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When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November, 1859, New York Jews were preparing to establish the Board of Delegates of American Israelites (BDAI). The years that followed proved to be a testing time for this young organization as well as for the nation. The coming to power of the Republicans with their determination to contain slavery moved several of the Southern states to secede and dissolve the Union. Passions ran high and people were unhappy, embittered; latent prejudices rose to the surface and the Jews, always potential victims of prejudice, found themselves under attack. Though the BDAI was small and relatively impotent it did what it could to assume a national defense posture during the Civil War which broke out on April 12, 1861. It could never forget that there were Jews in both parts of this divided country; Franklin J. Moses, Jr., a member of an assimilated Jewish family, was one of the men who raised the Palmetto flag over Fort Sumter.1


The South went to war because it was politically on the decline and economically subject to the North. With the increase of free-soil states it was obvious that the North would dominate the country. Thus the war was a struggle between two economic systems; the agrarian South was becoming increasingly dependent on the industrial capitalist North. It was the North that handled the cotton crop and supplied the South with its consumer’s wares. Like the British North American colonies who emancipated themselves from Whitehall in 1776 the South rebelled in 1861 in order to achieve a larger degree of economic and political parity. For the extremists in the South the problem was a simple one, submission or secession. The North could not tolerate secession; the Union was indivisible. Neither side was in the mood for still another temporary compromise. “Let this parting be in peace. . . .” said the Louisiana senator Judah P. Benjamin on December 31, 1860. “You can never convert the free sons of the soil into vassals paying tribute to your power.”

Slavery was the immediate issue that triggered the war. The North wanted no new slave commonwealths; the Southern disunionists believed that their economy could not survive without black bondsmen. They were convinced that with independence would come political power, slave state expansion into the Southwest, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and continued economic prosperity. And American Jewry, where did it stand on slavery and secession in the winter of 1860-1861? Were the factors influencing Jewish Americans on this question any different from those affecting their fellow citizens? What happened to them during the war? How did this struggle for Southern independence influence the American Jew?2


Inasmuch as slavery had been an integral part of the American economy since the seventeenth century Jews had employed these “servants” in their homes, businesses, and on their farms both in the North and in the South. Jewish merchants bought and sold slaves along with cloth and provisions; they too were a commodity. The poetic-minded Abraham Seixas of Charleston advertised in the 1790’s:

                        He has for sale

                        Some Negroes, male.

In colonial days individual Jewish merchant-shippers in New York and Newport were wholesalers bringing in shipments of Negroes from the African coast; in the early nineteenth century after such imports had been barred by Congress, a number of Southern Jewish merchants specialized in the buying and selling of blacks.3


How did Jews treat their slaves? No better and no worse than their neighbors, it would seem. Biblical injunctions making specific provisions for the humanitarian treatment of slave-servants were not particularly honored by Jews. Some of the slaves brutally executed in New York City during the hysteria of 1741 when Negroes were accused of rebelling against their masters belonged to Jews. Slaves fled Jewish owners as they did Gentile ones; during the French and Indian War Levy Andrew Levy’s Negro ran away to join the Indians, obviously believing life among the savages was preferable to bondage. Watching some San Domingo Negroes in a London theatre in 1813 Consul Noah was induced to remark that America ought to accord “greater equality of rights” to the blacks in the South. Negroes have “sound intellect.” Yet years later in the 1840’s when abolitionists were meeting in New York City, Judge Noah warned them not to create trouble by raising the issue of emancipation. He wanted no disturbance; it was important to maintain the status quo. In the South the attitude of Jews toward their slaves varied with circumstances and the psyche of the owners. William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator and the Nat Turner Insurrection aroused Raphael J. Moses of Charleston. At a meeting in town he offered a resolution to boycott antislavery merchants, “assassin(s),” lest we “see our families butchered.” Some Southern Jews, peddlers primarily, carried on an illegal trade with slaves—slaves would steal in order to buy something they needed!—and in more than one town the Jews were ordered to leave. It may well be that these accusations were prompted by envious competitors.4


On the basis of corrected United States government statistics, there were at least ninety-four Jewish congregations and synagogues in 1861.

