President Arthur Appoints Simon Wolf, the Foremost American Jewish Activist of the 19th Century, to the Ambassadorship of Egypt

October 29, 1881

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President Arthur Appoints Simon Wolf, the Foremost American Jewish Activist of the 19th Century, to the Ambassadorship of Egypt
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1 page | SMC 2451

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      The official reception of an accredited Consul-General to Egypt is an imposing affair. I was sent for with a gilded coach, white Arab horses and the Chamberlain of the Khedive. As we passed through the streets lined with soldiers presenting arms, and as we reached the gates of the Palace where a band of music played the Spangled Banner, I confess I was so moved that it was with the greatest difficulty I could refrain from tears. There was one dominant feeling prevailing, and that was the thought of my dear mother and the struggles we had in the land of my birth, and I was overwhelmed to think that now I was the accredited representative of the Great Republic of the West to the land of my forefathers, typifying in the highest degree the possibilities and opportunities of our country, and that, as Secretary John Hay…. said, “The God of Israel never sleeps or slumbers.”

                 Simon Wolf, The Presidents I Have Known from 1860-1918 (Washington, D.C.: Bryan S. Adams, 1918), p. 114

      It’s almost certainly a fact that ambassadorial appointments are to politics as a carrot to a horse: an incentive, and a reward. Simon Wolf, the justly esteemed mid-19th and early 20th century de facto emissary of American Jewry to the American presidency, had always wanted to see the pyramids. He said as much, round about the election of James Garfield, to his friend, the German revolutionary and then American stateman, Carl Schurz. Not long after, what with Schurz being in Garfield’s Cabinet and both men good Republicans, Wolf was nominated by his old friend, President James A. Garfield, to be Consul-General and Agent Diplomatique to Egypt. Wolf in fact encountered Garfield in the White House on July 1, 1881, signing his commission. “I hope you will have a pleasant trip and find the land of your forefathers all that you expect,” Garfield told him. “Try to pluck the mystery out of the Heart of Egypt, and come back to the United States, if such a thing is possible, a better citizen than when you left.” The very next day Garfield was shot by an assassin, and so began the long, doomed fight for his life, which would end, mercifully, on September 19th 1881 - explaining, then, this document. Garfield commissioned Wolf while the Senate was in recess, which meant that his successor, Chester Arthur, had to re-nominate Wolf all over again, on October 29th, 1881.

      Wolf, who had never intended to stay long in the diplomatic service, didn’t; he left for Egypt on July 9th, 1881 and returned home in May 1882. His friend President Arthur accepted Wolf’s resignation with regret, praising his usefulness to the mission, and Wolf in his book noted Arthur’s especially gracious approbation. Perhaps a measure of Wolf’s satisfaction came from having faced down something else which was almost certainly a fact: someone would, and did, protest Wolf’s appointment on the grounds of his faith. Some American missionaries in Egypt so bitterly protested the naming of a Jew to be in charge at Cairo that they had tried to block Wolf’s commission - but Wolf, of course, as usual, prevailed. Indeed, he had the pleasure of learning that he had so thoroughly converted, as it were, the anti-Semitic missionaries that they reported to their home church in Philadelphia that Wolf had done more for their mission than all the Consul-Generals who had ever come before.

      Document Signed, as President, partially-printed and accomplished in manuscript, being the nomination of Simon Wolf to be the U.S. Agent and Consul General at Cairo; 1 page, folio, Washington D.C., October 29, 1881; co-signed by Secretary of State JAMES G. BLAINE. Replete with wafer Seal.

      This document may be the earliest surviving appointment of a practicing Jew (Simon Wolf) by an American president.

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      The President of the United States of America,

      To all who shall see these presents greeting:

      Know ye: That reposing special trust and confidence in the abilities and integrity of Simon Wolf, of the District of Columbia.I have nominated, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint him Agent and Consul General of the United States of America, at Cairo; and such other parts as shall be nearer thereto than to the residence of any other Consul or Vice-Consul of the United States, within the same allegiance; and do authorize and empower him To have and to hold the said office and to exercise and enjoy all the rights, preeminences, privileges and authorities to the same of right appertaining, subject to the conditions prescribed by law: The said Simon Wolf, demanding and receiving no fees or perquisites of office whatever, which shall not be expressly established by some law of the said United States. And I do hereby enjoin all Captains, Masters and Commanders of ships and other vessels, armed or unarmed, sailing under the flag of the said States, as well as all other of their citizens do acknowledge and consider him the said Simon Wolf accordingly. And I do hereby pray and request His Highness, The Pacha of Egypt, His Governors and Officers to permit the said Simon Wolf, fully and peaceably to enjoy and exercise the said office, without giving, or suffering to be given unto him, any molestation or trouble, but on the contrary, to afford him all proper countenance & assistance. I offering to do the same for all those who shall in like manner be recommended to me by His said Highness.

      In testimony whereof I have caused these letters to be made Patent and the Seal of the United States to be hereunto affixed.

      Given under my hand, at the City of Washington, the Twenty-ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixth.

      By the President, CHESTER A. ARTHUR

      JAMES G. BLAINE Secretary of State