grant Expelled The Jews (2012) from which much of what follows is derived.

US Grant rose quickly from obscurity at the start of the Civil War.  A West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican War, he was assigned to remote outposts in the West, succumbed to drunkenness and loneliness and left the army in 1854.  A repeated failure in business over the next few years he volunteered for service when the Civil War started in 1861.  Looking for experienced officers he gained appointment as a regimental commander and after a few minor, but relatively successful operations, was promoted to general.  He rose to national attention in February 1862 when his forces captured Forts Donelson and Henry, opening up central and western Tennessee to Federal occupation, the first major Union victory of the war.

By June, Grant captured Memphis on the Mississippi River and at the end of the year was embarking on what turned out to be a seven month effort to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi and sever the western Confederacy from the east.

Memphis was a large cotton-trading hub with access to the fertile Mississippi Delta, source of much of the Southern cotton crop.  Speculators of all types flooded into the area in the wake of the Union army, seeking to both legally and illegally obtain cotton from Southern sources and sell it for large profits in the north.  Among the traders and speculators were Jews, usually distinguished by their distinctive dress and sound.  Grant who believed in waging economic warfare against the Confederacy and was also worried about traders providing information to the enemy took steps as early as July to monitor the trade ordering examination of "all baggage of all speculators coming South" and that "Jews should receive special attention".   In November, Grant ordered his subordinates to "Refuse all permits to come south of Jackson for the present . . . The Israelites especially should be kept out".

Yet when a Union colonel at the Union base in Holly Springs, Mississippi issued an order on December 8 expelling "All Cotton Speculators, Jews, and other Vagrants", Grace insisted the order be withdrawn, but only nine days later Grant issued his order specifically expelling Jews.  What had happened?  Sarna speculates it was triggered by the visit of Grant's father, Jesse R Grant to his son between the two dates.

Grant and his father had a long-standing strain their relationship.  Raised near Cincinnati in an abolitionist stronghold which was part of the Underground Railroad and there is some evidence that Grant's family played a role in these activities (see Ulysses Underground by GL Corum for more). Ulysses left home to attend West Point but his deteriorating fortunes led him to being reduced to working for his father by the late 1850s.  On his visit in December 1862, the elder Grant was accompanied by members of the Mack family, a prominent Jewish family from Cincinnati who had hired Jesse to be their agent to secure a permit to purchase cotton.  According to an eyewitness Ulysses, visibly angered by this father's attempt to use his son's military status for profit and enraged at the Macks for using his father, refused to issue the permit and soon thereafter issued Order No. 11.  According to John Simon, editor of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, the general "expelled the Jews rather than his father".

The distribution of Order No. 11 was slow and erratic within the Department of the Tennessee, in part because on December 21 a Confederate cavalry raid destroyed the Holly Springs supply base and disrupted communication but by the end of December, Jews were being expelled from towns like Paducah, Kentucky (the order applied to all Jews, regardless of whether they were traders) where one of those expelled made his way to Cincinnati to inform the larger Jewish community in that city and then Jews nationwide became quickly aware and a delegation set out for Washington DC.

At the time of the Civil War there were about 150,000 Jews in the United States, about 25,000 of whom lived in the Confederate states.  This amounted to only about 0.5% of the country's population and the largest percentage of whom came from Germany.  It was only later in the 19th century that the mass migration of Jews from eastern Europe and Russia occurred with America's Jewish population peaking at nearly 4% in 1940.

Coincidentally on January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the Memphis Daily Bulletin published both the proclamation and Order No. 11 one above the other!

If Grant's order had been limited to expelling speculators or even had been a general expelling order for speculators, and specifically also mentioned Jewish speculators the order would not have created a stir in that era.  It was the inclusion of "Jews as a class" regardless of occupation that was shocking.

A delegation of Cincinnati Jews reached Washington on January 3 and called upon their Congressman, Republican John Addison Gurley who took them immediately to the White House where they were granted an audience with President Lincoln.  Lincoln, who had been unaware of the order, immediately ordered general in chief Henry Halleck to countermand it.  The next day Halleck wired Grant, "If such an order has been issued, it will be immediately revoked".

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who participated in the meeting with Lincoln, had not been a supporter of the President, but came away very impressed, stating he "feels no prejudice against any nationality" and "by no means will allow that a citizen in any wise be wronged on account of his place of birth or religious confession".

Grant never provided any public explanation of his order and avoided all mention of it in his Personal Memoirs, composed as he was dying in 1884 and 1885.  However, his wife Julia Dent Grant mentioned it in her own memoirs which were not published until 1975.  She characterized the order as "obnoxious", and recalled that her husband felt the reprimand he had received for issuing it was deserved, for "he had no right to make an order against any special sect".

