How Jews Entered American Politics: The Curious Case of Maryland’s “Jew Bill”

Posted on February 26th, 2015 by

 

Despite the wintry weather, we were pleased to welcome Dr. Rafael Medoff, the founding director of The David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, to speak at the JMM this past Sunday. His talk focused on Maryland’s Jew Bill and explored how American Jews came to achieve full political equality in the United States. As Dr. Medoff explained, before there was a finalized federal constitution, the original 13 colonies had to have their own system of governance, which established the connection between one’s religious faith and the right to hold public office come. As each state enacted it’s constitution in 1776, each had to consider and articulate the qualification to hold public office. Many states, including Maryland, required an affirmation of one’s Christian faith in order to hold public office and enjoy other civic opportunities. The purpose, however, was not to exclude Jews, rather to affirm the Christian spirit of the new country but, consequently, it had the effect of excluding people. Critical turning point came after the Federal Constitution and northwest ordinance were enacted in 1787, which allowed the principle of full equality without Christian affirmation to be enshrined. However, the road to remedying the conflicting federal and state previsions was lengthy and complex and had a lasting impact on both local and global politics. It is this complex journey of the Jew Bill that sits at the heart of Dr. Medoff’s talk.

We are happy to invite you to listen and enjoy and even share this talk with friends and family!

 

We hope you will join us for our next talk on Sunday, March 29th at 1pm, where we’ll welcome Dr. Betsy Bryan of Johns Hopkins University. She will be speaking on 19th century Egyptology and the collection of Mendes Cohen!

See you there!

See you there!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Test

Posted on January 12th, 2015 by

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. – US Constitution, Article VI (1787)

Many wonderful things happened over the recent winter break.  Mitzvah Day was a huge success.  We all had fun making jigsaw puzzles for the kids at The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai.  Gil Sandler gave a terrific talk on some of the colorful characters of early Baltimore.  Throughout the next week, we had a steady flow of last minute 2014 gifts to JMM – and we’re very grateful for your generous support.

But for me, the greatest surprise came from a single visitor, Yosef Kuperman.  Yosef had come to see The A-mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.  I just happened to be in the lobby when Yosef walked through the door and we struck up a conversation.  What I discovered was that Yosef had a most unusual hobby.  Beginning with an independent study project he did at UMBC, Yosef had made himself an expert on the “Maryland Jew Bill” – the law that finally overturned Maryland’s required oath to the New Testament.  He had studied original speeches, voting data, and correspondence to get a much clearer picture of the forces that shaped this landmark legislation.

The Jew Bill

The Jew Bill

Yosef returned to JMM on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and we were able to have a long talk about what he found and he pointed me to an online resource for speeches that I now happily pass on to you:  http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t7kp82p35;view=1up;seq=7 (you will want to skip to page 59, for the start of the relevant speeches).

The current film, Selma, visits the period in our history when “tests” were used to disenfranchise voters. My conversation with Yosef reminded me of the long history of so-called “tests” to deprive people of equal rights.  The American experience has its roots in the “test acts” of 1673 in England.  The acts which required office holders to disavow transubstantiation and the invocation of saints was designed to bar Catholics from public service (these tests remained English law until 1828).  In America several states in rewriting there constitutions in 1776 replaced these detailed tests with a single oath to either affirm Christianity or the New Testament.  The US Constitution of 1787, quoted above, would appear to have settled the question, but that was not the case.  Maryland maintained its oath requirement, at least on paper, decades after the US Constitution was ratified.

selma

Solomon Etting is generally credited with initiating the repeal effort in 1797, but all attempts at passage before the War of 1812 failed.  I was aware of the fact that in the immediate post-War period the oath became a political wedge issue – with Democrats generally supporting repeal and Federalists weighing in on trying to preserving Maryland’s agrarian interests against the “foreigners” of Baltimore.  What Yosef brought to my attention is that by 1823 when the Jew Bill again fails to pass, the Federalists are already in decline and that there are many Democrats who are ardent opponents of the legislation.  What becomes clear from reading the speeches of the period is that many office holders came to Annapolis having made a pledge to their constituents on this issue.  In some instances, it seems to have served as a proxy for proving their own Christian character to their districts.

I encourage you to visit the website I have provided and read for yourself the arguments made in favor of religious tolerance.  I think you will find some of the rhetoric surprising, particularly Delegate Worthington’s case for attracting a larger Jewish community to improve the state’s economy.  I think you will find some of the public debate about religious liberty has echoes in our own time as well.  Perhaps we are not through with the real “test.”

Marvin PinkertA blog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE. 

 

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MS 55 The Louis E. Shecter Collection

Posted on December 6th, 2012 by

Louis Shecter as a graduate from Baltimore City College, 1918. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1974.21.4

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Louis E. Shecter (1901-1992)?Collection

n.d., 1921-1985

?MS 55

Jewish Museum of Maryland

?ACCESS AND PROVENANCE

The Louis E. Shecter Collection was found in the collection as MS 55.? Multiple accessions have been identified as materials donated by and related to Louis E. Shecter and probably incorporated into MS 55: 1973.013; 1974.021; 1975.020; 1982.015; 1985.104; and 1985.105.? However, none of the materials in the manuscript collection can be positively identified with these accessions.? Because of this the collection was given the FIC accession number 2012.061. The collection was processed at some unknown date then reprocessed and given a finding aid in June 2012 by Jennifer Vess.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.? Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.? Papers may be copied in accordance with the library?s usual procedures.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Louis Shecter (1901-1992) was born in Baltimore and graduated from Baltimore City College in 1918.? He began work at the Baltimore Sun then left for the Joseph Katz advertising company.? In 1928 he became the advertising director for the Hecht stores until 1931 when he and his brother-in-law, Jack L. Levin, started their own advertising company.? Shecter also began to invest in real-estate and businesses, ultimately owning several theaters (The Rosalyn, The Rex, The Roxy, and The Times ? now known as the Charles Theater).? Other businesses included the Famous Ballroom and two bowling centers.