One generation of Gratzes had trouble with slaves; another entrusted its kosher kitchen to a slave, to a black. It is obvious from the letters of Solomon Jacobs to his wife that the black bondsmen in his home were members of the family and on the tombstone of this one-time acting-mayor of Richmond there appears the phrase: “Kind as a master.” The minutes of the Savannah congregation record that when a slave was hired to clean the synagog care was taken not to inform his Christian master lest the black be deprived of his hire. Levi Sheftall instructed his family in his will: Take care of my faithful slave; the testament of Benjamin Levy of New Orleans devoted more space to his bond servants than to his own family. The Strauses of Talbotton, Georgia, purchased servants in order to keep a family together, and the children were enjoined not to speak harshly to them.5

Hearing that when some Negroes were sold at auction a family would be broken up, Joseph Bloch of Mobile went down to the slave market and purchased the lot though he had no money. His friends came to his rescue and saw to it that the family was kept in town. Young Peter Still who lived near Philadelphia was kidnapped into slavery as a child and ultimately worked as a slave in Tuscumbia, Alabama. There he met Joseph and Isaac Friedman, two Cincinnatians who operated a local store. The Friedmans conspired with Still to help him gain his freedom and return to the North where he then secured the funds needed to ransom the rest of his family. What the Friedmans did was illegal; in some states the penalties were severe for the crime of emancipating slaves.6

Jews also became involved in the emancipation movement. Influenced by the Enlightenment, the Quakers, American egalitarianism, and later by the abolitionists, Jews in the North and in the South began to free their slaves and to join manumission and African colonization societies. Before cotton became king and slavery the South’s sacrosanct institution, there was little objection to the freeing of bond servants. Thus in the first decades of the nineteenth century Jewish shopkeepers like Cohen & Isaacs of Richmond emancipated their black servants, often by a process of delayed manumission, after an interval of continuing service. Emulating a Jeffersonian concept Isaiah Isaacs wrote in his will as he prepared to let his servants go: “Being of the opinion that all men are by Nature equally free.” But as slavery became a controversial issue manumissions were forbidden and Jews of the South who were determined to free their slaves were compelled to employ legal devices to evade the law. These devices, too, are reflected in the wills.7

There can be no question that one of the reasons some Jews were desperately eager to provide for their slaves and certain Negro freedmen was because of very special relationships. The women were mistresses; the children were their own. Isaac Judah of Richmond raised two free mulatto boys; Isaac Rodriguez, a Pennsylvanian, emancipated a mulatto girl and left her a legacy; Samuel Simon of Charleston left money to “a free woman of colour”; David Isaacs of Charlottesville married a mulatto and educated their children in the local schools. Several of these children were very successful in their later careers. The two sons of David Warburg of Hamburg and New Orleans were encouraged to follow their artistic bent; one became a tombstone cutter and engraver; the other was an artist and sculptor who studied and worked in Italy, France, and England. Some of these “Jewish” children became very active politicians in the Reconstruction South, men like T. K. Sasportas, H. B. Da Costa, and the Cardozos, members of the same family as the later Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Benjamin Nathan Cardozo. Francis Louis Cardozo, the reputed son of Jacob Newton Cardozo, the economist, was a cultured South Carolinian who served as treasurer of the state in postbellum days.8


It is quite patent that slaves who served Jews for many years would become familiar with Jewish practices and attached to their masters if they were well-treated. In Dutch Surinam blacks sometimes became Jews although they were segregated from the Jewish whites; in the United States blacks who attempted to become part of the Jewish community were rebuffed. Had they been accepted, converted, their owners would have been compelled to accord them special biblical privileges. Socially the white Jews feared the impact of black Jewish converts on their status in the larger community. Richmond Jews in 1789 accepted only free men in the congregation. Did they also reject white Jewish indentured servants? Charleston allowed no black to become a formal member of the synagog although individuals like Old Billy, a slave paper carrier, were undoubtedly shown many courtesies in the sanctuary. Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia at first refused to inter a black woman who had lived a Jewish life but the authorities apparently relented.9


As early as 1828 Moses Elias Levy, the Florida religious enthusiast, had published in London, “A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery Consistently with the Interest of All Parties Concerned.” A gradualist, Levy wanted to abolish slavery throughout the Caribbean and America because it degraded men morally. The offspring of slaves were to be free and they were to be educated to appreciate liberty; the former slaves themselves were to be organized into agricultural colonies in tropical lands. In 1857 Hinton Rowan Helper, a non-Jew, published his Impending Crisis of the South in which he declared that slavery was unproductive and economically unsound, that it impeded industrialization, hurt free labor, and retarded the economic advance of the South. He was not the first to impugn the economic value of slavery. Eight years before Helper’s work appeared, Solomon Heydenfeldt, then in Alabama, published A Communication on the Subject of Slave Immigration, Addressed to Hon. Reuben Chapman, Governor of Alabama. Judge Heydenfeldt believed that slave labor was unproductive and as other states discovered this they would dump these unproductive workers on Alabama. Alabama capital would be better served if it were diverted from the cotton culture. Free labor is better; white immigration into the state would raise land values. He intimated that ultimately the slaves would be emancipated and the South would lose the immense capital which it had invested in this human commodity. Yet Heydenfelt was in no sense an abolitionist, an anti-Southerner. The contrary was true. He was motivated to write his Communication because he wanted to help the South which he loved, and when his adopted state of California asked him later to take an oath to support the Union he refused even though this refusal prevented him from pleading in the courts. Dr. Abraham Jacobi, the distinguished physician, also believed that slavery would ultimately break down because of its economic unviability.10