And there the matter lay until Grant's presidential campaign of 1868.

When Grant received the Republican nomination in May, the reaction from the Jewish community, remembering the events of 1862, was negative, given he had been compared in Jewish circles to Haman, the vizier of Persia, who had ordered the extermination of Jews, only to be thwarted by Esther.  Rabbi Wise, a Democrat, pronounced that:
"Worse than General Grant none in this nineteenth century in civilized countries has abused and outraged the Jews."
During the campaign Democratic papers assaulted Grant on the issue of Order No. 11, while Republican Jews tried to defend the candidate.  Among these were Jewish immigrants from Bavaria, Jesse and Henry Seligman, who first met Grant in Watertown NY in 1848 and went on to become very successful businessmen and life long friends of the general.

The candidate himself, as was normal in those times, remained silent on everything, including his view of the Jews. A journalist attending the national B'nai B'rith convention estimated that 90% of the attendees opposed Grant.

In November Grant won election.  New York was the only state he lost where the Jewish vote may have made a difference.

With the election over, Grant allowed publication of a private letter he had written to Isaac Newton Morris during the campaign which assuaged the opposition of many Jews:
I have no prejudice against sect or race, but want each individual to be judged by his own merit.  Order No.11 does not sustain this statement, I admit, but then I do not sustain that order.  It never would have been issued if it had not been telegraphed the moment it was penned, and without reflection.
President Grant's actions reflected the sentiments in his letter.  He opposed a proposed Constitutional Amendment which would have specifically declared the U.S. a Christian nation.  Grant appointed more Jews to public positions than any prior president.  He asked his friend Joseph Seligman to become Secretary of the Treasury, an appointment he declined.  Grant appointed Jews as American counsels in Canada and Japan.  Edward Salomon became governor of the Washington Territory, the first practicing Jew to attain such a position.  Dr Herman Bendell was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Arizona Territory, and later became counsel in Denmark.

In 1869, Russian Jews were expelled from a province bordering Romania.  A delegation of Republican Jews asked Grant to intercede.  Russia was an ally, having supported the Union during the Civil War (unlike Britain and France) and in 1867 agreed to sell Alaska to the United States.  Though opposed by his own Secretary of State, Grant decided that the subject should be mentioned to the Russian minister "with the expression of the hope that the Russian government may not find itself obliged to resort to such measures".  He also publicly stated that "It is too late, in this age of enlightenment, to persecute any one on account of race, color or religion".  Russian authorities postponed, and then rescinded the deportation order.  It was this incident, more than any other, that rehabilitated Grant's reputation among Jews.  Grant also took similar actions when Romanian Jews faced persecution including appointing a Jew as American counsel to that country.  Grant wrote the letter of introduction for the counsel in his own hand:
Washington Dec 8, 1870

The bearer of this letter Hon Benj F Peixotto, who has accepted the important though unremunerative position of U.S. Counsul-General to Roumania is commended to the good offices of all representatives of this government abroad.

Mr Peixotto has undertaken the duties of his present office more as a missionary work for the benefit of the people who are laboring under severe oppression than for any benefits to accrue to himself, a work which all good citizens will wish him the greatest success in.  The United States knowing no distinction of her own citizens on account of religion or nativity naturally believe in a civilization the world over which will secure the same universal liberal views.

U.S. Grant
All of this had a practical political impact. Based on the limited available evidence it appears Grant overwhelmingly won the Jewish vote in 1872.

After his retirement Grant, living in New York City, continued his engagement with the Jewish community.  In 1881 the assassination of Czar Alexander II of Russia sparked a wave of anti-Jewish violence in that country.  Grant was the first person to sign the call for a public meeting in New York urging his fellow citizens to attend "without distinction of creed" for "the purpose of expressing their sympathy with the persecuted Hebrews in the Russian Empire."

During his final illness, Grant took pride in noting that Protestants, Catholics, and Jews appointed days of prayer on his behalf.  When he died, Grant received universal praise from the Jewish press and rabbis.

Sarna provides a summary that rings true when one reads of Grant's actions:
"Whenever he interacted with Jews, and especially when Jews suffered persecution, one senses that embarrassing memories of General Orders No. 11 flooded into his mind.

Jews knew how much Grant regretted issuing his order.  He had apologized for it publicly and numbers of Jews had heard him lament it privately as well.  Some of his non-Jewish friends also heard him regret what he had done.  John M Thayer, who knew Grant from the war onward . . . recalled at the time of Grant's death that "Grant sincerely regretted having ever issued the order, and in conversation with him said it was a great mistake . . . it was a source of great regret to him that he had been instrumental in inflicting a wrong . . ."

