REJECTION: PART I
In 1858 Wise, ever ebullient, had declared that “before this century will close the essence of Judaism will be the religion of the great majority of all the intelligent men in this country.” “Here on this free soil the Messiah must be born.” Obviously the Reform leader was at times intoxicated by his own rhetoric. His contemporaries here must have raised their eyebrows for they were constantly exposed to anti-Jewish prejudice.
Judeophobia, dislike of the Jew, is very old, older even than Christianity; indeed for centuries before the coming of Jesus and his disciples there was talk of annihilating the Jews (Esther, 3:8-9). Some of the accusations made today can be traced back to pre-Christian Hellenistic times. Greek-speaking pagans who became Christians retained these prepossessions even though the very accusations made against Jews were also made against the followers of the Jew Jesus. “Throw the Christians to the lion.” The medieval followers of Christ, no kinder than their ancestors, charged their Jewish neighbors with greed, usury, and the murder of Christian children, the innocent symbols of the lamb of God whom the Jews recrucify in every generation. Luther in his latter days offered his final solution to the Jewish problem: deprive them of their possessions, lock them up, put them to forced labor, or expel them. From Shakespeare’s time on Shylock became the common symbol of the usurious, merciless Jew. The nineteenth century saw little abatement in bigotry on the part of European Judeophobes. Unable to accept the emancipation doctrines of the French Revolution they sought the retention or the reimposition of the age-old disabilities. Most Gentiles made their peace with modern egalitarianism but some found it difficult to accept Jews as fellow citizens, rationalizing and justifying their traditional aversion. Religious prejudice, they admitted, had no place in the thinking of cultured men and women but science, they said, had irrefutably demonstrated that the Jew was a threat to society because of his innate ineradicable traits. He is racially inferior and he must either be legally disabled or totally eliminated. Where traditional Christians had always sought to solve the Jewish problem by conversion, the new racialists favored rejection and, if necessary, annihilation. This anti-Semitism, a new theory of human relations, was to affect profoundly the history of the Jew in the United States.
Anti-Semitism was based on theories of race advanced by German and French writers, scholars, college professors, historians, and anthropologists. They maintained that the virtues that made for western civilization are inherent in the Aryans, the Nordics, the blond Teutons. The Asiatic Jews, Semites, have produced no sciences, no arts, no government of any consequence. One of the evangelists of this anti-Jewish gospel was Edouard Drumont, a Frenchman, who wrote La France Juive (Judaized France) in 1886. The non-Aryan Jews, he proclaimed, are responsible for much that is vile in the French Republic; they are exploiters who make no contribution to culture; they are physically diseased, they are pornographers, ritual murderers, crooks; they stink, literally. They are the international bankers who conspire with revolutionary proletarians to control France and the world. It was writings and attacks of anti-Semites such as Drumont which prepared the way for the Dreyfus Affair as the attempt was made to damn the Third Republic by equating Jews, liberalism, and villainy. It was the classical diversion maneuver.
France was not the only home for anti-Semitism; it was most pronounced in Germany where from Luther to Hitler a substantial number of writers attacked the Jew. Many of the nineteenth-century Judeophobes were distinguished academicians. Among them was the born Jew, Karl Marx, the socialist, who in 1844 branded his former coreligionists as the symbols of capitalism and all its evils. These people, he said, worship Mammon and have only contempt for science and the arts. In the next decade Richard Wagner wrote his Judaism in Music denouncing the Israelites for their control of the press. They are aliens toward whom one has an instinctive aversion.1
The 1870’s was the critical decade in Judeophobia. The frenzied financial speculation that followed the Franco-Prussian War brought the economic crash of 1873 during Germany’s Gilded Age. Conservative politicians seeking a scapegoat held the Jews responsible for the panic. Appeals were made to the lower middle classes to renounce socialism as an instrument of the liberals, the conspiring Jews. The attack on the Jew became a device to capture votes for the Conservatives. The broadening of the electoral franchise, democracy, gave the credulous masses the vote which some now exercised in the attempt to deprive the Jew of his civil and political rights. Catholics, Conservatives, and a group who called its members anti-Semites now turned against the Jews. The German Conservative Party seeking to Christianize the schools and the state ultimately adopted an anti-Jewish platform in the party program. By 1878 there was in essence an anti-Jewish political party in the country fathered by the court preacher Adolf Stoecker. The term itself, anti-Semite, may have been coined by the racist writer, Wilhelm Marr, whose anti-Jewish pamphlets, first appearing in the 1860’s, now found wide acceptance. By 1879 when he created the Anti-Semitic League his Victory of Judaism over Teutonism (Der Sieg des Judenthums ueber das Germanenthum) denouncing Jewish economic and cultural influence, had already reached its twelfth printing. For the rest of the century Stoecker and the former school principal Hermann Ahlwardt were both active recruiting voters by appealing to anti-Semitism. Stoecker organized the Christian Social Workers Party in 1878 and when the laborers turned a deaf ear to his bastard socialism he turned his attention to the lower middle classes. Though anti-Jewish Stoecker did not affiliate with the political anti-Semites when he served in the Prussian Diet and in the German Reichstag. By the 1880’s a number of deputies in the Reichstag had already been elected as Judeophobes.
Both Ahlwardt and Stoecker came to the United States to carry on anti-Jewish propaganda. Stoecker, who arrived in 1893, did not find the Americans or even the Germans receptive to his teachings and soon returned home. Ahlwardt landed in America in 1895 and remained for several months attempting to create a formal anti-Semitic movement here. He even edited a short-lived German newspaper Der Anti-Semit. Ahlwardt worked solely with Germans, immigrants probably, in New York City, Brooklyn, and the satellite New Jersey towns. These men who supported him may have been formally organized into anti-Semitic groups. The burden of his addresses was that the continuing depression of 1893 was the work of international Jewry, a sinister force that dominated the cultural and economic life of the nation. In order to protect himself from Jews and others who came to his meetings to heckle he asked New York’s police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, for a bodyguard. Roosevelt sent a detachment, all of whom were Jews. In 1910 the German Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, written by the expatriate Houston Stewart Chamberlain, was translated into English as The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century and was widely read. American racists, who were already convinced of the cultural superiority of the Teutons and the Aryans, were confirmed in their views that the inferior Semites would never assimilate with the host cultures and would always retain their own way of life. Even Christ was not a Jew by race! The logical conclusion to the conviction that the Semites would bring nothing but evil to the modern world was drawn by Hitler in the 1940’s when he killed and cremated millions of Europe’s Jews.2
ANTI-JEWISH PREJUDICE IN AMERICA
The European racist condemnation of the Jewish “Semites” as an imminent threat to all that men hold dear is not the ultimate source of prejudice against them in the United States. Dislike of the Jew long antedates this theory. In the British colonies in 1649 the Puritans warned Solomon Franco out of Boston and Peter Stuyvesant in the 1650’s almost exhausted his stock of invectives in attacking the fewer than 100 Jews who moved in and out of New Amsterdam. Prejudice, reinforced by the Gentile immigrants who came to these shores, was kept alive by the printed word. For a brief period during the late 1860’s the Germans of the Arion Glee Club excluded Jews and published a songbook that included some anti-Jewish verses. Later, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Jews were invited back in because funds were needed to help the Fatherland, and an Aryan clause would have made it difficult for the club to employ the talented German Jewish musician Leopold Damrosch as its conductor. The Germans of New York, however, were unsympathetic to the suggestion that a statue of Heinrich Heine be erected in their city. For them he would always remain a Jew despite his formal conversion to Christianity.