As far as the moral issue of slavery is concerned the Jews as a group seemed not to have been concerned with it till the late 1850’s when many joined the Republican Party committing themselves to the containment of slave expansion. Only when the Union was threatened by secession did they slowly begin to assume an antislavery stance. Even as late as 1861 had the Jews been asked: “Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me?” The children of Israel would have responded with a resolute, “No” (Amos 9:7). On January 4, 1861, Morris Jacob Raphall preached on slavery achieving national recognition for himself. Together with Leeser, Isaac M. Wise, and Samuel M. Isaacs, Raphall was one of the best known rabbis in all America. Though a native of Sweden he had been educated in Denmark and Germany—his doctorate was from Giessen—and then spent many years in England where, in London and in Birmingham, he had served as secretary to the chief rabbi. He was highly respected as an author, as an editor of the first Anglo-Jewish periodical, and as the translator of a number of mishnaic tractates into English. When he came to the United States in 1849 at the age of 51 to assume charge of New York’s B’nai Jeshurun he was already a distinguished preacher. Here in the United States he not only preached regularly in his pulpit but traveled throughout the East lecturing on Hebrew poetry. He was invited to talk at the University of Pennsylvania and before audiences in the rooms of the New York Historical Society. Therefore when Congress was ready on February 1, 1860, to invite a Jew to lead it in prayer it is easy to understand why American Jewry coopted this man. Raphall was not the first Jew to pray in an American legislature. Ten years earlier Rabbi Julius Eckman had officiated in the Virginia House of Delegates. The choice of Raphall, the Jew, in his skullcap and praying shawl, shocked many Christians. The next thing you know we’ll have a pawn shop in the basement of the House or Brigham Young surrounded by his harem petitioning God for us! Others were impressed by the man and his appeal for unity in a day when Congress after weeks of debate could not agree on a Speaker for the House.

This was the rabbi who preached to his congregation in New York on January 4, 1861, responding to President Buchanan’s call for a day of fasting and prayer to God with the hope that He in his infinite mercy would save the Union. When Raphall rose to talk he spoke as one of America’s most distinguished Orthodox Jewish leaders, as a rabbi, and as a scholarly Hebraist. In a way he spoke ex cathedra. The title of Raphall’s lecture—it was not really a sermon—was “The Bible View of Slavery.” He preached with gusto for it gave him a chance to take a sideswipe at his rival Henry Ward Beecher, the abolitionist. The Bible is divine and if it sanctions slavery—and it does—then slavery as such is no sin. Bond servants are even mentioned in the Ten Commandments and, incidentally, he pointed out, slavery is also sanctioned in the New Testament. Nevertheless the rabbi was no proslavery man; the slave is a person, not a thing and, again according to the Jewish Bible, he has rights. In one sense one might say that this was a pro-Union speech; it was an attack on the extremists at either end, the secessionists and the abolitionists. The Jews, he reminded his Jewish audience, were descendants of slaves. The speech made a profound impression on a country that wanted to quiet the antislavery controversy. It was published and quoted in the daily press and the Constitutional Union Party printed thousands of copies and distributed them broadcast.11


Evaluating Raphall after more than a century one cannot deny that he was factually correct in his summary of the Biblical evidence. More importantly most Jews probably liked what he said; it was a word in season. Yet he was bitterly attacked by several Jewish antislavery activists because he had not placed the Bible on the side of virtue. A handful of American Jewish radicals wanted abolition, political and economic freedom and equality for the blacks, not the mere containment of slavery. A Dr. Eisler, a New York Jewish leftist, wrote sarcastically that Raphall spoke only for the dry goods, clothing, and stockjobbing clan. You have betrayed freedom and Judaism by aligning yourself with the proslavery crowd. You are their Messiah and you can ride into Jerusalem on the back of an ass, one of your congregants. In general Jews were not abolitionists; they were immigrants trying to get an economic toehold. Bread and butter came first. But they could not escape this all pervasive problem. “Maccabee,” a writer in the Asmonean in 1856, said that no Jew should cast his ballot for the proslavery Democrats. A Philadelphia Jewish youth group appealed to Buchanan in a memorial asking him to help abolish slavery and slave trading in the District of Columbia, and the Newark Jewish youths who called themselves the Daniel Webster Debating Society wrestled with the theme: “Ought Slavery to be Abolished?”

