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Transcript: Petition for Israelites as Chaplains

To the Honorable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America

The subscribers, your memorialists, respectfully show:

That they are the President and Secretary of the “Board of Delegates of American Israelites” and that they are duly empowered to submit to your honorable body the facts herein set forth, and to crave, at your hands, that attention to the subject which its importance to American citizens professing the Jewish religion, demands.

Your memorialists respectfully show:

That by the 9th section of the Act of Congress, approved July 22, 1861, and the 7th section of the Act of Congress approved August 3, 1861, it is provided that “the Chaplain appointed by the vote of the field officers and company commanders, must be a regular ordained minister of some Christian denomination,” and that, as appears by the following letter from the War Department, to which your Memorialists beg leave to refer, the said sections have been interpreted to exclude from the Office of Chaplain in the service of the United States “regular ordained ministers” of the Jewish faith.

“War Department October 23, 1861,

Rev. A. Fschel, Rabbi, Jewish Synagogue, New York.

Sir, Your communication of the 17th inst… has been received.

In reply, you are respectfully informed that by the 9th section of the Act of Congress approved July 22, 1861, it is provided that the Chaplains appointed by “the vote of the field officers and company commanders must be a regular ordained minister of some Christian denomination.” A like provision, also is made in the 7th section of the Act of Congress, approved August 3, 1861. Were it not for the impediments thus directly created by the provisions of these two acts, the Department would have taken your application into its favorable consideration.

I have the honor to be
Very respectfully
Simon Cameron
Secretary of War”

Your Memorialists respectfully submit that the body of citizens of the United States whom your memorialists represent, numbering not less than two hundred thousand, are unexcelled by any other class of citizens in loyalty and devotion to the Union, that thousands of them have volunteered into the Army of the United States, and are, by the provisions of the Acts hereinbefore mentioned excluded from the advantages of spiritual advice and consolation provided by Congress for their fellow citizens professing Christianity.

That the said Acts are oppressive, inasmuch as they establish a prejudicial discrimination against a particular class of citizens, on account of their religious belief, and further—

That that said Acts inasmuch as they establish a religious test as a qualification for an office under the United States are manifestly in contravention of Section 3, Article VI of the Constitution and Article I of amendments thereto.

Your Memorialists, therefore respectfully pray that your honorable body will take this, their memorial into favorable consideration, and that you will in your wisdom cause the Acts of Congress approved July 22nd and August 3rd 1861, respectively to be formally amended, so that there shall be no discrimination against professors of the Jewish faith, in the several laws affecting the appointment of Chaplains in the service of the United States.

And your memorialists will ever pray

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