A German Christian, a notary, had a business card which he enjoyed passing out. On the back of it was a “cute” prayer in German imploring God to bring Moses back so that he might once again lead the Jews through the Red Sea and when they were all safely down at the bottom, presto, God would spring the trap and drown them all. Gentile Polish immigrants brought with them hates which were reflected in their Polish language newspapers. The Baltimore Katholische Volkszeitung reprinted Rohling’s anti-Jewish diatribe Der Talmudjude (The Talmud Jew) shortly after it appeared in Europe. It was this newspaper that solemnly informed its readers that forty Jews by the name of Rosenfeld appeared at the ceremony in 1901 when Theodore Roosevelt took the oath as vice president. They were Roosevelt’s Jewish kinsmen. German writers and German artists were responsible for the offensive witticisms and caricatures that appeared in Puck when it was first published as a German humorous magazine. One of its chief writers was a Jew. Many notable Americans, scholars, writers, and diplomats had close cultural relations with Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century, and there can be little doubt that they were touched by the anti-Jewish if not anti-Semitic attitudes that characterized the German ruling classes under the Hohenzollerns. Andrew D. White, the United States minister to Germany, was certainly no anti-Semite, yet when he reported to Secretary James G. Blaine in 1881 on the German anti-Jewish atmosphere he listed the anti-Jewish accusations coolly and dispassionately. He evinced no indignation; there was no effort on his part to condemn the false charges. This is the evenhanded approach.3
White told Blaine that the Jews of Germany exercised a great deal of influence, an obvious reflection of the accusation made against them by the Judeophobes. One of the commonest charges made against European Jewry during the middle and late nineteenth century, one that would find a warm reception in many quarters in this country, was that the Jews controlled the economy and the culture of the world in a sinister sense. This theory has served to explain all political and social calamities in war and in peace throughout the ages: in pre-Christian times Jews had conspired to destroy the Greek-speaking Hellenists; in the Middle Ages these Jewish satanic forces poisoned the wells, and after 1492, in Spain, when they went underground as Christians, Marranos, they were set to rob, betray, and murder their oppressors. The push for equality in England in 1753 was an attempt to take over that country; the French Revolution of 1789 and the German uprisings of 1848 were but further manifestations of Jewish destructiveness in their drive to conquer the world.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century the formal international Jewish conspiracy emerges in the United States and Europe out of a farrago of fiction. In the novel Coningsby (1844), Disraeli wrote of a powerful Jewish banker working behind the scenes. That same year the self-hating Marx identified the Jews and capitalism, and by 1868 a writer of lurid fiction, Hermann Goedsche, was describing how an organized Jewish group was working to destroy the nations of the earth. It was in those middle years of the nineteenth century that the Rothschilds and their American agent, August Belmont, were denounced as Shylocks reaching out for power. By the 1870’s the fiction of the 1860’s was published by the Russians as authentic history; rebellions are not reactions to czarist despotism, they are upheavals diabolically planned by the nefarious Jewish internationale. That same decade Major Osman Bey (Frederick Milligan) wrote his Conquest of the World by the Jews. Basing herself on Osman Bey, Elizabeth Bryant, lecturing to a Greenback Labor Club in Washington, D. C., assured her audience that through the Rothschilds the Jews were all powerful. By the 1880’s the details of the international Jewish conspiracy were circulating widely in France and by 1906 the actual minutes of this secret Jewish cabal were published by the Russians. The Protocols, as they were called, were concocted by the Russian secret police over a period of years to explain the revolutionary uprising in their country. It is only by reading these minutes, they pointed out, that one can understand how the Bolsheviks rose to power in 1917, why the White Russian armies went down to defeat, and how the Weimar Republic rose on the ruins of the Hohenzollern Empire in 1918.
