Friday, October 23, 2020

Abraham Lincoln – Friend of the Jewish People.

The name Abraham Lincoln is known to millions, not just in the United States, as one of America's greatest presidents. He is famous for maintaining the American Union and freeing negro slaves. Less known is that he also championed the rights of Jewish Americans, even when it was difficult and unfashionable to do so.
Replica of the 34-star silk flag presented to Abraham Lincoln by his friend, Abraham Kohn (1819-1871) of Chicago, on Lincoln's departure for Washington D.C. in 1860 as President-elect.
The inscription is from Joshua 1:9.
".הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִיךָ חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ, אַל-תַּעֲרֹץ וְאַל-תֵּחָת: כִּי עִמְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ" 
"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."
Abraham Kohn
President Lincoln's actions to assist the Jewish people, his most notable and public manifestation, was Lincoln's cancellation of a general order by Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant. On December 17, 1862 (the 26th of Kislev, 5623 in the Hebrew calendar), General Grant issued General Orders 11 expelling "Jews as a class," which stretched from northern Mississippi to the southern tip of Illinois and from the Mississippi to the Tennessee Rivers. It was the first day of Hanukkah. At the time, Hanukkah was not the major holiday it is now. But Grant's order, if carried out, meant that entire families would be uprooted during the holiday and beyond and exiled from their communities.

A long-time anti-Semite, Grant had come to think of Jews as speculators and war profiteers. The fact that thousands of Jews were heroically serving in the Union Army at the time seemingly did nothing to change his anti-Jewish hatred. Lincoln immediately canceled Grant's order upon learning of the order. 

Ha-Magid Newspaper (The Storyteller), published in Lyck, East Prussia (today, the City of Elk in northeastern Poland), specialized in the news of Jews around the world, such as the following story of February 19, 1863:
Text from the February 19, 1863 edition of Ha-Magid.
Translation: The ruler Abraham Lincoln, head of government of the Lands of the North (president [transliterated]) in America, during a recent visit of the learned rabbis, Messrs. Wise and Lilienthal from Cincinnati, and attorney (advocate) Martin Bijur from Louisville, who had come to vent their spleen upon General Grant, and ask him to reverse the evil decree issued by the general upon all the Jews in the territory of Tennessee, told them in the course of conversation, after promising to reverse the decree, that he (the president) sprang from the belly of Judah, and his forefathers were Jews; and these emissaries indeed report that the facial features of the president are evidence of his descent from the loins of the Hebrews.
Lincoln regularly quoted the Bible in letters, speeches, and ordinary conversation. But unlike many American Christians of his time, Lincoln did not focus primarily on the Christian parts of his Bible and seemed remarkably comfortable with the Torah. Also, unlike many 19th-century American Christians, Lincoln had many Jewish friends, the first of which was Julius Hammerslough (1832-1908). Hammerslough was a young store owner in Springfield, Illinois. When Lincoln was elected to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834, he met Hammerslough, and at a time when Jews were viewed with suspicion, Lincoln treated Hammerslough as an equal.

Julius Hammerslough
Julius, an owner of the Hammerslough Brothers Clothing Company, with locations in New York, Illinois, and Missouri, enjoyed amicable relations with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln. Mr. Hammerslough witnessed Lincoln's first inauguration and was a frequent guest at the White House. President Lincoln invariably asked Mr. Hammerslough, "How are the boys?" referring to the Hammerslough Brothers in Springfield. Julius accompanied Lincoln's remains from Chicago to Springfield as one of a committee of citizens of Lincoln's old home chosen for that purpose. He also provided the plumes for the funeral car used in Springfield. Hammerslough took a very active part in the project for the erection of the Lincoln Monument in Springfield, being appointed by the national monument committee special agent to bring the subject to the notice of the Jews.

Abraham Jonas
Another of Lincoln's closest friends was Abraham Jonas, the first permanent Jewish resident in Quincy, Illinois. Jonas was a merchant, a politician, a member of the Illinois and Kentucky state legislatures, a leading lawyer, and a Freemason who supported and encouraged Lincoln for most of his life. 
Although Abraham Lincoln was no longer in the Illinois General Assembly, Jonas likely met Lincoln during his service in the legislature in Springfield. Jonas ran for the Illinois Senate in 1844 but was defeated by the Democratic candidate. But his loyalty to the Whig party earned him the position of the postmaster of Quincy, Illinois, in 1849, serving until 1853. Lincoln and Jonas remained dear friends during this time. When the Whig party died, Jonas and Lincoln joined the new anti-slavery Republican Party after its establishment in 1854. On November 1, 1854, Lincoln was accused of attending a Know-Nothing Party meeting but was vouched by Jonas, with whom he was actually with. Jonas arranged the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate in Quincy and aided Lincoln in his candidacy. His law partner Henry Asbury suggested Lincoln's candidacy in front of a group of local Republicans. Asbury's suggestion was greeted by silence until Jonas agreed that it would be a good idea. Joans played a primary role in Lincoln's first Presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in May of 1860, at the "Wigwam" in Chicago. Jonas was the only person Lincoln ever referred to as "one of my most valued friends."

