Lincoln and the Jews: A History
Jonathan D. Sarna, Benjamin Shapell
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One hundred and fifty years after Abraham Lincoln's death, the full story of his extraordinary relationship with Jews is told here for the first time. Lincoln and the Jews: A History provides readers both with a captivating narrative of his interactions with Jews, and with the opportunity to immerse themselves in rare manuscripts and images, many from the Shapell Lincoln Collection, that show Lincoln in a way he has never been seen before.
Lincoln's lifetime coincided with the emergence of Jews on the national scene in the United States. When he was born, in 1809, scarcely 3,000 Jews lived in the entire country. By the time of his assassination in 1865, large-scale immigration, principally from central Europe, had brought that number up to more than 150,000. Many Americans, including members of Lincoln's cabinet and many of his top generals during the Civil War, were alarmed by this development and treated Jews as second-class citizens and religious outsiders. Lincoln, this book shows, exhibited precisely the opposite tendency. He also expressed a uniquely deep knowledge of the Old Testament, employing its language and concepts in some of his most important writings. He befriended Jews from a young age, promoted Jewish equality, appointed numerous Jews to public office, had Jewish advisors and supporters starting already from the early 1850s, as well as later during his two presidential campaigns, and in response to Jewish sensitivities, even changed the way he thought and spoke about America. Through his actions and his rhetoric―replacing "Christian nation," for example, with "this nation under God"―he embraced Jews as insiders.
In this groundbreaking work, the product of meticulous research, historian Jonathan D. Sarna and collector Benjamin Shapell reveal how Lincoln's remarkable relationship with American Jews impacted both his path to the presidency and his policy decisions as president. The volume uncovers a new and previously unknown feature of Abraham Lincoln's life, one that broadened him, and, as a result, broadened America.
rhetoric in response to Jewish sensitivities. Early on, and as late as 1862, he reflexively described America in Christian terms and characterized Americans as a “Christian people.”5 Later in his presidency, however, he increasingly took note of the presence of non-Christians in the United States. His Gettysburg Address and deeply religious second inaugural bespoke a conscious effort to redefine America through phrases like “this nation under God” that embraced Jews and other non-Christians as
several years before then, in his twenties, he started taking testimonials from public figures whose feet he successfully treated.29 “… broken eggs can not be mended. I have issued the emancipation proclamation and I can not retract it.” LINCOLN TO JOHN A. McCLERNAND, JANUARY 8, 186 Lincoln would later tell the artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter that “as affairs have turned out,” the Emancipation Proclamation was “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth
sometimes been crowded with Israelites, waiting his leisure, in order to obtain his advice as to what they should do.”70 Amid these exertions, he reassured the president that he was meeting with success, “not only among my own people but among the most wealthy & influential of citizens.” Radiating optimism, he wrote that “the people every day are becoming more favorably disposed to the Government.”71 He sent similar reports to Banks and Seward.72 ZACHARIE BROADSIDE Under the imprimatur of “the
to cross the Potomac Bridge into Washington, he was captured and incarcerated in the Old Capitol prison. Friends of Mordecai’s, including the prominent New York Jewish businessman and communal leader Samuel A. Lewis (whose niece, Ada, was Mordecai’s fiancée), interceded with Lincoln, and Zacharie personally visited with the president to procure the young man’s release. On February 4, when Mordecai and Zacharie came to Lincoln’s office to say thank you, the garrulous chiropodist let drop that
of the Great Martyr”43 very soon after he was pronounced dead. In New York, the news hit just as Jews were “proceeding to their places of worship for the services of the Sabbath of Passover.”44 In Philadelphia, Isaac Leeser heard the news from his synagogue president, “during the pause in the morning service, when the Sepher [Torah scroll] was taken out.”45 In San Francisco, Elkan Cohn of Congregation Emanu-El was handed a note with the news just as he was “ascending his pulpit, on Saturday, to