What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen?   /   Fall 2008   /    Articles

Citizens, Subjects, and In Between in American History

Kevin M. Schultz

In 1877, the Jewish American banker Joseph Seligman was denied access to the dignified and prestigious Grand Union Hotel, in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he had summered for nearly the entire previous decade. Seligman was one of the wealthiest men in America and a friend of both Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. He had in fact just turned down an offer to become Grant’s Treasury Secretary, and, despite his refusal, he nevertheless was crucial in devising a plan to refinance the nation’s Civil War debt, thus helping propel the country into the Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth century.

Seligman wanted a holiday after the tense affair of creating the economic plan. Instead of relaxing, though, Seligman discovered that the hotel manager, Judge Henry Hilton, had told his staff to turn away any Jews who might be attempting to register. Business had been slow of late, and Hilton had decided that this was because there were too many “Hebrews” coming to stay. Seligman was the first victim. But Seligman was not one to sulk. When he got back to the city, he gathered together some of New York’s leading businessmen and orchestrated boycotts of the hotel owner’s other prospects, forcing some of these prospects into bankruptcy.

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