If Jewish abolitionists were distinguished by their absence Michael Heilprin was the exception. This native of Poland fled that land of oppression to Hungary where in the late 1840’s he associated himself with the revolutionaries and supported Kossuth. Finally like so many other liberals and unhappy Central Europeans he landed in America in 1856. A highly educated man, a scholar and a linguist he found his niche here as an editor of an encyclopedia. But he always remained the liberal, the fighter for freedom, the radical partisan. In the late 1850’s he had spoken at an antislavery meeting of Democrats and had almost been mobbed by proslavery hecklers. As an excellent Hebraist he was fully competent to evaluate the biblical teaching on slavery but his reaction to Raphall’s address was passionate denunciation. Must the stigma of Egyptian principles be fastened on the people of Israel by Israelites? Jews did not escape from Egypt to advocate slavery!12


Einhorn was another political rebel and like Heilprin a refugee from Hungary. Einhorn, however, was born in Bavaria, in 1809, where he received an Orthodox training and an excellent Hebrew education before drifting into the liberal religious camp. He became a Reformer but found it difficult for years to secure a rabbinic post in Metternich’s Europe because of his radical leanings. He finally secured a position in Mecklenburg-Schwerin but could not sink his roots in that province and was compelled to leave. One suspects that throughout his life he suffered not merely because his leftist views were unacceptable but because of his personality. He was a strong, harsh, abrasive person, uncompromising and tough. His bitterness reflects a life of frustration. Einhorn moved to Hungary but the Reform synagog in which he preached was soon closed. In 1855, a year before Heilprin came to America, Einhorn arrived in Baltimore as the rabbi of Har Sinai Congregation; the United States was the last resort of this unhappy rebel. It was inevitable that Einhorn the belligerent would ultimately confront Raphall the pacificator. Raphall had a big position, a large salary; he was Orthodox and a pillar of the Jewish establishment. Einhorn was only too happy to attack him. As an intelligent political observer this Baltimore rabbi was sure that slavery and the Know-Nothing nativism of his day were all of one piece. Inevitably Einhorn found Raphall’s speech on slavery reactionary, politically motivated, and a reproach to Judaism. It merited rebuke, so he thought. The Baltimorean hesitated to come out publicly; it was improper for rabbis to talk politics in the pulpit, and slavery was a most delicate issue. Yet it was an evil, a sin, a religious question, and he could not be quiet; he had to say something. Since the Bible attacks the mistreatment of slaves the Good Book itself is political and perhaps we ought to ban it!13

Einhorn who had already made enemies knew what he was hazarding. Maryland was a slave state. Members of his congregation were proslavery. Others, antislavery sympathizers, also felt the pressure: a Baltimore Jewish pro-Union memoirist of the day warned his children to be pro-South and proslave when they went to school. In 1861 the rabbi was already fifty-two years of age and he had given hostages to fortune. Thus when he attacked Raphall, Einhorn did it quietly in his German-language organ, Sinai, not in an English journal. It was his misfortune that a Jewish publisher in New York City translated his refutation into English and made it available to a larger public. Sinai had been established in February, 1856, and within a few months the editor was telling his readers that the Bible was opposed to slavery in principle. Einhorn never denied that slavery was part of the ancient Hebrew civilization but he insisted, even in the 1850’s, that the Old Testament in essence was entirely out of sympathy with the institution of human bondage. God and the Old Testament do not sanction helotry: to say that the Holy One Blessed be He upholds slavery is a reflection on Judaism. At best the Bible tolerates the thralldom of men and women. Man is the property of God, never the property of man. Because of his antislavery views Einhorn had to leave Baltimore. The Southern mob had taken over in April, 1861; the town was in turmoil and at the urgent insistence of his friends Einhorn left for Philadelphia. Later the officers of Har Sinai asked him to return with the understanding that he be silent. Because this was a promise that he could not keep, and because he did not want to make trouble for his friends he resigned and remained in Philadelphia. Congregation Keneseth Israel immediately elected him as its spiritual leader.14


Heilprin, Einhorn, and others were antislavery but they were not abolition activists. Another moderate, August Bondi, was nonetheless more active. In his early days this young adventurer had been shocked when a Texas slaveholder had emptied a load of buckshot into a slave who had annoyed him. Later he and some Jewish friends, Free-Soilers, joined John Brown in his Kansas forays. There were several Jewish Republicans and antislavery men who edited German language newspapers in the 1850’s, among them Moritz Loeb in Doylestown and Charles L. Bernays in St. Louis. Moritz Pinner issued the Missouri Post and later the Kansas Post in Kansas City and Wyandotte, Kansas, for less than a year, for when war was declared he joined General Philip Kearney as a brigade quartermaster. Lewis N. Dembitz edited a German paper in which he published a translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Editors Pinner and Dembitz were Republican politicians of some distinction as was the New Yorker Sigismund Kaufmann. A Forty-Eighter, Kaufmann had come to this country as a young man. He made his influence felt quickly for he wrote for the German press, established a turnverein, addressed antislavery meetings in English, German, and French as early as 1852, served as a commissioner of immigration, and stood out as a Republican presidential elector in 1860. After the election of the Great Emancipator whom he very much admired Kaufmann was not without power in the nation’s capital. In 1870 he ran, but unsuccessfully, for the position of lieutenant governor. Dembitz as well as Kaufmann was involved in the nomination and election of Abraham Lincoln. During the war, Isidor Bush of St. Louis was outstanding among the men who fought to emancipate Missouri’s slaves. It was in no small measure due to his constant battling that it became the first Southern state to free its Negroes. In June, 1863, at a Convention, a legislative group of which he was a member, he pleaded with his associates: “I pray you have pity for yourselves not for the negro. Slavery demoralizes, slavery fanaticism blinds you; it has arrayed brother against brother, son against son; it has destroyed God’s noblest work—a free and happy people.”15

