During the Civil War, like so many of their fellow citizens, Jews were forced to take sides. While most of the nation's 150,000 Jews lived in the North and supported the Union, a sizable minority numbering about 25,000 lived in the South and held strong allegiance to the Confederacy. Anti-Jewish sentiments rose sharply during the war, culminating in General Ulysses S. Grant's infamous Order No. 11, banning Jews as a class from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The order was soon rescinded at the request of President Lincoln himself.
From the nation's earliest days, an undercurrent of prejudice and discrimination posed a continuing challenge to the Jewish community. However, constitutional guarantees of religious liberty, backed-up by American Jewry's firm response to acts of intolerance, prevented persecution of Jews from sinking deep roots in the United States. Still, confronting the challenges presented by anti-Semitism has been a persistent concern of American Jewry and has led to the founding of communal organizations focused specifically on responding to prejudice and preventing it through education.
Bible View of Slavery
On the eve of the Civil War, Rabbi Morris J. Raphall of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York preached a sermon in which he argued, based on a literal reading of the text, that the Bible permitted slavery. He became known as the "pro-slavery rabbi," though he personally opposed slavery. Rabbi David Einhorn, a leading abolitionist among American rabbis, denounced Raphall's view from the pulpit of his synagogue in Baltimore. The sermon was widely circulated and aroused the ire of the city's Southern sympathizers.
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David Einhorn (1809-1879). The Rev. Dr. M.J Raphall's Bible View of Slavery. New York: Thalmessinger, Cahn and Benedicks, printers, 1861. General Collections, Library of Congress (105)
Morris J. Raphall (1798-1868). Bible View of Slavery: A Discourse, Delivered at the Jewish Synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun, New York, on the Day of the National Fast, January 4, 1861. New York: Rudd and Carleton, 1861. General Collections, Library of Congress (106)
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Judah P. Benjamin: the Jewish Confederate
Judah Benjamin, the first acknowledged Jew to be elected to the United States Senate, served as Louisiana's senator from 1853 until that state seceded from the union in early 1861. Benjamin served as a member of Confederate President Jefferson Davis's cabinet, first as attorney general, then as secretary of war, and finally, as secretary of state. After the collapse of the Confederacy, Benjamin fled to England, where he had a distinguished career as one of England's leading barristers.
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A Twenty-year Confederate Bond
Bearing Judah Benjamin's likeness, this two-dollar bill, issued on December 2, 1862, and this twenty-year bond were issued by the Congress of the Confederate States of America. The bond, issued on August 19, 1861, offered an interest rate of eight percent, reflecting the investment's high degree of risk. The last coupon redeemed was dated January 1865.
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Two Dollar Bill of the Confederate States of America picturing Judah Benjamin. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress (112)
Five Hundred Dollar Bond, Confederate States of America. Authorized by an Act of Congress, C.S.A., August 18, 1861. Printed sheet with coupons. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (113)
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Eugenia Levy Phillips
A fiery and outspoken Confederate sympathizer, Eugenia Levy Phillips often found herself at odds with Union officials. In this journal page, Phillips describes the indignities of her confinement after her arrest by federal officers in Washington, along with two daughters and her sister Martha, on August 23, 1861. Released after a three-week imprisonment, Phillips relocated to New Orleans, where she mocked the funeral of a Union soldier, thereby running afoul of the notorious General Benjamin "Beast" Butler, who issued a special order imprisoning her at Ship Island, where conditions were harsh and primitive.
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A Prayer for the Confederacy
"On the day of Prayer Recommended by the President of the C.S. of A., the 27th of March, 1863," the Rev. M.J. Michelbacher, of the German synagogue Beth Ahabah ("House of Love") in Richmond, preached this sermon to which he added a prayer for the Confederate States of America "to crown our independence with lasting honor and prosperity," and for its president, Jefferson Davis, to "grant speedy success to his endeavors to free our country from the presence of its foes."