These accounts of the deliberations of the Elders of Zion were made available to the Americans at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and to members of the cabinet at Washington. Some intelligent people, a few quite distinguished, were almost prepared to accept them at face value. An American edition of these documents was published in Boston as the Protocols and the World Revolution in 1920. By that time White Russians and an American intelligence officer had brought them to the attention of Henry Ford who began his massive anti-Semitic campaign by publishing them in the Dearborn Independent. One thing was clear to faithful believers: The Jews are behind every liberal or radical upheaval to overthrow legitimate rulers.4
CHRISTIANITY, THE STATE, AND THE JEW
As far as the Jew was concerned the relation of the church, Christianity, to the state was a continuing insoluble problem. The Jews of this land were and still remain a relatively inconsequential minority. The masses were, are, Christian, many of them looking askance at Jews and Judaism, possessed to a degree of an anti-Jewish bias constantly being replenished at the reservoir of Christian piety. A prepossession nourished in press, pulpit, and religious schools was that the Jews of today are the descendants of those in the past who rejected and crucified our Lord and Savior. Isaac M. Wise was bitter against this “grand chorus of blackcoats and white cravats” but despite his denunciations the evangelical clergy continued to press on all sides. Men in authority frequently ignored Jewish religious sensitivities, although often without malice. The president of City College of New York saw no reason to transfer the date of an examination because it was held on the Jewish Festival of Weeks; the board of regents was more considerate. Often though malice was present. Judge Brien of Nashville turned to a witness in his court and asked: “Ain’t you a Jew?” In a suit in Georgia in 1871 an unsuccessful attempt was made to declare a Jew an incompetent witness because he did not believe in Jesus. In Texas a legislature saw no reason to grant a charter to a “Christ-killing association”; an effort was made in the Tennessee legislature to deny a rabbi the right to lead it in prayer; and the evangelist Dwight Moody assured his audiences that there were Jews even today who rejoiced that Jesus had been crucified. In Corvallis, Oregon, a rabbi was arrested for circumcising a child. Two generations after the Deist Jefferson had died the president of the University of Virginia declared that he had never met a scholarly Jewish student at the school, but prejudice, he intimated, might disappear if Jews married Christians and accepted the true faith. The American Christian Review in 1873 repeated with approval a verse from the Divine and Moral Songs of Dr. Isaac Watts:
Lord, I ascribe it to thy grace,
And not to chance as others do,
That I was born of Christian race,
And not a heathen or a Jew.5
THE UNITED STATES A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY
The pressures of the evangelicals and the pin pricks of bigots kept the Jews off balance. Their constant fear was that if a stronger union of church and state was ever effected, as in fifteenth century Spain, the Jews would inevitably suffer political and civil disabilities. What disturbed the Jews was that many, if not most Americans, identified nondenominational Christianity with Americanism. If this ethical moral Christian culture was indeed Americanism, then the Jew was a citizen of lesser degree. Jews have always insisted that constitutionally, juridically, this is not a Christian country and to make sure that the wall between church and state remained intact they railed against Christological references in official Thanksgiving proclamations, opposed religious practices in public schools, and, where they could, fought compulsory Sunday rest laws.6
During the Civil War when emotional strains increased and religious passions were high, efforts were made by a very vocal group to rechristianize America. God will support the land only if people pay homage to him; an angry God is chastising an unchristian people; God will not give victory to a nation of atheists. The militant evangelicals unnerved the perceptive Jewish religious leaders who were only too well acquainted with Jewish history; the activities of these ardent Christians was a conspiracy against human liberty. Like the Unitarians, Universalists, Deists, and others the Jews did not want the national or state constitutions to be baptized. Some Jewish absolutists wanted no chaplains of any faith in Congress or in the armed forces; stamping the phrase “In God We Trust” on the coin was for some a frightening innovation. In 1863 Jews watched the rise of the National Reform Association which was dedicated to the Christianization of the United States, not unconscious that this drive to Christianize the country was supported by William Strong, soon to become a justice of the United States Supreme Court, and by Governor Benjamin Gratz Brown of Missouri. The latter was named after the Jew Benjamin Gratz who was still living. Had Brown and the Association succeeded in reaching their goals Gratz would have become a second-class citizen.
The ever vigilant Leeser was well aware of what was at stake. He wanted a strong public campaign against the American inquisition but the New York Jewish elite, always cautious, advocated the quarantine or silent treatment. It made no public protest but did send a delegation to Washington including former congressman Emanuel B. Hart. In this instance the advice to make no public pronouncement proved wise, for Congress did nothing. The failures of the Association to effect its ends in the 1860’s did not deter its spiritual successors from renewing the battle. In 1888 a legislative effort was made to amend the national constitution making sure that the public schools would teach Christianity. This drive failed as have similar attempts since. The fight to Christianize the Constitution has not always been an attack on Jews as such but rather an attempt by religionists to halt the advances of secularism and modernism. If Congress refused to consider such proposals it was out of fear of intra-Christian religious strife; it wanted no Kulturkampf. It was this same fear that had prompted the Americans to accept the first amendment in 1791.7
RELIGION IN COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS
The problem of religious encroachment was compounded by the increase in the number of colleges. Following the centuries-old tradition of Christianized schools some colleges insisted on compulsory attendance at chapel; others imposed reading courses in theology. In addition the sectarian secondary schools were loath to employ Jews as instructors. With the coming of the Irish in massive numbers fearful Protestants were determined to Protestantize the new public school system and use it as a club against the Catholics. In so doing they tramped on the toes of the Jews who were insistent on the religious neutrality of the public schools. To protect their children against sectarian teachings they opposed New Testament readings, Christian hymns, ceremonies, plays, prayers, Christological textbooks, Easter and Christmas celebrations. They were involved in the notable Ohio Bible Case (1869-1872) which ultimately forbade Bible readings and hymn singing in the state schools. They feared that if the aggressive Protestant protagonists were successful they would once again move to introduce Christianity into the Federal Constitution. In fact ardent Protestants have never ceased struggling to Christianize America’s schools. By the early twentieth century they achieved a degree of success, for several states passed laws making Bible reading compulsory in the public schools. Convinced that this type of legislation strengthened already existent prejudices and made for invidious distinctions between Jewish and Christian children, the Jewish community has consistently fought against any manifestation of the Christian religion in the classroom. The Protestant drive has been so strong that even in some of the states where Christian religious readings and practices have been frowned upon the prohibitions were honored in the breach.8
Believing as they did that Protestantism has held the country together spiritually, the evangelicals, in their multiple efforts to introduce Christianity into the public, the political life of the country, never ceased working to achieve a national Sunday closing law. When Lincoln declared Sunday a day of rest for the army saying that we are a Christian people, Jews raised their eyebrows. In the 1880’s the Rev. Wilbur F. Crafts, the founder of the American Sabbath Union, invited those Jews who had taken a stand against a proposed national Sunday law to leave the country. Jews are only here, he said, to exploit Americans as they have already exploited the poor peasants of Germany and Russia. Gompers and his American Federation of Labor were very cautious in endorsing the Sabbath Union; they were anything but enthusiastic in their support. Although congressional Sunday rest bills of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were never enacted into law many municipal and state Sunday closing ordinances and statutes were passed under the guise of police regulations to further the health, welfare, and morality of the people. No clear pattern emerged in this legislation. In some states there were no restraints; in the metropolitan ghettos many Jews closed their shops on Saturday but opened on Sunday despite city ordinances to the contrary; there were other towns where Jews who observed the Sabbath were legally permitted to do business on Sunday. In about half of the states of the Union the laws backed by public opinion made it impossible for Jews to engage in trade on the Lord’s Day and here the Jews often ran afoul of the law. Jews contended that compulsory closing regulations which forbade them to sell on Sunday—although they had already kept closed on their Sabbath—involved them in heavy financial losses and infringed on their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Whenever Jews were compelled to observe a Sunday-Sabbath that had no meaning for them, their consciences were violated.9
NO INSURANCE FOR JEWS
Though Sunday closing legislation was in reality religiously motivated it was not malicious in intent, but malice was certainly present when many of the insurance companies began to limit fire insurance to Jews in the years after the Civil War. After the conflict there was an unusual number of fires, especially in the South. About 20 percent of the companies in New York City were compelled to omit their dividends because of the losses which they suffered. Confronted by hostile boards, the executives in need of a scapegoat blamed temporary, mobile storekeepers, especially the Jews, as arsonists. Accordingly, starting in 1866 circulars were sent out by New York and Hartford, Connecticut, companies to their agents specifying the restrictive conditions under which Jewish businessmen could be insured for the hazards of fire.
