The Jewish Friends of Abraham Lincoln

April 6, 2020
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Head and shoulder photo of Abraham Jonas, clean-shaven.
Abraham Jonas. Wells Family Collection.

Abraham Lincoln's Closest Jewish Friends

From deep within the stress and tension of the violent Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought an unusual military appointment: “I believe we have not yet appointed a Hebrew,” Lincoln wrote, and requested that the son of a well-known Orthodox rabbi from New York receive a position. In an era rife with both casual and state-sanctioned anti-Semitism, Lincoln’s notice and support of Jewish citizens was bold and noteworthy. 

This principled and enduring stance on tolerance was likely a result of Lincoln’s  uniquely large circle of Jewish friends and acquaintances. In this Curated Manuscript Collection concerning friends of Abraham Lincoln, we focus on four men in Lincoln’s inner circle, three of whom Lincoln knew from his early days in Illinois. 

Abraham Jonas, whom Lincoln called one of his “most valued friends,” was a fellow Republican activist. Jonas campaigned on Lincoln’s behalf throughout his doomed 1858 senate campaign, and played a prominent role in Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 1860.  While four of Jonas’s sons fought for the Confederacy, Lincoln and Jonas’s friendship remained intact during the war. In fact, Lincoln personally arranged for Jonas’s son, whilst a CSA prisoner of war, to be released temporarily to attend his father’s death bed. 

Henry Rice knew Lincoln in the latter’s early years as an attorney in Illinois, and several times recommended Lincoln’s services. Lincoln remained grateful, and he and Rice maintained a friendship. Rice, having gone into the textile business, offered to make Lincoln’s inauguration suit, and Lincoln, in turn, endorsed Rice for the position of sutler, a military storekeeper, for the Union Army. 

Julius Hammerslough was a clothier who also knew Lincoln from Illinois, and who maintained a friendship not only with the President, but with the First Lady. Hammerslough would often visit the White House during Lincoln’s tenure there. After Lincoln’s assassination, Hammerslough served as a special emissary for building a memorial to Lincoln in Springfield. 

Issachar Zacharie was Lincoln’s chiropodist, who became his confidante, and later, served as Lincoln’s spy during the Civil War. Most remarkably, in the week that Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln found the time to write three separate testimonials attesting to Zacharie’s skill, including one on the very day he issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. 

Lincoln’s extensive relationships with Jewish Americans is further explored and detailed in the book Lincoln and the Jews by Jonathan Sarna and Benjamin Shapell.

Manuscripts Related To This Article