Demonic Images of the Jew in the Nineteenth Century United States

By Rockaway, Robert; Gutfeld, Arnon | American Jewish History, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Demonic Images of the Jew in the Nineteenth Century United States


Rockaway, Robert, Gutfeld, Arnon, American Jewish History


Fifty years ago the historian Oscar Handlin published a seminal article in this journal entitled "American Views of the Jew at the Opening of the Twentieth Century." (1) The essay discussed the ways in which Americans perceived Jews during the nineteenth century. Handlin maintained that the prevailing temper of the era was overwhelmingly tolerant toward Jews and that America's image of them exhibited none of the demonic depictions that had pervaded European attitudes toward Jews since medieval times. Handlin reiterated his contentions in Commentary magazine and in his 1954 book, Adventure in Freedom. (2) His thesis influenced historians of the American-Jewish experience and reinforced the conviction that the American diaspora was different from any other in Jewish history. Although subsequent studies of American antisemitism modified some of Handlin's conclusions, none of them disputed his claim concerning the absence of demonic imagery in pre-twentieth-century America. (3) Beginning in the 1970s, however, a number of scholars began to examine American antisemitism more carefully. They showed that despite the remarkable economic mobility and success of nineteenth-century Jewish Americans, the United States had not been as free from stereotyping and animosity toward Jews as Handlin had surmised. A closer look at the evidence also reveals that demonic representations of the Jew appeared frequently in American culture throughout the century. (4)

Demonization of Jews originated in medieval Christianity. This characterization accused the Jews of crucifying Jesus and associated them with Satan and the Antichrist, who is the Devil's agent for visiting evil and destruction on mankind. By the fourteenth century European Christians were charging Jews with ritually murdering children and using Christian blood in religious ceremonies, poisoning water and food, carrying and spreading loathsome diseases and the plague, engaging in sexual perversions, and conspiring to destroy Christendom. (5)

In the United States during the nineteenth century, depictions of Jews similar to these can be found in sermons, in religious and secular literature, in school texts, and in the press. Whether exposure to this imagery affected American Christian attitudes and behavior toward Jews is a moot question. No doubt some people were influenced by what they heard or read and became antagonistic toward Jews, but most others hearing and reading the same things did not. Determining the extent of acceptance of these images by Christians is hard to determine, especially for the nineteenth century when public opinion polls did not exist. What we do know is that in the United States, demonic portrayals of Jews did not lead to the kinds of murderous outrages, pogroms or legal restrictions on Jews that characterized the European Jewish experience. To the contrary, in the United States local and national governments protected Jewish property and lives. Nonetheless, demonic imagery remained a component in nineteenth-century American representations of the Jew. (6)

Charges of Jewish treachery, sedition, radicalism, and conspiracies appeared during the early stages of the American republic as one manifestation of the fierce political rivalry between Federalists and Republicans. In 1800 a Federalist broadside accused the Jewish editor of Pittsburgh's Tree of Liberty of being a Jew and therefore "a mother of sedition," and the Federalist newspaper, the Gazette of the United States, identified Jews with treachery and treason. (7) One historian of Federalism has written that widespread bigotry and antisemitism pervaded the Federalist Party at that time. (8) While Republicans appear to have been less hostile toward Jews, they too sometimes demonized them. Nehemia Judge, a Baptist elder and Connecticut Republican, accused rabbis of creating a "Jewish covenant" together with "Royalists, aristocrats and high-toned Federalists." He branded the rabbis "Judaizers" and "leaders for a long time in the Jewish church" who conspired to do the devil's work. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Demonic Images of the Jew in the Nineteenth Century United States
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.