As the Civil War (1861-1865) started, Lincoln recruited military and civilian leaders to help lead the fight. He openly appointed Jewish faith members, never disparaging them for their religion, as many of his contemporaries constantly did. In addition to Jewish military officers, Lincoln also appointed dozens of Jews to be quartermasters, overseeing housing, supplies, transportation, and clothing for the troops. When Jews began lobbying Congress to allow Jewish chaplains in the army, Lincoln supported their cause, eventually seeing the passage of an 1862 law changing the requirements for becoming a military chaplain and allowing non-Christians in the post for the first time in history.

Rabbi Jacob Frankel
Lincoln signed Rabbi Jacob (Jakob) Frankel's (1808-1887) commission on September 18, 1862. Frankel was assigned to a hospital in Philadelphia in response to a request from the Board of Ministers of the Hebrew Congregations of that city. The appeal followed the deaths of two Jewish soldiers there without their being afforded the attention of clergy of their faith. Rabbi Frankel (1808-1887), nicknamed the "Sweet Singer of Israel," was the cantor of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia. Throughout the Civil War, some 7,000 Jews served with the Northern forces against the Confederates, whose chaplaincy law required only that one be a "minister of religion." The total Jewish population of the North and South was approximately 250,000. Frankel continued to serve Rodeph Shalom (today the oldest active Ashkenazi synagogue in the United States) as a cantor. In contrast, he served in the military in the Army of the Potomac. No Rabbi is known to have applied for or received an application for chaplain, or, at least, no document or record of such application or commission has survived the destruction of large portions of the official documents and papers of the Confederacy.

On April 14, 1865, President and Mrs. Lincoln were attending the play, "Our American Cousin," a comedy, at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C., when Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, an enraged and unbalanced actor. Later, Mrs. Lincoln said Abraham had told her that he hoped one day they would travel to Palestine (a part of the Islamic-run Ottoman Empire (1517-1917) today's Israel) together, just a few minutes before Booth showed up.
A 34-Star Civil War Flag - Visual Aid
Among the millions who mourned the 16th President, many Jewish congregations held special services and composed prayers for their beloved President. In Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln was buried on May 4, 1865, his old friend Julius Hammerslough closed his store and displayed a portrait of Lincoln with a declaration that captured what so many felt: "Millions bless thy name."
Detail from "Lincoln," an oil painting by George Peter Alexander Healy in 1869.
In addition to monuments to Abraham Lincoln in the United States, a street in central Jerusalem is named for Abraham Lincoln, a fitting tribute to the Jewish people's gratitude to a President who championed and defended America's Jews.

"Abraham Lincoln and the Jews," by Isaac Markens. Published in 1909. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.
#JewishThemed #JewishLife


  1. Thank you , Lincoln truly is a saint

  2. In April, 1865, Rabbi Liebman Adler delivered a eulogy for President Lincoln that was reported in a German language Jewish newspaper published in the US. The text of the eulogy is "In ancient Egypt, there existed a Judgment Hall, which had to carry out a formal, strict investigation of the personal record of the deceased before a solemn, respectable burial was permitted. Over you, O Lincoln, the civilized world is sitting in judgment, a court of millions, and calling with one voice, “You are worthy of the honor! You are to be honored, sympathized with, and at the same time praised, by all countries, by all peoples, and by all times!” Thus, the manual workers will proudly call: “He was one of us, blessed be his memory!” The merchant class will proudly remember the fact that he also once ranked among its members and will honor his memory. The judicature will engrave in marble in their holy halls that he was a member of this class and will consecrate his memory. History’s rulers will read with elation that Abraham Lincoln was a ruler who sat among them.” [Chicago Jewish History, pub. of the Chicago Jewish Historical Society, Volume 39, Number 2, Spring 2015, page 15.] Which shows the reverence that the Jewish people in the US had for Lincoln.


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