Unless a Jewish merchant was well-known, of good repute, and able to command substantial credits he was to receive little if any fire protection. German immigrants were not deemed good risks. There is reason to believe that companies controlled by German Christians were particularly suspicious of Jews. When these policies became known Jews were furious. There had been attacks on them by corporations in the early 1850’s but nothing like this new scandal. Newspapers and Christian notables took sides; most of them—not all—shared the indignation expressed by the Jews as they rallied their cohorts and staged protest meetings and boycotts in places as far north as New York and as far south as Mississippi. Confronting the offending insurance societies, Jews cancelled their policies, induced the agents, under threat of boycott, to break with the home office, demanded the resignation of the presidents who had countenanced this discriminatory policy, and spoke of starting their own companies. The boycott was effective in a matter of months; insurance stocks began to decline on the exchange, and the companies beat a hasty retreat. The Jews were never again faced with this problem on a massive scale although individual companies continued to deny protection to Jews well into the twentieth century. In 1913 there was a movie called The Firebug portraying Jewish villains as they silently went about their nefarious job of destroying property and human lives. One insurance newspaper had a brilliant thought: inasmuch as Jews lived longer it would be good business for the life insurance companies to encourage marriages between Jews and Christians and thus increase the life span of the children … and the profits of the company.10
Prejudice against the Jews sometimes eventuated in violence. On the whole the old Ku Klux Klan left them alone. These terrorists were primarily interested in continuing the antebellum control over the former slaves and this they succeeded in doing through ruthless repression, arson, and murder. Individual Jews were Klan members and Zebulon B. Vance, the head of the Klan in North Carolina, was close to Jews, the Scattered Nation. Farther south Colonel Waring Russell, a Jew who was a member of the pioneer Sheftall clan, was eulogized after his death in 1914 for having preserved “the supremacy of the white people.” Nevertheless some Jews ran afoul of these Southern terrorists. S. A. Bierfield, a Russian Jew who lived in Franklin, Tennessee, was lynched in 1868. This dry goods store owner, a Radical Republican, employed a Negro, was courteous to his black customers, and was active in politics. His Negro clerk was murdered along with him. Some of his Jewish neighbors believed that he was killed because of his Republican pro-Negro sympathies, not because of his Jewish origin. The anti-Negro Democratic press denounced him and accused him of encouraging rape and murder; other Jewish businessmen in town were not molested by the gangsters. In the next three decades cemetery desecrations and acts of violence against Jews occurred in Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The panic of 1893 unleashed the frustrations of the impoverished farmers. As Jewish businessmen in sore straits foreclosed on debtors, the farmers turned on their Jewish creditors. It was an age of Populism when the lender was always the villain. In some towns the stores of Jewish shopkeepers were riddled with bullets and the owners were threatened with death. The Whitecaps in Mississippi burnt the houses of the tenants on Jewish-owned farms, drove the Negroes off, and compelled a Jewish entrepreneur to leave town. In the end intimidation of the Israelitish merchants was to no purpose for they sold their holdings and debts—at a discount—to Christians who continued to insist on the payment of debts.11
In acts of violence the record in the northern states was as bad as in the South. The new immigrants pouring in, competing for economic and social security, turned against each other; Irish and Italian workers stoned Orthodox Jews as they prayed near the East River on the Jewish New Year; xenophobia was true of foreigners and natives alike. Beginning with the 1880’s hoodlums beat, wounded, and killed peddlers and helpless men, women, and children in cities and states as far west as Colorado, and by the 1890’s Jews in various towns had already begun to organize into self-defense groups. A Maryland legislator wanted to pass a law that would restrict the areas in which Jews, Chinese, and Negroes could live. In 1902 as the huge funeral cortege of Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph moved slowly through the streets of New York’s Lower East Side, workmen in the factory of R. H. Hoe & Company leaned out the windows and threw pieces of scrap metal at the mourners down below. When the enraged Jews stormed the place the Irish police who had been called out turned on the Jews and clubbed them savagely. They had failed to vote for Tammany at the last election. Conditions were so bad by 1905 that the Union of American Hebrew Congregations passed a public resolution denouncing the violence and brutality that was unleashed against the Children of Israel.
Although anti-Jewish abuse was bad it was in no sense comparable to the brutality which Mormons, Asians, Italians, Irish, and Negroes endured. In antebellum days the Mormons were burnt out and butchered in the best czarist tradition. In the West, Asians, Chinese and Japanese, were mistreated and finally excluded from the United States by national legislation or diplomatic agreements. Julius Kahn, a Jewish member of the House from San Francisco and a power in Congress, was completely unsympathetic to the Asians though very friendly to the incoming East Europeans. Italians were condemned as Catholics and denounced as criminals; the Irish were attacked physically, verbally, and religiously throughout the nineteenth century. The anti-Catholic American Protective Association had a million members in the 1890’s and the anti-Catholic Menace, by World War I, had a circulation that was equally large. In this climate of violence Negroes suffered more than all others. In the four decades after 1880 over 3,000 Negroes were lynched or killed in riots. At most, the numbers of murdered Jews could be counted on the fingers of two hands. The whites and Protestants were too busy hating Irish, Catholics, and Negroes to pay much attention to Jews.12
THE LEO M. FRANK AFFAIR
In 1905 the beating of women, children, and old men in New York City and Chicago—at least two people died as a result—evoked only a denunciatory resolution on the part of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Why then was it that the lynching of Leo M. Frank in Georgia, one man, rocked American Jewry to its very foundations? On April 29, 1913, Leo M. Frank, the manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, was arrested for the murder of an employee, Mary Phagan, age thirteen. Frank had arrived in Atlanta several years earlier, coming from Brooklyn. He was a man of some culture, a highly respected member of the synagog, and president of a B’nai B’rith lodge. His trial gave rise to a great deal of sensational newspaper reporting; the judge was timid; there was perjury and inadequate evidence, as well as a determination by both the police and the prosecutor to obtain a conviction at all costs: Frank was probably framed. The trial was conducted with a howling mob outside the courthouse and a clamorous audience inside. The jurors and witnesses were intimidated in an atmosphere of hysteria. Frank was convicted and sentenced to death, probably the first white man in postbellum days to be convicted on the testimony of a Negro, a man of dubious repute. When Governor John M. Slaton commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment, on June 21, 1915, the mob spirit so frightened the Atlanta Israelites that some of them closed their shops and sent their families out of town. Southern Jews have always been apprehensive for themselves because of the prevalent climate of anti-Negro violence. Even in prison Frank was not safe. He was almost fatally wounded by an inmate and before he had recovered he was taken out of jail by a mob and lynched near Marietta, the home of Mary Phagan. This was August 16th.13
Thus the facts. Why did it happen? Georgia was a conservative state: it may or may not be relevant to observe that this commonwealth did not ratify the Bill of Rights till 1941. Fifty years after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, the South was still nursing the trauma of defeat and hugging to its bosom the romance of the Lost Cause. The turn of the century was an age of intense racism and increasing anti-black disabilities, attitudes, and legislation that were tolerated if not encouraged by white fundamentalist Protestant denominations. The year of the Frank lynching was the year that the savagely anti-Negro movie The Birth of a Nation stirred up race hatred in all parts of the country. This was a period of social unrest, economic tension in Georgia, and in the Deep South. Like its Southern neighbors Georgia was undergoing the struggle and strain caused by the inevitable confrontation with a new industrial order. Cotton was selling at 5¢ a pound and impoverished and bewildered farmers were moving into town where they worked in the factories for a pittance. Frank stood for all that they distrusted: he was a Northerner, a Jew, a college graduate, a businessman, that is to say a “capitalist.” He was the symbol that invited and aroused the rage of the frustrated helpless masses. If Frank had been a Christian he would never have been indicted. The Georgians resented the fact that outsiders—New Yorkers!—were intervening to save this stranger. Two generations after Lee met with Grant the Georgians were determined that this was one victory the South was going to win over the North. Prosecutor Hugh M. Dorsey, vigorous and ambitious, was resolved to use this case, if necessary, to ride into office in a hearse, and in 1917 he was elected governor.