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Passover on the Front Lines
In this letter to his sister Leonora from an encampment in Adams Run, South Carolina, Confederate soldier Isaac Levy described his preparations for celebrating Passover in the field. In the note written in Hebrew characters in the middle of the page, Levy reported that their brother Zeke had traveled to Charleston for provisions, including matzot [unleavened bread]. He also tells his sister that both he and his brother were "observing the festival in a truly orthodox style."
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Chaplains of the Hebrew Faith for the Army
In his capacity as Secretary of the Board of Ministers of the Hebrew Congregations of Philadelphia, Isaac Leeser wrote to President Lincoln on August 21, 1862, asking that a Jewish chaplain be appointed to minister to the spiritual needs of sick or wounded Jewish soldiers in military hospitals in Philadelphia and its vicinity. The letter was referred by the president to the surgeon general who advised that, "it is both legal and proper that Chaplains of the Hebrew faith be appointed in the Army."
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Isaac Leeser, Architect of Jewish Life
Isaac Leeser was the architect of American Jewish life. A traditionalist Hazan-Minister (someone who, though unordained, functioned as a rabbi), he was editor of America's first general Jewish periodical, originator of the first Jewish publication society, and a founder of the nation's first rabbinical college. As a liturgist, he translated both the Sephardic and Ashkenazic prayer books, written by Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. Leeser also translated the entire Bible into English, in editions that served English-speaking Jews for many decades. His collected sermons fill ten volumes, and they cover the gamut of religious thought and communal enterprise.
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"If I Am Doomed to Witness That Calamity"
Born in North Carolina, Alfred Mordecai was educated at West Point and graduated first in his class in 1823. He was the army's leading ordnance expert and compiled its first ordnance manual in 1841. In 1861, he resigned his commission, refusing to break his oath, but unwilling to bear arms against family and friends. In a March 17, 1861, letter to his brother, he wrote: "If I am doomed to witness that calamity [i.e., the "rupture of the Union"] . . . you know that I would not take sides against the South; but I confess that I should almost be equally reluctant to enter the ranks against those with whom I have been so long associated on terms of close intimacy & friendship. In such a case, my first wish would be to retire . . . to private life." Also shown here are newspaper accounts of Mordecai's resignation, including a published letter from him explaining his decision to leave his post as commander of the Watervliet Arsenal in New York State.
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“Resignation of Major Mordecai.” Mounted newspaper clippings. Alfred Mordecai Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (118B)
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A Medal of Honor for Gallantry
Union soldier David Urbansky was awarded a Medal of Honor for gallantry at Shiloh and Vicksburg. His service record, which is shown here, records that Urbansky's original medal was lost and that a new one was issued in 1879. The calligraphed certificate shown here states that Urbansky entered the army as a private in the 58th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on October 28, 1861, was detailed to the Corps Commissary Department on September 10, 1863, and was mustered out on January 14, 1865.
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Calligraphed certificate for David Urbansky. Courtesy of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (121)
David Urbansky (1843-1897). Medal of Honor presented by the Congress to David Orbanski [sic] for Gallantry at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Reverse side Medal with ribbon. Courtesy of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (120)
David Urbansky. Service record. Page 2 Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. (122)
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General Grant's Notorious Order No. 11
The outrage of American Jewry against General U.S. Grant's Order No. 11, which expels the "Jews as a class" from territories of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee under the Thirteenth Army Corps, is conveyed to President Abraham Lincoln by this set of calligraphically inscribed resolutions, adopted January 8, 1863.
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The Missouri Lodge of "Bné B'rith" Protests Order No. 11
The first Jewish organization to formally protest against Order No. 11 "expelling and ostracizing all Jews, as a class . . . issued by Maj. Genl. U.S. Grant" was the United Order "Bné B'rith" Missouri Lodge. It protests "in the name of hundreds who have been driven from their homes, deprived of their liberty, and injured in their property without having violated any law or regulation. . . . In the name of religious liberty and humanity [we ask you] to annul that Order and protect the liberties even of your humblest constituents."
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Abraham Lincoln on Order No. 11
On the envelope in which the Bné B'rith protest came, Lincoln wrote, "I have today, Jan. 5, 1863, written Gen. Curtis about this. A.L." The order was forthwith rescinded.