Among the few Jewish antislavery activists was the Hungarian son-in-law of Heilprin, Dr. James Horwitz, who so it is believed later served in the Union Army as a volunteer surgeon. Horwitz is said to have run a station of the underground railroad in Sandusky in 1854. When a group of Germans first gathered in Chicago to support the new Republican party four of the five men who called the meeting were Jews. The only active and prominent Jewish abolitionist in the United States was Ernestine Rose and she was a Jew only by the accident of birth. The full name of this remarkable woman was Ernestine Louise Siismondi Potowski Rose. She was born in Piotrkow, Poland, in 1810, and was probably the daughter of a rabbi. Rebelling against the Orthodoxy of Polish Jewry and against Judaism itself she left home at the age of sixteen and by the time she was twenty-five had become a reformer and a follower of Robert Owen in England. There she married a jeweler and silversmith, William E. Rose, and moved with him in 1835 to New York City. For a whole generation, till she returned to England in 1869 where she died in 1892, she was widely known in this country as an advocate of free thinking, free schools, temperance, Utopian Socialism, universal peace, women’s rights, and abolition. She wanted complete political, social, and legal equality with men. This brilliant public speaker, sometimes called the “Queen of the Platform,” traveled throughout the East and Middle West propagandizing for the causes that meant so much to her; on several occasions she addressed state legislatures on women’s rights. As an emancipator she was concerned to bring freedom to all people, to women, and certainly to Negroes. “Slavery is not to belong to yourself,” she said.

Because abolitionists were cordially disliked in the antebellum decades, the Jewish immigrants gave them a wide berth. On the whole, however, Jews were strong Unionists and many of them even in the South were eager to see the Union preserved. The Jewish Northerners were wary of the antislavery extremists, many of whom were evangelical Christians dedicated to the conversion of Jews and the Christianization of the American Constitution. Most Jews were of the opinion that freedom for blacks would raise almost as many problems as it would solve. Like the Gentiles of that generation the Jews as a group were not sympathetic to Negroes.16



In 1853 the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society said: “The objects of so much mean prejudice and unrighteous oppression as the Jews have been for ages, surely they, it would seem, more than any other denomination ought to be the enemies of caste and friends of universal freedom.” The Society, William Lloyd Garrison, and others thought that Jews should have been in the forefront of the battle against slavery. Just where did the Jews stand when the crisis came? Where did they stand on slavery and on the Union when men had to make a decision? Like their neighbors they sided with the people about them. As far as it is known, the Jews in the North were pro-Union, and, as it has been suggested, there was a substantial group in the South who dreaded secession. Some Jewish Southrons went North to Alexandria because they did not want to remain in the Confederacy. But generally those Jews below the Mason-Dixon line who were antislavery in antebellum days kept quiet; there was little free speech on this subject in the decade before the war in that part of the country. Philip Phillips, Julius Weiss of New Orleans, and Squire Julius Ochs of Tennessee, all men who lived and reared their families in the South, expressed unhappiness with slavery and its unavoidable brutality. Yet one must be careful in evaluating their memoirs written long after the blacks had been emancipated; posteventum recollections are frequently inaccurate.

