Local History: A Presidential Visit
"President Grant, his son Ulysses, Jr., Vice President Ferry, Rev. Dr.
J.P. Newman, ... and other prominent personages came in and were
assigned to seats near the ark, all retaining their hats, as was observed
by the congregation".
The Daily Critic, June 10, 1876
"This is the first instance in the history of American Judaism, of the
President and Vice-President of the United States attending conjointly
the consecration of a Synagogue, and it is worthy of record on this
Centennial year of our beloved country."
The Jewish Messenger, June 16, 1876
When the city's first Jewish congregation reformed its religious practices, some
members decided to form their own congregation, Adas Israel. On June 9, 1876—just in time for the nation's centennial celebration—Adas Israel dedicated a new synagogue at the corner of 6th and G Streets, NW.
President Ulysses S. Grant came to the three-hour dedication service, becoming the first president to attend a synagogue service (President George Washington did indeed visit the Touro synagogue in Newport, RI, in 1781, but for a town meeting, rather than a service.). President Grant sat at the front of the sanctuary on
a sofa rented especially for the occasion. Grant's
attendance reflects the unique relationship
between the Washington, D.C., Jewish community,
and national leaders.
|Ulysses S. Grant Papers, Library of Congress
Adas Israel sent President Grant a receipt for his
$10 donation ($200 today) to the synagogue's building
fund. The presence of Grant and other dignitaries lent
special significance to the prayer for the country recited
during the service.
Grant's attendance may also have served as an
act of contrition.
In 1862, as a Civil War general,
Grant had issued General
Orders No. 11, which expelled
all Jews "as a class" from the
Department of the Tennessee,
an area under his command
that included parts of southern
Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee,
and Mississippi. Blaming Jewish traders for the black market sale of
southern cotton across Union lines, Grant gave Jewish
men, women, and children 24 hours to leave. Hundreds
of angry letters, many from B'nai B'rith chapters,
reached President Abraham Lincoln's desk. Lincoln
immediately rescinded the order.
As president (1869-1877), Grant worked to mend his
relationship with American Jews. He protested
mistreatment of Jews in Romania and Russia, and
appointed Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, Grand Master of
B'nai B'rith, as Consul to Bucharest, Romania.
Grant's Second Inauguration, 1873
Library of Congress
General Orders No. 11 dogged Grant's presidential
campaigns. This cartoon shows the order's impact. It
contrasts a Grant speech deploring Russian anti-Semitism
wth his Civil War order. Grant's wife remembered he spoke of "that obnoxious order," but Grant never publicly apologized.
Political Cartoon, Puck Magazine, 1882
Library of Congress