In 1891—nine years after Leon Pinsker published Auto-emancipation and six years before the First Zionist Congress—an evangelical leader named William Blackstone visited President Benjamin Harrison at the White House, and presented him with a petition, signed by 400 prominent Americans, asking him to work toward the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. Walter Russell Mead writes:
We do not know very much about the motives of most of the people who signed the memorial, but it seems unlikely that Episcopalian men of the world like J.P. Morgan or hardnosed Baptist businessmen like John D. Rockefeller believed that they were hastening the Second Coming and the end of the world by endorsing Blackstone’s idea. For many of the signers, the petition merely expressed the long-held belief among both religious and secular people of the 19th century that the Jews, like the Greeks and the Italians, could regain some of their ancient glory and greatness if freed from foreign rule and oppression. Others were moved by the appalling spectacle of deliberate, state-sponsored cruelty in Russia and elsewhere against innocent and helpless people. Some may have been moved to some degree by the spiritual forces that drove Blackstone.
Despite the religious foundations of his interest in Palestine, Blackstone drafted his memorial in largely secular terms. Given the misery of the Jews in Russia, and the mass migration from Russia that was already ten years old, something needed to be done. “But where,” the memorial asks, “shall 2,000,000 of such poor people go? Europe is crowded and has no room for more peasant population. Shall they come to America? This will be a tremendous expense, and require years.”
For the next 60 years, whenever the Jewish question emerged into world politics, non-Jewish Americans responded with the logic and program of the memorial. The United States should support the creation of a Jewish home in the Middle East; it should use diplomatic rather than military or even economic means to achieve this goal; and it should not do this work on its own but in concert with other powers.
Indeed, from World War I on, one of the foreign-policy ideas that united liberals, conservatives, internationalists, and isolationists in the United States was that the United States should offer diplomatic support to the goal of establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.