Rosalyn M. and Louis E. Shecter on their way to London aboard the R.M.S Queen Mary, 1946. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1982.15.17

In 1939 Shecter married Rosalyn Margareten (d. 2009).? Rosalyn was born inNew York City and attended first Hunter College then later the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for sculpture.? Louis and Rosalyn had three children: Alan, Mark and Alyce.? In 1961 Rosalyn was appointed vice chair of the Maryland Board of Motion Picture Censors.? Rosalyn focused on preventing children from being exposed to adult content in films, and she played a minor role in the implementation of the current movie rating system.

Louis Shecter was involved with a number of political figures and also became a collector and promoter of the arts.? Shecter died on November 9, 1992.? Rosalyn died on November 24, 2009.

SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE

The collection is divided into three series: Series I. Louis E. Shecter, n.d., 1921-1985, Series II. Rosalyn Shecter, n.d. 1931-1984, and Series III. Children and Grandchildren, n.d., 1949-1983.? Series I. is further divided into eight subseries: Subseries A. American Jewish Congress, n.d., 1957-1983, Subseries B. Business, n.d., 1924-1984, Subseries C. Politics, n.d., 1944-1985, Subseries D. Genocide Convention and Civil Right Activities, n.d., 1954-1981, Subseries E. Charitable Contributions, n.d., 1945-1985, Subseries F. Art Collection, Museums and Culture, n.d, 1953-1983, Subseries G. Personal Correspondence, n.d., 1921-1984, and Subseries H. Misc, n.d., 1932-1984

Louis Shecter with Ladybird Johnson, 1962. Courtesy of Louis Shecter. 1975.20.33a

Series I. Louis E. Shecter, n.d., 1921-1985 contains correspondence, programs, clippings, and writings related to Shecter?s business dealings, civil rights activities, charitable contributions, art collecting, and personal life.? The series is divided into eight subseries. Subseries A. American Jewish Congress, n.d., 1957-1983 contains correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, meeting minutes and programs related to Shecter?s work with the American Jewish Congress in Baltimore.? Subseries B. Business, n.d., 1924-1984 contains correspondence and clippings related to Shecter?s work with the Joseph Katz advertising firm, the Hecht Company, his own advertising firm, his real-estate ventures, the Advertising club, etc. Subseries C. Politics, n.d., 1944-1985 contains invitations, correspondence, clippings and programs related to Shecter?s interaction with politics and political figures at the local and national level. Subseries D. Genocide Convention and Civil Right Activities, n.d., 1954-1981 contains correspondence, clippings and talks related to Shecter?s work promoting the Genocide Convention and Civil Rights.? Subseries E. Charitable Contributions, n.d., 1945-1985 contains correspondence, clippings, invitations, etc., related to Shecter?s involvement with charitable organization and his own charitable contributions.? Subseries F. Art Collection, Museums and Culture, n.d, 1953-1983, contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, lists, newsletters, magazines and minutes related to Shecter?s art collection activities, his donation of art, and his interactions with museums and other cultural institutions and organizations. Subseries G. Personal Correspondence, n.d., 1921-1984, contains Shecter?s personal correspondence including a collection of letters (photocopies) to and from H.L. Menken.? Subseries H. Misc, n.d., 1932-1984 contains membership materials to the Masonic Lodge and Beth Tfiloh, invitations, play programs, writings, etc.? All of the materials are organized alphabetically within each subseries.

Louis Shecter and Senator Edward Kennedy reviewing a painting of President Kennedy and Governor Tawes at the opening of JFK Highway. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1975.20.25a

Series II. Rosalyn Shecter, n.d. 1931-1984 contains correspondence, diplomas, booklets, publications, newspaper clippings, scrapbook pages and genealogical material related to Rosalyn?s education, work and family.? A large portion of the collection relates to Rosalyn?s work with the Maryland State Board of Motion Picture Censors.? The folders are organized alphabetically except for the genealogy materials which are placed at the end of the series.

Rosalyn Shecter being sworn in as chairman of the Maryland Board of Motion Picture censors, 1968. 1974.21.18a

Series III. Children and Grandchildren, n.d., 1949-1983 contains correspondence, invitations and writings related to Louis and Rosalyn?s children and grandchildren.? The series is arranged alphabetically.

Rosalyn, Louis, Alan and Mark Shecter, 1950's. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1974.21.20

RELATED COLLECTIONS

The American Jewish Historical Society and Syracuse University Library both have Louis E. Shecter Manuscript collections.

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Louis Shecter with Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, 1952. Courtesy of Louis E. Shecter. 1975.20.1

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Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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