Most Jews in the South were spiritually and emotionally Southron. They were pro-Confederacy and proslavery; they believed in the doctrine of state sovereignty; there could be no cotton culture without blacks and slavery. When a Union-sponsored government was established in Northern-occupied Virginia some Jews refused to swear allegiance to it. Among the Southrons there was an appreciable number of fireaters. Just about the time the war was to break out Louis Stix of Cincinnati was sitting at dinner in a New York City Jewish boardinghouse. When a Jewish merchant from the South, a German immigrant, said the South could not live without slaves Stix made an acid remark. As the Jew from the South responded by going for his gun another Jew at the table pulled out his pistol and offered to meet the Southern gentleman at any time and at any place. The Southern fireater beat a hasty retreat. “I hope,” wrote Stix, he “has since learned to do without slaves or has returned to the place from which he came [Germany], where he was almost a slave himself.” One thing is certain: wherever they were these German Jewish émigrés acculturated themselves with almost unholy haste. The young liberal Sam Maas was only four weeks in Charleston before he wrote his parents in Germany defending slavery and the need to execute rebellious Negroes. Jacob Clavius Levy of Savannah believed that the North was doomed because it was corrupted by universal suffrage exercised by immigrants who were the scum and debris of Europe. He pointed out that there were no outrages in the South such as the North had witnessed in the 1830’s and 1840’s, the burning of a nunnery and of churches.17


The Northern Jews were very much on the side of peace and compromise. Immigrants and businessmen, they were determined to steer a middle course between the detested abolitionists and the secessionist hotheads. It would seem that most of the Jews in the North were Democrats ready to tolerate slavery. The Pennsylvania Democratic Jewish congressman Henry Phillips was prepared to admit Kansas as a slave state. Certainly in the days before the war the Jews north of the line were minded to pay almost any price to achieve a settlement with the South. They were afraid of war and they were justified in their fears; before the conflict ended there would be billions of dollars damage and hundreds of thousands of lives lost. If this was to be a war for the Negro the cost would be high. In February, 1861, shortly before Lincoln’s inauguration, Joseph Jonas, Cincinnati Jewry’s Founding Father, delivered himself on the Negro Question in a speech in the Ohio House where he sat as a Democratic member. He was against slavery, he said, and had never owned a slave but slavery is constitutional and only a compromise can at this late date save the Union. The Negroes? They are anthropologically inferior; they are not even descendants of Adam; Providence has condemned them to slavery. If necessary let the South secede peacefully.18

In spite of the prevailing anti-Negro attitudes very few Northern Jews or Gentiles were proslavery if only because the ethos of the North was antislavery. The right to hold human beings in perpetual bondage had long been abolished by law and almost all Northerners were opposed to its extension in the territories. But Jews sought to avoid the issue of slavery or no slavery because they wished to escape the final confrontation. When the great German Jewish liberal Gabriel Rieser visited New York City in the 1850’s and attacked slavery, a number of the Jews who listened to him resented his remarks. The Jews squirmed and twisted to avoid being caught between the conflicting parties; the Jewish newspapers were careful not to quote the attacks on Raphall by Heilprin and Einhorn. One of the prime motivations for remaining neutral was the fear of the impact of secession upon the commercial life of the country; the South owed the North hundreds of millions. The two sections of the country were economically dependent upon each other; disunion would be harmful. This is why Northern businessmen and the Jews among them were willing to make many concessions to the South. It bears repetition: few if any of the Jews were proslavery but saving the Union was more important than abolition. Up until the Emancipation Proclamation Northern Jews were concerned like their neighbors to preserve the Union; after that the abolition of slavery was also envisaged.19

The Jewish “Church” did not divide; there was no church, only independent congregations, all completely autonomous. There was no national Jewish religious organization from which one might secede. For practical purposes the BDAI was essentially a Northern organization; Southern congregations—and they were precious few—simply omitted sending in their annual dues. The Southern lodges of the B’nai B’rith, like the Masons, operated independently of Northern authorities, although Col. La Fayette C. Baker, the inglorious head of the Secret Service, viewed the B’nai B’rith with suspicion. Families did divide. Benjamin Gratz lost one son fighting for the Union; a stepson was a general in the Confederate Army. Two Frankland brothers met face to face at the surrender of Port Hudson; one was a Confederate, the other fought for the North. Most of the Friedenwalds of Baltimore were Southern in their sympathies and when one of the boys joined the Rebels a disgruntled Unionist sibling wrote: I hope he gets “a small shot in . . . you know where.” The war forced Alfred Mordecai to make an agonizing decision. In 1861 Major Mordecai, a senior officer in the Ordnance Department and a soldier of repute and distinction, was in charge of the arsenal at Watervliet. A West Pointer who had graduated at the top of his class, he was a Unionist and no devotee of slavery. The major had once lent a Negro $250 to secure his wife’s freedom; she had been a slave of Thomas Jefferson. But he was born in the South; most of his family and his aged mother still lived there. His wife and children and soldier son were Unionists. Though opposed to secession the Major believed that the South should be allowed to go in peace. Mordecai would not manufacture munitions to destroy his family; he would not fight against the South nor would he under any circumstance bear arms against the North, against the flag to which he had sworn allegiance. He had but one choice—to start life over again at fifty-seven. His heart bled for his family in the South and his emotions were mixed as he watched his son Alfred Mordecai, Jr., make a great career for himself in the Union army. The young man was a lieutenant colonel at twenty-five.20



