Lincoln and the jews a history

By Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell

From Thomas Dunne Books/Macmillan Publishers - A new book that explores the little-known historic connection between Lincoln and the Jews

“This book...is a treasure”

Nothing brings history to life more vividly than handwritten letters, maps, and photographs. This book is a spectacular collection of primary documents that cast new light on Lincoln...it is a treasure.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Historian

“An instant classic”

With a dazzling mastery of the subject, and a compelling style that transforms a scholarly book into a page-turner, Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell have provided nothing less than the definitive study of a long-neglected aspect of Civil War history and Lincoln biography. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this book is further elevated, and exponentially, by the prominence of hundreds of magnificent illustrations--many from the amazing Shapell archive, and quite a few of them new to this old hand at Lincoln relics and portraiture. The result is that happiest marriage of text and images: an instant classic.

Harold Holzer, Roger Hertog Fellow, New-York Historical Society

“inexhaustibly interesting and deeply moving”

This book is one of the most fascinating troves of American history and Jewish history I have ever seen. It is inexhaustibly interesting and deeply moving. Lincoln and the Jews portrays an essential chapter in the history of freedom.

Senator Joseph Lieberman

“a groundbreaking and enlightening book”

Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell have produced a groundbreaking and enlightening book, an accessible source for scholars and general readers alike. This new study broadens our understanding of the American Jewish experience during the Civil War. Most illuminating, though, is the book's portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, the first president to truly interact with Jews and to welcome them into leading American circles. Lincoln and the Jews is an essential addition to any library on American Jewish and U.S. history.

Michael Oren, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States

about the book

Lincoln and the Jews: A History illustrates how President Abraham Lincoln - perhaps best known for his efforts in abolishing slavery - intended to secure equality and freedom for all Americans, including another growing minority group in Civil War-era America: the Jews.

Backed by years of meticulous research and newly discovered documents, historian Jonathan D. Sarna and collector Benjamin Shapell explore how Lincoln’s remarkable regard for and friendships with American Jews directly and indirectly impacted both his path to the presidency and his policy decisions once in the White House. Over the course of his foreshortened life, Lincoln counted Jews among his closest friends and, as president, appointed the first Jewish chaplains to the armed forces, placed Jews in positions of authority, and both extended and protected rights of Jewish Americans.

Augmented by personal letters, lithographs, and artifacts, this book affirms that Lincoln’s warm and genuine relationships with Jews broadened him personally, and, in effect, broadened America, underscoring what Jews could accomplish under freedom. 

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the authors

Benjamin Shapell

Benjamin Shapell is the founder of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, an independent educational organization whose collection includes original documents of world-renowned individuals. Shapell  has initiated and overseen the creation of exhibitions and films relating to the central themes of the collection, including Mark Twain, the history of the Holy Land, Jewish soldiers in the Civil War, and American presidents. The foundation has partnered in exhibitions with major institutions, including the Library of Congress, the Morgan Library & Museum, the New-York Historical Society, the National Library of Israel, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Benjamin Shapell

Jonathan D. Sarna

Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna is a historian and leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion, and life. Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America's fifty most-influential American Jews, Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, and the eighteenth president of the Association for Jewish Studies. The author of hundreds of scholarly articles, Sarna may be best known for his acclaimed American Judaism: A History, winner of the Jewish Book Council's Jewish Book of the Year Award.

Jonathan D. Sarna

"Even Lincoln experts are likely to learn something from this fascinating and comprehensive study of the president's relationship with American Jews, which is being published to coincide with a travelling exhibition of original documents. Sarna, a preeminent historian of American Jewry, and Shapell, the founder of the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, make good use of what Shapell calls "the ‘other' letters of U.S. presidents"--ones that don't present significant historical facts, but that limn the quotidian aspects of Lincoln's life, such as his recommendation of his Jewish chiropodist, Issachar Zacharie. The authors convincingly make the case that Lincoln's positive attitude toward Jews was strongly influenced by Abraham Jonas--a fellow Illinois politician, the only man Lincoln ever directly called "one of my most valued friends," and one of the first to suggest that he seek the Republican nomination for President in 1860. Jonas also warned his friend of a plot to assassinate him before his first inauguration. Images of the source material add depth and lend perspective; a page from a narrative describing Lincoln's death is stained with blood, probably the president's."

"The fact that some aspect of Lincoln’s life has gone unstudied is striking. Lincoln is the closest we have to a U.S.-sanctioned saint in a country with a constitutionally mandated separation of church and state. It’s safe to say that no other politician has won American adoration or scholarship the way Lincoln has. One would think, therefore, it is impossible to uncover an unexplored aspect of Lincoln’s life as we approach the morose anniversary of his April 15, 1865, assassination. But Jonathan D. Sarna and Benjamin Shapell have proved that’s not the case with their new book, Lincoln and the Jews: A History."

"'One of my most valued friends.' In all of the writings of Abraham Lincoln, we find that phrase used only once. It refers to Abraham Jonas, who was a Jew. In a world where hatred or suspicion of Jews was near universal, our greatest President proves singularly free of this ancient prejudice. A remarkable feature of the lavishly illustrated and beautifully written work, Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell, is to learn anew how many Jews Lincoln befriended in his too brief life and the consistency with which he opposed the common anti-Semitism of his time. Growing up, Lincoln knew no Jews, other than those whom he met in the pages of his well-thumbed Bible. Yet his was not a grudging admission of Jewish legitimacy but a genuine liking and even admiration. He even justified the appointment of one assistant quartermaster because he was Jewish: 'I believe we have not yet appointed a Hebrew.'"

"'These and similar interactions between Lincoln and Jews might, on their own, seem trivial. For the most part, they have escaped historians’ notice. Aggregated, however, they form a pattern. The President of the United States, they show, insisted on treating Jews on the same basis as everyone else. For Lincoln, we have seen, this was nothing new,'" they [Sarna and Shapell] write. For Lincoln buffs and academics, these stories may seem familiar, but the level of detail the authors convey is truly impressive. For the general reader and viewer, there’s something about looking at letters close up that’s profoundly appealing — they’re immediately accessible moments that are historical and private, remarkable that they’ve survived in their fragility, with the handwriting and rhetorical flourish of another era."

"A noted historian asks new questions about Abraham Lincoln... Drawing on archival sources and historical accounts, the author paints a well-delineated portrait of Lincoln as a friend and advocate of Jews before and during his political career. Heavily illustrated with images and manuscripts from the Library of Congress, many other collections and especially from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, the book offers an enhanced perspective on Lincoln's moral and ethical decisions, as well as his personal friendships...Sarna and manuscript collector Shapell offer a vivid, fresh perspective on Lincoln's life and times."

"...even someone as knowledgeable as Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis, was surprised to discover how much he had to learn about Lincoln’s relationship with Jews, as he and Shapell... prepared their book for publication this March. Notwithstanding all that had been written before about Lincoln, Sarna said they found a lot of new material. Their research also served as basis for an exhibition on the same topic, which opens at the New-York Historical Society this month and will travel to other locations across the country."