What you may not know about the U.S. Secret Service

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U.S. Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy after stopping an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Most people know that the Secret Service protects the President of the United States and other politicians.

But the original purpose of the Secret Service was the suppression of counterfeit currency.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, an estimated one-third of U.S. currency in circulation was counterfeit.  So on July 5, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln – in his last official act – signed the Secret Service into law as a branch of the United States Department of the Treasury.

It wasn’t until almost 30 years after its founding, however, that the Secret Service began protecting President Grover Cleveland.  And even then it was only on an informal, part-time basis whenever the president traveled. Not until 1902, following the assassination of President William McKinley, did the agency assume the responsibility of protecting the president around the clock.

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General Order No. 11: when Ulysses Grant expelled the Jews

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Ulysses S. Grant , the 18th president of the United States, is generally acknowledged one of the greatest military commanders in U.S. history.  There is one huge negative on his career as a Civil War general, however.  Under General Order No. 11, Grant expelled all Jews from Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.  And although he would spend much of his presidency promoting the rights of Jews (as well as blacks and Native Americans), General Order No. 11 remains a stain on Grant’s reputation.

The immediate cause for issuance of the order was the black market in Southern cotton during the Civil War.  Northern textile mills — as well as the Union Army itself — relied on cotton from the south.  Although President Lincoln allowed limited trade in Southern cotton, it was not enough to satisfy demand.  Cotton prices soared on the black market, and unlicensed traders openly bribed Union officers to allow them to buy cotton without a permit. Continue reading