Most Northern Jews were antisecession and pro-Union. Increasingly as the war continued they identified with the Republican Party which was so sympathetic to the needs of commerce and industry. Unlike the South where dissent was muffled except in the border states, Northern cities were often the scene of bitter remonstrances; riots, martial law in some places, repressive edicts, and censorship did occur. It should be borne in mind constantly that before the resort to arms most Jews were probably Democrats who took a permissive attitude toward slavery. Thus during the War, especially in the first two or three years when the Union forces experienced reverses, many Jews went along with the Peace Democrats: let the South go. Years after the struggle was over Henry S. Henry, a successful Jewish merchant in New York City, would not let his daughter Mabel read Uncle Tom’s Cabin.21


In January, 1861, Benjamin Mordecai of Charleston gave secessionist South Carolina its first and largest gift in order to secure its independence. One of the great merchants of the city, and a slave trader too, Mordecai was thanked for his generosity by the secession convention. After the war started Mordecai was indefatigable in his efforts to establish the Free Market which made provision for the impoverished families of volunteers. He put his money into Confederate bonds and he died a poor man.

It would seem that in periods of war there are always some partisans who are 125 percent patriotic. Indignant at the pro-Union stand of Max Lilienthal in Cincinnati, an erstwhile admirer in New Orleans, Jacob A. Cohen, wrote to the Cincinnati rabbi that he had taken his picture down from the wall and was returning it. Lilienthal could give it to his black friends. “I shall be engaged actively in the field and should be happy to rid Israel of the disgrace of your life.” As patriots L. Heyman & Brother of Columbus, Georgia, kept their foundry running during the High Holy Days of 1862; not wishing to benefit financially through this desecration of the most solemn of days the brothers handed their profits over to the congregation. Rabbi Gutheim of New Orleans and a number of his members cancelled their subscriptions to New York’s Jewish Messenger after the appearance of its editorial: “Stand by the Flag.” And after the Northern occupation of New Orleans, the rabbi and many of his followers went into exile. They were proud that they were new members of a new country, a land of “justice, right, and liberty”; they had no desire to be associated with a “military despotism.” Without thought to the burden that his newborn son would have to bear in life, John Mayer named him: Joseph Eggleston Johnston Mayer after the Confederate general. John, a native Alsatian, was a patriotic Natchez merchant.22

At least two of the six daughters of Jacob Clavius Levy were dedicated Southerners like their bellicose father. Phoebe Yates Levy Pember was one of them. This very unusual woman was put in charge of the housekeeping at Chimborazo in Richmond, then the largest military hospital in the country. It was her job to provide for hundreds of sick and wounded Confederate soldiers who were housed in thirty-one buildings. She was charming, petite, cultured, but no magnolia and moonlight simpering belle; she was a woman of steel who carried a pistol to enforce her authority. Eugenia Levy Phillips, an older sister of Phoebe, was different, though both had a flair for writing. Eugenia, married to Philip Phillips at the age of sixteen, bore her distinguished husband nine children but it would seem that the burden of raising a large family did not dampen her patriotic ardor. She was very anti-North, very flamboyant, very secessionist, very vocal, very belligerent, almost hysterical in her sentimental attachment to the Southern Cause. Living in Washington where the senators in 1860-1861 talked secession openly she saw no reason why she, too, could not speak of disunion. She was twice arrested for sedition and imprisoned; once she was locked up for about three weeks as a spy but when proof was not forthcoming she was released and shipped South. She settled in New Orleans from where General Benjamin F. Butler and his “crawling reptiles” later saw fit to banish her to Ship Island as an agitator. She was finally released through the intercession of her influential husband. Calm and thoughtful, he was of a different breed. Despite the fact that he was a Unionist and thought secession ill-advised he had gone along with the South. As a great lawyer with a wide knowledge of the new industrial economy he believed that the North would never acquiesce in Southern defection. Reared in a slave environment he nonetheless believed that slavery was bad for the South; only after it was gone would its people become self-reliant and industrious.

Though their family names were similar Eugene Henry Levy, a Confederate soldier, was not related to Eugenia Levy Phillips. When in 1864 it was bruited abroad in the army that 40,000 Negroes were to be enlisted as teamsters and pioneers and might be given their freedom he asked a simple question: If they are to be emancipated, what are we fighting for? This war is being fought to keep them slaves and that is what they should be. In the Spring of 1865 as defeat loomed for the South and freedom neared for the blacks and they became more assertive he confided to his diary that slaves who become masters become tyrants; they would have to be exterminated. This man Levy was no “white trash.” He was a highly cultured gentleman. His end-of-war bitterness was not untypical of many for whom the Lost Cause was a sacred passion. As South Carolina fell to the Northern armies Eleanor H. Cohen wrote: “Over us again floats the banner that is now a sign of tyranny and oppression,” a flag that “carried loathing to every Southern heart.” And when Lincoln was assassinated she uttered the pious prayer: “God grant so may all our foes perish.”23


