Was Abraham Lincoln Jewish?
Thanks for your question about Lincoln's heritage. I was very interested to see your question come through Wonder but in short, there is truly no definitive answer. You'll find details about the conclusion below, and why it remains an open question. Little did I realize when I first dived into the research that this has been a hotly debated idea for quite some time. So let's take a look at the evidence I found:
Lincoln was born of Calvinist ancestors who migrated to the New World. His name comes from his grandfather's name, Abraham. His paternal great-great-grandfather was named Mordecai, as was his uncle. Rabbi Isaac Wise claimed that Lincoln confided at one point that he was of Jewish heritage. The last name, Lincoln, comes from the city where they emigrated, Lincoln England. It was common for the time for Jews to adopt the family name as the city they came from. Notoriously, the city of Lincoln is known for hosting some of England's oldest and most important Jewish communities.
Abraham also actively revoked Ulysses Grant's orders to bar Jewish people from selling to the Union troops or from holding office. "The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade ... are hereby expelled from the department within 24 hours. ... Post commanders will see that all of this class of people be ... required to leave, and any one returning after such notification will be arrested and held in confinement."
After the order was announced, Lincoln swiftly reversed the decree after public outcry. At the time, this was considered a politically risky move since Ulysses was an obviously brilliant General and strategist. The Jewish population in the U.S. at the time, considered to be 150,000 out of about 32 million – just half of one percent would have held little to no political sway within the U.S. come re-election.
However, there is some evidence against this. Lincoln's son refuted any claim to Jewish heritage. Thomas and Nancy Lincoln, his parents, belonged to a Protestant church in Illinois. Text analysis of his speeches point to an inclusion of both Christian and Hebrew values of faith.
While Lincoln's actions were progressive for the time, his track record alone doesn't point to a definitive heritage. So in conclusion, there is no firm evidence that Abraham Lincoln was, in fact, Jewish. His actions and heritage make it a possibility, but it is not written in stone anywhere. There is no definitive answer even based on the extensive historical research.
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