If the masses were whipped into a frenzy it was in no small part due to the incitations of the brilliant quondam liberal and Populist Thomas Edward Watson. By 1913 he could already boast of a distinguished career. He had gone to Congress and had been the choice of the Populist Party for vice president and of the People’s Party for president. But by the first decade of the new century, he had become an anti-Negro racist and an anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic demagogue who spiced his attacks in his magazines with pornography. Two months after the lynching the new Ku Klux Klan was born, encouraged by the abusive writings of the brilliant Watson. Later Georgia sent him to the United States Senate where he died in office.
In the larger perspective of American history—and American Jewish history—the trial and the murder of Leo Frank reflect a phase of the Southern urge for emancipation, self-determination, self-expression. It reflected a sectional spirit which was still strong, a resentment against the North, and a firm resolve to stop a second conquest of Georgia, this time an economic one. In a way, the lynching of Frank in 1915, and of twelve other whites and fifty-four Negroes that year in Georgia, was a declaration of independence, a defiance of the Northern consensus; it reflected Georgia’s intention to handle its “problems” as it saw fit. American Jewry was shocked by this affair; the twentieth century was seen as the new age of culture and civilization. The stark fact that an educated Jewish gentleman, and a college graduate who had already been lynched legally, could be dragged out of jail by a mob of Georgians which included a clergyman, an ex-sheriff, and one or two former judges, and then hanged by the neck till he was dead, was shocking. Men like Jacob H. Schiff, Louis Marshall, Albert D. Lasker, and other outstanding Jews had labored desperately to save a man whom they were absolutely convinced was innocent. What was happening was for them unbelievable. They were aghast at their own ineffectuality, by the mass expression of hatred reflected in the trial, and by the cautious neutrality of the Georgia press. What was happening frightened Jews both in the South and in the North. The very year that Frank was tried in Atlanta a Jew Mendel Beilis faced a Russian court on a charge of ritual murder. But that was Russia and thus to be expected and even there Beilis was freed; Frank was not. A generation later the Jews in the South were still apprehensive and fearing publicity might encourage imitation asked Harry Golden not to write the story of the Frank Affair. Yet in 1969 a Jew was elected mayor of Atlanta and a Negro became his vice mayor and in 1985 new testimony was offered that exculpated Frank. The authorities have still refused to find him innocent.14
THE SELIGMAN AFFAIR, 1877
Because of English aristocratic traditions which were quite strong in colonial America there were very sharp lines of social cleavage. These divisions continued all through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries becoming, perhaps, even more marked as the wealthy families moved to develop an American aristocratic order. Negroes and immigrants, especially the Catholic Irish, were disdained; the attempts of the latter to make a place for themselves politically, financially, and socially were resisted by the more established groups; the upward mobility of postbellum Jewish businessmen was even more resented. The attempts to suppress the Jew socially are reflected in the Seligman Affair.
The Seligmans were immigrants from Bavaria, peddlers and shopkeepers who by the end of the Civil War had become merchants, manufacturers, bond salesmen, and bankers. On the last day of May, 1877, Joseph Seligman, the head of the house, was denied rooms in the Grand Union Hotel, Saratoga, New York, where he was an old customer. The clerk informed him that Jews were no longer being admitted. That Seligman was a founder of Ethical Culture obviously did not make him less of a Jew in the eyes of anti-Jews. The reason? Jews were ostentatious, vulgar, undesirable clients who kept good people away. Seligman himself was a person of superior attainments; he had gone to an academy in his Bavarian homeland, he knew the amenities, he was active in Jewish and non-Jewish charities, and was an important fiscal agent of the United States government. He had been a member of the New York Board of Education, president of the American Geographical Society, and a vice president of the Union League Club. Was he a clannish Jew? Whenever he went to summer resorts he made it a practice to attend Christian religious services on Sundays and weekdays although he always remained an avowed Jew. He seems to have been a courteous gentleman.
Seligman was in no sense the first Jew to be kept out of a summer resort; his exclusion, however, became a cause célèbre because of the importance of the dramatis personae. Seligman was one of the most distinguished Jews in all the United States. Judge Henry Hilton who barred the doors to him was a prominent Irish politician, a lawyer, an executor and administrator of the estate of the late A. T. Stewart, the merchant prince. The press had a field day; some papers sided with Hilton, most opposed him; Bret Harte wrote a poem attacking the judge; Henry Ward Beecher defended the banker in a notable apologia. Beecher of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, the greatest preacher of his day, was friendly to Jews and was later to ask President Grover Cleveland to send Oscar S. Straus of the R. H. Macy Strauses to Turkey as minister.
