Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Smiling From The $50 Bill

The case for Ulysses S. Grant

Print Email

Somebody give Ulysses S. Grant’s publicist a raise: Despite the fact that the 18th president has been dead for nearly 125 years, prestigious historian Sean Wilentz positively fawned over him in last Sunday’s New York Times. The reason? Some Republicans wish to replace Grant’s visage on the $50 bill with that of President Ronald Reagan. Wilentz—a progressive who nonetheless wrote an altogether admiring book called The Age of Reagan calls the proposal “a travesty that would dishonor the nation’s bedrock principles of union, freedom and equality.”

Now, leaving aside Grant’s reputation as a corrupt, passive chief executive, Jews may think of his notorious General Order No. 11, which in 1862 expelled all Jews in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky on the grounds of halting the black-market cotton trade. (The order was quickly rescinded; Lincoln condemned it.)

But actually, notes J.J. Goldberg, Grant ought to be remembered as, yes, good for the Jews! Grant was probably only vaguely aware of the order. Beyond that:

• Grant made the first nomination of a Jew to the presidential cabinet, asking close friend Joseph Seligman, a Wall Streeter, to be his first Treasury Secretary; Seligman turned him down, but remained a close adviser, with access unprecedented for a Jew.

• In response to anti-Semitism in newly sovereign Romania, Grant appointed as U.S. consul Sephardic attorney Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, who had just finished a stint as national head of B’nai B’rith.

• Grant was the first U.S. president to attend services at a synagogue (Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.—which, I think I’m obligated to add, is my family’s congregation).

Now might be a good time to mention that historian Jonathan Sarna is writing a book all about Grant and General Order No. 11 … for Nextbook Press.

General Grant, The $50 Bill, and The Jewish Question [J.J. Goldberg]
Who’s Buried in the History Books? [NYT]

Earlier: Adolf Lincoln?

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Smiling From The $50 Bill

The case for Ulysses S. Grant

More on Tablet:

Why the Teenage Girls of Europe Are Joining ISIS

By Lee Smith — Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose