Jonathan Sarna on ‘Lincoln & the Jews’

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BOOK PREVIEW: “Lincoln and the Jews: A History” by Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell: “Lincoln and the Jews: A History provides the first full-scale history of Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with Jews and the Jewish community. It focuses especially on how Lincoln promoted the inclusion of Jews into the fabric of American life and helped to transform Jews from outsiders in America to insiders.” Pre-order — $19.99 Kindle; $30 hardcover [Amazon]

Sarna previews the book exclusively for Jewish Insider readers… “Readers of JewishInsider will be especially interested in how Lincoln went after the Jewish vote in 1860 and 1864.  His Jewish friend and fellow Illinois lawyer-politician, Abraham Jonas, put Lincoln’s name forth for the presidency in 1858, and urged the nascent Republican Party to pursue political outsiders like “the liberal and freethinking Germans,” and “the Israelites.” Jonas also played an important backstage role in the maneuverings that led to Lincoln’s nomination. While the majority of Jews voted against Lincoln in 1860, individual Jews like Jonas and the New York lawyer Abram Dittenhoefer played a significant role in his election.

Four years later, Jonas was dead but Lincoln was even more determined to win the Jewish vote. His liaison to the Jewish community, Issachar Zacharie, worked tirelessly to win Jews to the Republican Party and on October 23, 1864, Lincoln himself met with “certain gentlemen of the Hebrew faith” to discuss the Jewish vote—possibly the first time that any president had ever formally discussed that subject in the Executive Mansion. Publicly the White House insisted that “no pledge of the Jewish vote was made by these gentlemen,” but behind-the-scenes we now know that wealthy Jews like Samuel A. Lewis advised Lincoln to direct any “Jewish committees” seeking political funds straight to him.  “I will furnish them such amounts as we see can be used to advantage,” he promised.

“Nothing shall be wanting on the part of your friends towards carrying the Union [Republican] Cause.”  Five days before the election, Issachar Zacharie felt confident that the Jewish vote would swing Lincoln’s way.  “As with regard the Israelites—with but few Exceptions, they will vote for you,” he assured the President. While the precise number of Jews who voted for Lincoln cannot be known, Lincoln won the election by more than 400,000 votes and carried all but three states.

Lincoln and the Jews-frontcover


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