When it heard of the incident at Saratoga, American Jewry was indignant although Wise was less so because of the banker’s support of Felix Adler’s new nontheistic humanism. Actually Seligman was also a member of Emanu-El and found it easy to reconcile his adherence to both “churches”; many if not most of Adler’s followers were probably Jews. American Jews were angry because the attack on Seligman was deemed an attack on them, an assault that was the more keenly felt because it was a rejection of a very rich cultured gentleman. It frightened them that in an age when “success” was God, man’s highest accolade, wealth, brought no security or respect. This in itself was shocking. The Jews who had learned to fight on the battlefields of the Civil War declared war on Hilton and the interests he represented. They were conscious of their own dignity; they had been insulted as Americans; they had a right to equality in a public hostelry. Their weapon was the boycott and it was not an ineffective one. The A. T. Stewart estate owned many retail and wholesale outlets and the Jews of America were very numerous and important shopkeepers and merchants. The holdings of the estate were battered because of Hilton’s incompetency and the boycott carried on by the indignant Israelites; the Stewart interests ultimately had to be sold, some to John Wanamaker. Hilton retreated offering a substantial gift to the local Jewish charities and avowed his respect for the native old-line Jews. He was opposed, he said, only to “trade” Jews, to Adler and Seligman types. It is not easy to determine whether the “no Jews” prohibition was still maintained at the Grand Union Hotel.
The Seligman ousting was doubly motivated. Hilton wanted to get back at Seligman, an old enemy. The men were on opposite sides of the political fence: Hilton was a pro-Tweed man; Seligman was a member of the Committee of Seventy that had fought Boss Tweed. There were rumors, for what they were worth, that the banker had kept Hilton out of the Union League Club. Because the hotel was declining in patronage—it had its share of racetrack devotees, gamblers, and demimonde—Hilton believed that he could increase the patronage of better- class Gentiles by rigorously excluding Jews. Whatever the motivations were that moved him the incident highlights the growing social prejudice against successful Jews. Social discrimination was now overt. Jews were no longer brushed aside; they were attacked.15
THE CORBIN AFFAIR
The Grand Union Hotel episode invited imitation. There were always people who preferred to stay at hotels where there were no Jews and there were many hoteliers who encouraged this snobbishness. They wanted their establishments patronized by the elite; keeping out Jews was good business. At least this was the thinking of Austin and Daniel Corbin who wanted to make Manhattan Beach and Coney Island an exclusive resort. They built a beautiful hotel, improved the beach, and ran a railroad from nearby New York City planning to keep the Jews out. Like the Grand Union Hotel the Manhattan Beach Hotel was not doing well when in 1879 it was bruited about that Jews were to be excluded. James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald interviewed the Corbin brothers who were not loathe to secure this free publicity for their enterprise. They wanted no Jews in the hotel or on the railroads. These people “are contemptible as a class.” “I never knew but one ‘white’ Jew in my life.” Jews have “no place in first-class society.” The Herald was not content to interview just the Corbins; it made an extensive survey of sentiment, talking to hotelkeepers and preachers. Most hotel men and preachers were against the Corbins, not all. The head of the Jesuit order was cautious; like Sir Roger de Coverley he thought there was much to be said on both sides. One pastor questioned the patriotism of these newcomers but felt as Americans they must be protected in their rights; they were wealthy, intelligent, and charitable. Hilton said that the patronage at his hotel had increased since he had barred Jews. Corbin soon retracted his statements; his stockholders did not support him and in the course of time Coney Island became a Jewish ghetto. Years later when Austin Corbin needed a good lawyer in New England a friend recommended Louis D. Brandeis. Corbin employed him.16
The historian is faced with an anomaly. Anti-Semitism in a hateful form was typical of Europe; social prejudice there was not strong. On the other hand here in the United States where the grosser forms of Judeophobia have taken no root social prejudice is very strong. In fact social discrimination against Israelites was the most typical form of anti-Jewish bias in America during this period. The charge was constantly made that the Children of Abraham were uncultured aliens, bad mannered, unethical men who were unfit for good society. The accusers may have believed this; in reality it was a rationalization. Though German-born American Jews had accents they were as a group a sober lot who observed the amenities; they were educated and well-mannered, particularly in the presence of Gentiles. Yet many well-to-do Christians or those aspiring to wealth built a wall between the Jews and themselves. By the 1870’s the Jews who had been in this country for a long generation were very visible in the commercial and professional world. This was even more true of their children who had gone to American schools and were beginning to enter the professions. It is these children and their parents who now frequented the better-class watering places. Though they were the business counterparts of successful Gentiles, the latter would not tolerate them as social equals. Wealthy and ambitious Americans of the postbellum period were determined to establish themselves as aristocrats, fortifying their self-assumed status by excluding others: social status for the Gentile of the Gilded Age was a very serious matter. Barring Jews from good society increased in intensity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and had not diminished perceptibly even in the late 1980’s.
Another form of social discrimination was housing; some Gentiles refused to sell or rent to Jews. Clauses were inserted in contracts forbidding lease or sale to Jews and when sometimes these restrictions were breached the Gentiles moved out as the Jews moved in. These Christians would not live with Israelites let alone dine with them at the same club. Before public opinion and the law intervened it was common all through the East and Middle West to see signs denying admission to tuberculars, dogs, and Jews. The commonest warning was: “Gentiles Only.” There were even middle-class pensions where Jews were not accepted. In a Waynesville, North Carolina, boardinghouse where a cultured rabbi was denied admission one of the elite yelled across the street to a friend: “I ain’t washed my feet yet.” As Gustav Gottheil of prestigious Emanu-El expressed it: “In ancient times the Jews refused to eat with publicans and sinners; in modern times publicans and sinners refused to eat with Jews.”17
One publican who refused to eat with Jews was Melvil Dewey, the president of the Lake Placid Company which operated a resort where Jews were not tolerated. Dewey was more than the chief executive of a semi-public hotel masquerading as a private club. He was the brilliant and able librarian of the State of New York, the father of the Dewey decimal classification system for books, and a founder of the American Library Association and the Library Journal. He was a reformer, a stormy petrel, and a Judeophobe. One might have expected him to be more liberal. His full name was Melville Louis Kossuth Dewey and his mother was a Saturday-Sabbath observer, a Seventh-Day Baptist, but in a public circular he declared categorically that no Jew, no matter how distinguished, could enter his club. The Jews contended that as taxpayers they would not tolerate a public servant who was an anti-Semite. The issue was joined. Distinguished Jews from all over America petitioned the Regents of the University of the State of New York for Dewey’s removal and the Regents censured him for his anti-Jewish statements while still an official of the state. Some Jews defended Dewey: he was a good man at his job, a good librarian. The editor of Harper’s, too, put in a good word for him: he did not keep Jews out of the State Library despite the fact that Jews, Asiatics, have bad manners. Dewey stepped down from the presidency of the Club, resigned as librarian, but continued with the Company which prospered. As late as the 1960’s the Lake Placid Club still refused admission to the Chosen People.18
