James A. Garfield’s Appointment of the Anti-Semitic Selah Merrill as Consul at Jerusalem

Document Signed
1 page
SMC 438
Merrill, who held the post of U.S. Consul at Jerusalem for almost three decades – appointed by three Republican presidents – is here installed in that position for the first time by James Garfield. This posting was not, however, Merrill’s first trip to the Holy Land; both as a theologian and an archeologist, he was already quite familiar with the area, having made, since 1869, several trips to and in the area. Yet the time he spent there did not win him local esteem: the American Colony loathed, and was loathed by, him; the British Palestine Exploration Fund thought him an awful archeologist; and inasmuch as he was an anti-Semite, opposed to Jewish immigration and settlement in Palestine, he was as good as a sworn enemy to the Yishuv. Indeed, he would famously conclude that "1. Palestine is not ready for the Jews. 2. The Jews are not ready for Palestine." What the Jews wanted, he believed, wasn’t land to colonize, but cities "where they can live on the fortunes or the misfortunes of other people." He even felt that there must have been some hidden justification for the persecution of the Jews in Russia, or that government would not have been so anxious to get rid of them. The effects of this anti-Semitism, unfortunately, were vast: because his first term as consul (1882-84) coincided with the beginnings of Jewish agricultural settlement in Palestine, Merrill’s prejudice would help shape the State Department’s antagonistic attitude to the Jewish people in the Holy Land.

Merrill would be replaced by Cleveland, but re-appointed by Harrison and McKinley. He is generally considered to be the greatest reviler of the Jews to ever occupy the post of consul at Jerusalem.
Document Signed, as President, partially-printed and accomplished in manuscript, being the appointment of Selah Merrill to replace Joseph G. Willson as the U.S. Consul at Jerusalem; 1 page, oblong folio, Washington, May 23, 1881. Scarce.
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