Lincoln and the Jews: A History
Jonathan D. Sarna, Benjamin Shapell
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.
the Constitution were originally framed, Lincoln repeated an ancient Jewish oath, inspired by Psalm 137. “May my right hand forget its cunning and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,” he declared, thinking of what the Founders had created, “if ever I prove false to those teachings.” Implicitly, he here linked the most sacred documents of the United States to the sacred city of Jerusalem; Lincoln was very likely aware of how the portion of Psalm 137 continues: “If I do not remember you, if I
Pennsylvania Cavalry, known as the Cameron Dragoons. Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio The field officers and company commanders of the Cameron Dragoons, several of whom were themselves Jewish, soon elected another member of the Jewish faith as their chaplain. One suspects that they did so purposely, as a test case, for the man they selected, Arnold Fischel, served as “teacher and lecturer” at New York’s congregation Shearith Israel and was regularly
pretense be allowed to pass or be within or near the lines.”86 Lincoln’s “regard for the Jews” though led him systematically to ignore all such suggestions. Earlier, as we have seen, he had appointed a “Hebrew” as an assistant quartermaster just two days after General Sherman had warned against smuggling on the part of “Jews instigated by a sense of gain.”87 He had also appointed Jewish chaplains and abrogated an order expelling Jews “as a class,” over the objection of cabinet members and
intelligent, and especially those who have fought gallantly in our ranks.” Enfranchising those men, he argued in a striking metaphor, “would probably help, in some trying time to come, to keep the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom.”28 While Louisiana’s new state constitution did not go as far in preserving that “jewel” as Lincoln had hoped, it did provide for the education of all children without regard to race, guaranteed equal rights to all in court, and permitted blacks to serve
aggregate of Israelites in the procession to about seven thousand.”12 In the eleven other major cities where the funeral train paused, Jews participated to a lesser degree. In some, no Jewish participation at all was recorded. In Cleveland, “Solomon and Montefiore Lodges I. O. B. B. [International Order B’nai B’rith], under the marshalship of B. F. Peixotto, Grand Master of the Order in the United States,” marched in the funeral procession that accompanied Lincoln’s coffin. In Chicago, “the