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.
Louisa Block, the orphaned daughter of a prominent Jewish pioneer of Richmond, Virginia, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri, he named his firstborn daughter, Lucia.15 Subsequently, Abraham Jonas left Cincinnati for the small community of Williamstown, Kentucky, on the road to Lexington about 150 miles northeast of where Lincoln was born. There he opened a store. Striking out on his own, he also embarked upon two pursuits that would claim much of his energy over the next decades: He founded a Masonic
found dozens more, housed in major public institutions, and all revealing the inescapable truth of the depth and breadth of this relationship and Lincoln’s interest in the causes important to Jews. It was not during the war that Lincoln met and interacted with Jews for the first time but rather as a young man in Illinois, thirty years before. And over the course of his tragically foreshortened life, as this book shows, he represented Jews, befriended Jews, admired Jews, commissioned Jews,
the rebels themselves will finally be saved.” Lincoln, however, was unmoved. “Well, gentlemen,” Shrigley quoted him as replying, “if that be so, and there is any way under heaven whereby the rebels can be saved, then, for God’s sake and their sakes, let the man be appointed”—and he was.72 ISAAC LEESER German-born American, author, editor, and publisher of The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, Leeser was one of the most important Jews in nineteenth-century America, well known as the first
first encountered Jews back in New Salem, Illinois. The fact that his network of friends had, for years, been diverse and pluralistic helped to inoculate him against ethnic and religious hatred; “contact among people of different but salient social groups,” modern social psychologists know, “reduces prejudice.”19 Lincoln’s early friendship with Abraham Jonas was a particularly shaping influence. Jonas served for him as an enduring model of what it meant to be a Jew and was someone he knew he
14. Minute Book of Little Pigeon Creek Baptist Church Spencer County, Indiana 1816-1840, 2-3; online at http://www.bakerscreekbaptistchurch.com/history/history/bakerscreekbaptistchurchlinkswithabrahamlincoln.html (accessed 12 February 2013); spelling modernized. 15. Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 36. 16. Religious Intelligencer 1 (1817), 555-558; Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press,