During a celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month President Barack Obama referenced a letter on display in the White House from the Missouri lodge of B’nai B’rith, dated January 5, 1863, to President Abraham Lincoln. The letter protested General Ulysses S. Grant’s Order #11.
Grant’s Order #11 expelled Jews “as a class” from the Tennessee Department in December of 1862.
“But what happened next could have only taken place in America,” Obama said. “Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision. A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled here, to the White House, and met with President Lincoln in person,” Obama said.
That Kentucky merchant was Cesar J. Kaskel, the head of the B’nai B’rith Kentucky lodge, who organized the delegation that met directly with President Lincoln.
“The letter to Lincoln and the Order #11 from the Library of Congress, sit on display side by side in the White House and tells the story of how B’nai B’rith efforts led to a repeal of Grant’s order,” said B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin. “These precious documents demonstrate that during the early days of B’nai B’rith, we were—and continue to be—dedicated to eliminating prejudice, discrimination and anti-Semitism.”
Mariaschin and Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield represented the organization at the event.
Documents related to this incident are part of the archives of B’nai B’rith. Other files related to this incident are part of the archives of B’nai B’rith and served as resource materials for Professor Jonathan Sarna’s newly-published book, “When General Grant Expelled the Jews,” which recounts the full account of this incident and Grant’s later relationship with the American Jewish community.
This week B’nai B’rith transferred its extensive archives to the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Ohio. The two organizations will partner on projects and programs related to the archives in the near future.