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Slaves of the Jews
This illustration includes a series of images associating Jewish factory owners with the exploitation of young women workers. In "Cohen Co and Brothers Shirt Factory," the "mashers are waiting for their slaves," and in the central image, a leering man is "choosing the slaves." In another image, an owner holds an oversized key to an emergency exit, and ominously says, "It vos not mine pizness if dey gets burned--dey mus' earn dose vages und so I lock 'em in all righd."
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In the early twentieth century, jokes at the expense of ethnic and religious groups were a staple both of the vaudeville stage and American life. In addition to this book of "Jew Jokes," the Library's pulp fiction collection includes Irish Jokes, New Dutch Jokes, and Ethnic Joke Books Chop Suey. Few groups were left unscathed.
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The Lynching of Leo Frank
In April 1913, the murdered body of a thirteen-year-old girl was found in the basement of an Atlanta pencil factory, and the factory's manager, Leo Frank, a transplanted Jew from the North, was accused of the murder. After a sensational and flawed trial that helped stoke a firestorm of hysteria and prejudice against Frank, he was sentenced to death. When Georgia's governor, uncertain of Frank's guilt, commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in 1915, Frank was kidnapped from jail by an outraged mob and lynched. Some two weeks after the lynching, Rabbi Stephen Wise wrote to Henry Morgenthau, Sr., noting that "the situation is becoming very hard for the Jews in the little towns, many of whom are being boycotted." Years later an eyewitness confirmed that Frank was innocent.
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Leo Frank (1884-1915), August 26, 1913. Gelatin silver print with picture editor's marks. New York World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Collection. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (128)
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Henry Ford and the Dearborn Independent
On May 22, 1920, Henry Ford launched a series of attacks on Jews based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a scurrilous anti-Semitic work concocted by members of the Russian secret police. The series described Jews as secretly plotting world revolution and controlling the world's financial markets. Ford's anti-Semitic tirades found a ready audience, with circulation increasing tenfold from about 70,000 in 1920 to a peak of 700,000 in 1924; the articles were also compiled into a series of widely-circulated books. In 1927, as part of an out-of-court settlement of a damage suit brought against him, Ford offered an apology to the Jewish people and promised to cease his attacks.
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International Jew, the World's Foremost Problem, Being a Reprint of a Series of Articles Appearing in the Dearborn Independent from May 22 to October 2, 1920. Dearborn, Michigan: The Dearborn Publishing Co., 1920. General Collections, Library of Congress (135)
“Jewish Jazz - Moron Music - Becomes our National Music--the Story of Popular Song Control in the United States,” Dearborn Independent, August 6, 1921. General Collections, Library of Congress (133)
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The Truth about Henry Ford
In 1924, David Meckler published an exposé of Ford in Yiddish called The Truth About Henry Ford, which included on its cover a hooded Ku Klux Klansman with his arm casually and familiarly draped over Henry Ford's shoulder, suggesting a friendly relationship between two men sharing common anti-Semitic, nativist, and racist beliefs.
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For That Extra Tangy Taste
In this May 1958 editorial cartoon by Bill Mauldin, the South is depicted as a steaming caldron, with the skeletal hands of the angel of death adding the salt of anti-Semitism to an already volatile brew. Anti-Jewish violence hit seven Southern cities that year, and peaked in October when the Reform Jewish Temple in Atlanta was dynamited by a group of extreme segregationists.
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Citizens Protesting an Anti-semitic Act
On December 2, 1993, someone in Billings, Montana, tossed a brick through the window of a Jewish home. On December 11, the Billings Gazette wrote: "Today, members of religious faiths throughout Billings are joining together to ask residents to display the menorah as a symbol of something else: our determination to live together in harmony, and our dedication to the principle of religious liberty embodied in the First Amendment." A year later, photographer Frédéric Brenner staged this photograph of residents of Billings--from all walks of life, ethnicities, and religions--holding menorahs to mark the city's singular response to an act of religious intolerance.
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