Excluding Jews from social institutions was an old story. During the Civil War when the Olympia Club, an athletic association of San Francisco, decided to admit no more Jews the Gentile members were hurt when its Jewish members started blackballing all Christian aspirants. The indignant Christians then attempted to exclude all Jews and this little social war did not end until the anti-Jewish efforts were abandoned. The last decades of the nineteenth century were the halcyon years for those who set out to rebuff all who were deemed social inferiors. Throughout the United States clubs everywhere began to reject Jews or drive them out if they were already members even though in some instances these Jews were the founders. Gus Wald, one of Cincinnati’s most distinguished lawyers, was constrained finally to leave the University Club but before he did so, as chairman of the house committee, he subscribed for the American Israelite. Oscar Straus who had served his country as minister to Turkey was denied admission to a New York City club; a Seligman, this time Theodore, was blackballed in the New York Union League Club where his father Jesse was a member and his uncle Joseph a founder. The Nation, founded to maintain true democratic principles, justified the barring of Jews, pointing out that a club is “an extension of a private dwelling” and Jews should not go where they were not wanted. In Los Angeles, as a Protestant elite came to power, it shunted the prestigious pioneer Jews aside and dubbed them a minority along with Mexicans, Negroes, and Japanese.19
EXCLUSION FROM SCHOOLS
The anti-Jewish social taboos of the shoddy post-Civil War years limited the admission of Jews to schools and colleges as both students and teachers. Even when invited to become members of a faculty Jews were, it was believed, limited by their Jewishness; English was a field which Jews inherently were not competent to teach. Bernard Baruch told a Jew: “I converted my children to Christianity but they were still refused admission to schools.” Baruch himself had been elected president of his college senior class but was never invited to join a Gentile fraternity. Student Greek letter fraternities would have neither part nor lot in Jews. Ludwig Lewisohn was one of the outstanding men in his class at Charleston College and a practicing Methodist to boot, but no fraternity would harbor this Jew. Does the 1906 Menorah Movement at Harvard owe its origin to the rebuffs to which the Jewish students were exposed? Catholics, too, were excluded; no Catholic was appointed a member of the Harvard board until the third decade of the twentieth century. At Yale Jews were not wanted in the glee and drama clubs and a Christian minister recommended that Jews and Catholics be kept out of the school altogether. The Alpha Delta Phi lost its charter at New York City College in 1913; apparently the Hebrews were getting in. It was a generation when some fraternity charters declared quite explicitly that Mongolians, Negroes, and Jews were not desired.
There were serious objections to Jews on the college campus. It was said that they did not cultivate gentility; they were too industrious, laying emphasis on their studies and thus introducing the spirit of competition. As a group it was felt by many that Jews were a menace to campus and college life. In some universities Jews were even discouraged from participation in sports; a college was an educational-social institution where only the better-class men were expected to major in athletics. In 1912 the junior class at Columbia refused to include any Jewish social organization in the class book, the Columbian. A Columbia campus song speaks for itself:
“Oh, Harvard’s run by millionaires,
And Yale is run by booze,
Cornell is run by farmers’ sons,
Columbia’s run by Jews.
So give a cheer for Baxter Street,
Another one for Pell,
And when the little sheenies die
Their souls will go to Hell.”20
ANTI-JEWISH PREJUDICE IN THE ARMY
Even as boys and girls (men and women?) did not want Jews in their sororities and fraternities, officers in the army did not want to associate with those whom they refused to recognize as social equals. As in the coeval Prussian Army, Americans in the armed forces were unhappy at the thought that Jews might become commissioned officers, although there were in fact always some. In 1872 a lieutenant was expelled from a New York National Guard regiment when his Jewish origins were uncovered. The prestigious Seventh Regiment of New York would harbor no Jew but when war was declared against Spain in 1898 it was the only regiment in the state that refused to fight.
On June 6, 1911, at the direction of President William Howard Taft, the Secretary of War reprimanded Colonel Joseph Gerrard, the commandant at Fort Meyer, Virginia, for refusing to allow an enlisted man, a Jew, to take an officer’s examination. The soldier was Private Frank Bloom; his father was the post tailor. The Colonel had made it quite clear that he did not want Bloom “as an officer and social and personal associate.” Jews in general, the Colonel explained, were not desirable. The very next day Representative Charles G. Edwards of Georgia introduced a resolution to investigate discrimination against Jews in the army and at the United States Military Academy. Apparently there were rumors that Jews were being ostracized. When Taft left the presidency one of his very last official acts was to order that the reprimand be removed from the service record of Colonel Gerrard. Bloom? He passed his examination for an officer’s commission and rose to the rank of captain but his lot in the army “as an officer and gentleman” was not a happy one.21
It was a common belief in those days that Jews were malingerers and cowards. During World War I the author of A Manual of Instructions for Medical Advisory Boards warned draft board medical examiners to watch the foreign born, especially the Jews, who were more apt than others to evade their obligations to the country. The theme of the Jewish slacker reaches far back in American history; it is as old as the Revolution. Later, a generation after the Civil War, Simon Wolf compiled a statistical apologia to answer those who charged his people with cowardice. Mark Twain in “Concerning the Jew,” knew that many in the 1890’s believed that the Jew had the “disinclination patriotically to stand by the flag as a soldier.” Charging the Jew with cowardice is a phase of xenophobia; the stranger, the immigrant, the other fellow is always morally inferior. That Jews were accused of malingering during the Revolution is strange for Josephus and the heroic stories of the Maccabees were popular readings at that time. Is there then no consistency, rationality in prejudice? Unreason has a reason of its own. People who have denounced others for cowardice are often indicting themselves, subconsciously moved by the very fears which induces them to accuse others.22
The Gilded Age was a time of ever-increasing anti-Jewish social disabilities. To a greater or lesser degree Jews were now kept out of resort hotels, clubs of all types, art associations, housing areas, National Guard units, the regular army’s commissioned officers ranks, and fraternal orders. Although these lines of social exclusion were rigorously drawn in many places this does not necessarily imply that the men who implemented them hated Jews. On the contrary many Gentiles, the very men who kept Jews out of their club, were often personally close to individual Jews. This, too, is not untypical of America. In club life, if not elsewhere, Jews were resigned to accept separate but equal—if not superior—facilities; wherever Jews foregathered the food was excellent.23
POLITICS AND PREJUDICE
In this age of anti-Jewish social rejection the Jews were not without leverage. They were electors and their votes were sought. General Benjamin F. Butler who had treated them with mild contempt during the Civil War catered to them when he returned to civil life. Speaking at a Hebrew Fair in Boston he told his eager listeners that music in New York owed much to Jewish support, that Bach was one of the great Jewish (!!) musicians of all times, that Jews are never criminals, (thunders of applause) and that the Jewish women were pure and chaste (long and prolonged applause). At this time there were no overtly anti-Jewish congressmen because there was in America no tradition of vindictive Judeophobia, no need to find a scapegoat for disastrous defeat on the battlefields, no call to divert attention from governmental tyranny. In this sense the United States was different from some of the lands of Central and Eastern Europe. Yet the appeal to religious prejudice in political campaigns was as common on this side of the Atlantic as it was on the other side. It was not uncommon to “smear” an opposing party or candidate as Jewish. This practice goes back at least to the 1790’s when Jews were attacked for their support of the rising Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans.