Would a public figure like Grant recover from such a misstep today?  Are we more or less forgiving than our forbears?  When do public figures deserve a chance at redemption?  How do we best judge people in their totality?

Friday, March 22, 2019

Spring Comes To Arizona

We've had an unusually cold and rainy winter here.  From Christmas through early March average temperatures were six degrees below normal and in late February we had significant snow with a couple of miles of our house and 10-12 inches only seven miles away.

But the weather has finally broken and this morning we saw the harbinger of its end.  A rattlesnake on our street.

Fortunately it was an ex-rattler that lost its contest with a car.  As the weather warms it brings them out of winter hibernation.

On the brighter side we should have some pretty spectacular desert flowers in April and May because of all the rain.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

This Is Satire (I Think)

From The Babylon Bee:

Candidates Propose Changes To Fix Flaw In Constitution That Allows Republicans To Be Elected

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A number of Democrats have proposed changes to the structure of government that they think would help them win, such as lowering the voting age to 16, abolishing the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court, and changing how Senate seats are allocated. Now, though, some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls are attacking the heart of the matter: what they call an “outdated Constitution” that sometimes “allows Republicans to be elected.”

The election of Trump exposed a fundamental flaw in the Constitution,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said at a campaign rally. “Everyone said Hillary was supposed to win, but she didn’t. And we’re afraid that in the future, maybe Democrats won’t win again. We can't allow that.

Warren and numerous other Democrats have proposed an amendment to the Constitution that will state that only Democrats are allowed to win elections, a proposal they say will increase election “fairness.

When I think about someone other than a Democrat being elected,” said Senator Cory Booker, “it makes me so mad.” He then raised his fists and shook them, a gesture indicating he was mad. Candidate Beto O’Rourke also spoke out for the proposed amendment, though all he got out was, “It’s a great--” before skateboarding into a tree and quickly fleeing the scene of the incident.

None of the candidates have explained how they propose to get two-thirds of the states to agree with this amendment, though this has led them to point out another flaw with the Constitution: that it’s “way too hard to change when you suddenly think you have a much better idea.”

Monday, March 11, 2019

I Got The Right To Sing The Blues

Last month via the blog of Ann Althouse I learned about Ethel Ennis who recently died (Ann linked to her obituary in the New York Times), a singer I'd never heard of.  It turns out in the late 1950s and early 1960s she was considered one of the finest young jazz singers in America, even drawing comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald.  Ms Ennis effectively retired in the early 60s, unwilling to put up with the demand, including sexual ones, required if she were to succeed at a higher level.

Listening to a few of her recordings she really does remind me of Ella, with her seeming effortless voice at different registers and her precise and light tone.  Here she is singing I Got A Right To Sing The Blues with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1958.  The song, composed in 1932, with lyrics by Ted Koehler and music by Harold Arlen (who also did the music for Over The Rainbow).

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


When we revisit earlier aspects of our life as we get older they often resonate in different ways.  I read JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy when a teenager and then reread it more than thirty years later.  I enjoyed the books just as much but it was the quieter moments that made the biggest impact when older.

I first read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes at about 14 and was fixated on the sinister atmosphere and events surrounding Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show.  Upon rereading it in my early 60s I realized it was about a son's relationship with his father.

This is Pete Townshend performing Drowned in 2011, a song he wrote for The Who album Quadrophrenia.  Listening to the words I wonder if he thinks any differently, as a 66-year old, about the song he wrote when twenty seven.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Too Bad It Didn't Happen Sooner

When portions of the Soviet archives became available after 1991, numerous arrest lists were found with Stalin's notations.  Some, like the one above, directed blanket executions.  Others, consisting of hundreds and sometimes thousands of names had Stalin's check next to those to be executed.  He spent a lot of time going through those lists.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Closing Minds

In a recent interview, Bernie Sanders was asked what the biggest obstacle is to making society more prosperous and fair.  His response:
"Close-minded Republicans."  March 2, 2019
"In Socialist Paradise, you don't decide to close your mind, State does it for you!" - Me, today

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Nanpu Bridge

This is the spiral approach to the Nanpu Bridge in Shanghai.  The bridge spans the Huangpu River between Puxi (the older central portion of the city) and Pudong, on the eastern side of the river, an area that was farms and fields in 1990 and is now a booming city. 

Shanghai, which I visited many times between 2000 and 2011, is one of my favorite cities; it's like New York on steroids.  I've been on the Nanpu spiral many times.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

You May Ask Yourself

Based on Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads.  If you are a fan of the band and regardless of what you think of Donald Trump this is one of the funniest videos I've ever seen.