A Jew running for office has always been subject to attack because of his religious origins. A United States senator from Alabama had no more effective weapon than to call a political opponent a “Jew dog.” When the Georgia Major Raphael J. Moses was being considered for congressional office his opponent W. O. Tuggle of La Grange did not hesitate to point out that Moses was a Jew. The fact that the major and his three sons had served the Confederacy, that one of his boys had been killed, that he was one of the leaders of the Georgia House, did not spare him; for Tuggle, the politician, Moses was still a stranger in the land. Answering Tuggle, Moses wrote one of the most eloquent letters in American Jewish literature, one that has been reprinted many times: “You could not have honored me more highly, nor distinguished me more gratefully than by proclaiming me a Jew.… I pity you for having been cast in a mold impervious to the manly and liberal sentiments which distinguish the nineteenth century.”
The attack on Jews politically continued in the twentieth century. Conservatives, nationalists, antiradicals, and bigots opposed Jews in office, especially if they were foreign born, liberal, or socialists. An appeal to religious prejudice would always garner some votes. When the Catholic Martin H. Glynn ran for governor in New York his opponents warned the people: Elect him and you will have to elect a Jew. “Do you want to be governed by Catholics and Jews?” When the Bolshevik state rose in Russia during World War I Americans were panic-stricken. Jews of Russian birth and liberal political proclivities were automatically suspect as enemies of the American democratic system. In 1919 and 1920 the attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer seized and jailed thousands of liberals many of whom were Jews. Yet political anti-Semitism, the attempt to deprive the Jew as Jew of his rights and immunities, played no part in American life. Parties, platforms, and leaders of repute never singled out the Jew for attack directly or by innuendo. Bias was a double-edged weapon in a land where millions were immigrants; all men paid allegiance to the American Creed.24
If it is patent to students of anti-Semitism that in nineteenth-century America, unlike Europe, there was no party that set out to disfranchise the Jews, it is also true, however, that some historians believe or imply that Populism was at least anti-Jewish. Who were the Populists and what was their program? The Populists, the People’s Party, were unhappy farmers and city folk primarily Southerners and transmississippians who were financially distressed. They were the workers and the lower middle classes of the villages, towns, and cities who struggled for a living; they were the farmers who suffered from drought, low prices, poor markets, and high freight rates; they were a debtor class ever-present in American history since the earliest colonial days. Earlier they were often members of the Greenback Party of the 1870’s which fought for easy money as it attacked the monopolies and the bankers. Economic conditions remained bad for these people in the 1880’s and 1890’s. The farmers and the poor in the hinterland, submerged provincials trying to stay alive, resented the cities which took their children away from them. They feared industry, monopolies, railroads, capitalism; they were envious of all those who had or seemed to have an easier and a better life. If they sought radical changes they were but following in the footsteps of the Jeffersonian egalitarians who had swept to victory almost a century earlier.
In the early 1890’s these malcontents gave birth to a new political party and movement. Their problems were basically, though not entirely, economic. These simple people had a simplistic explanation for their distress for which they wanted an economic panacea. If they could hurdle all the capitalistic roadbacks by curtailing the power of the bankers, the Shylocks, the Rothschilds, the “Jews” who were throttling them, easy money would solve all their difficulties. The 1892 platform of the People’s Party mounted an attack on the bankers of the United States and England who were banded together in a conspiracy to rule or ruin the world. This European concept of an international financial conspiracy in which Jewish money interests were dominant was familiar here as early as the 1870’s; it was later popularized by the People’s Party’s leader, Ignatius Donnelly, in his novel Caesar’s Column, that was published in 1891. Donnelly told the story of a Jewish banker who worked hand in glove with a Russian Jewish revolutionary and proto-Zionist to control the world. Populism emerged as a people’s crusade in 1892 when over 1,000,000 votes were cast for its presidential candidate. The party remained powerful during the years 1892-1896.25
POPULISM AND THE JEWS
Apparently then this new third party was anti-Jewish. No! Populist attacks on “Jews” were essentially verbal, rhetorical, symbolic rather than actual. One Nebraska newspaper dubbed John Pierpont Morgan the Rothschild of America, and another described the Christian Henry Clews as a hook-nosed Wall Street Jew. Anti-Jewish direct action was limited to rare sporadic attacks on individuals, primarily in the South where the terrorist Klan tradition never died out. Populism was not specifically anti-Semitic. There were no more attacks on the Jews in the Populist than in the general press throughout the country. If individuals who voted for the People’s Party ticket disliked Jews—and plenty did—they reflected the typical, traditional, inherited pre-Populist rural religious-tinted dislike of the Christ-killers. For the old-fashioned Jew hater Populism was just another outlet for venting one’s frustrations. The man they were attacking was an old friend in a new garb; Shylock had doffed his gabardine, chopped off his earlocks, and donned the banker’s Prince Albert, but he still wanted his pound of flesh.
The Populist Party as such was never hostile to the Jew in the flesh. The Nebraska farmer who was an active member of the Party never forgot that the Jewish merchant in the nearest town had been carrying him on his books for years. Occasional Jewish shopkeepers even joined the grange, the farmers’ social club; Jewish mayors and elected officials were not rare in the towns of the High Plains; in 1894 the millionaire mining entrepreneur Adolf Sutro was elected mayor of San Francisco on the Populist ticket, and in 1896 Jews were among the delegates when the party met in national convention in St. Louis. In short despite their Shylock-Rothschild rhetoric the Populists never organized against Jews either in Congress or on the county level although in its heyday the Party could boast of hundreds of legislators on the state and national level. What is true is that the Populist tradition, though submerged for a time, never died out. The equating of Shylock, Rothschild, money, with exploitation by Jews has reemerged in the twentieth century in the attacks of Tom Watson, Henry Ford, and Father Coughlin. These men, however, unlike the Populists, were anti-Semites.26