Southern rabbis like most clergymen in the Confederacy went along with their congregants. With few exceptions these Jewish ministers were pro-South, proslavery, and prosecession. Those who differed with the prevailing political philosophy were careful to keep their peace. Rabbi Hochheimer of Baltimore was still a Unionist in January, 1861. These Confederate rabbis prayed for the well-being of the new state; our enemies, said Gutheim, have forced upon us this unholy and unnatural war. Rabbi Illowy in New Orleans asked God to shield the glorious Confederacy from a fanatical foe; Michelbacher in Richmond defended slavery in what he called the only free government in America.24

In the North the rabbis, again like their congregants, avoided the issue of slavery until the war started; secession, as has been pointed out, was the main concern. There were no sermons specifically addressed to the problem of Negro bondage until the war had begun. Then when the rabbis were no longer in danger of being smacked down by their congregants they began to vent themselves along more liberal lines. Sabato Morais of Philadelphia and Bernhard Felsenthal of Indiana and Illinois may already have talked against slavery in the middle 1850’s but the documentation is not convincing. These two, however, and Liebman Adler, also of Chicago, were more outspoken in defense of emancipation as the pace of the war quickened. Lilienthal of Cincinnati also spoke out against slavery.25

More important than Adler, Felsenthal, Lilienthal, and Morais, than Raphall and Isaacs, were Leeser of Philadelphia and Wise of Cincinnati. These were the big men of the war generation. Neither man spoke on January 4, 1861, the day fixed by President Buchanan as a day of intercession, and what is more significant neither addressed himself directly to the war in the next four years. The young Leeser had been indoctrinated in Virginia; slavery for him was a moot political issue not a religious ethical one. This Philadelphia minister was no social reformer; he preached the foursquare gospel of Judaism as he understood it. The Occident had been a national journal and Leeser had many friends in the South and Southwest. Aaron Dropsie of Philadelphia accused the indignant Leeser of being a Southern sympathizer. That he was not; like many of his contemporaries in the North he was willing to compromise with the South even at the cost of tolerating slavery. It is not improbable that Wise said nothing on January 4 because his Board scared him off fearing involvement in a political controversy.

On the other hand Wise like Leeser had a large following in the South who read the Israelite and even after hostilities had commenced Wise carried Southern news. Gutheim was writing to Leeser as late as April, 1863; there was no thought in those days of total war. To understand Wise it is imperative to bear in mind his goals and the significance of Cincinnati’s location. Wise wanted to unite American Jewry; the war threatened to destroy his hopes. He lived in Cincinnati, in many respects a border city. Southwest Ohio had been settled from the South; the river itself belonged to the older state Kentucky. By way of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, Ohio had become a gateway to the South as well as to the West. Cincinnati Jewry and Wise’s congregation carried on a large trade with practically all of the Southern and Southwestern states and territories. Cincinnati always sheltered a strong antiabolitionist segment; rioters in the 1830’s had destroyed James G. Birney’s press; antislavery students fleeing from antiabolitionist Lane Seminary had found refuge in Oberlin. The Cincinnati of Wise’s generation was quite willing to sacrifice the Negro if the Union could be saved. In this position Cincinnatians were not alone; this was the deep conviction of many Northerners until the very last days of the war. Negroes were lynched in the New York draft riots; and on June 15, 1864, fewer than two-thirds of the House were willing to abolish slavery.26

Wise’s thinking was the thinking of many Midwesterners and the Jews among them. He was a Democrat and an antiabolitionist. Instead of being caught up in the patriotic euphoria of the war he moved to the left. He did not like the Republican administration and had little respect for Lincoln whom he looked upon as a yokel. The President’s appeal in his first inaugural to Christianity as a way out of the national impasse annoyed him. Fanatics, abolitionists, were destroying this country! Wise became a Peace Democrat. Never free from a touch of Western populism he looked with suspicion upon Eastern capitalists and industrialists. Wise was very sympathetic to Vallandigham of Dayton, one of the leaders of the so-called “Copperheads,” poisonous snakes, who wanted to come to terms with the Confederates. As late as 1864 almost as many Ohioans cast their ballot for McClellan the Democrat as for Lincoln the Republican; the platform of the Democratic Party called for an immediate end of the war.

Wise and Lincoln had much in common, certainly in the early days of the war. They wanted to preserve the Union even at the cost of tolerating slavery. If the American Republic collapsed the cause of liberty abroad would be sorely hurt. Our country’s future is the future of all humanity. Thus Wise. He was a strong Unionist, certainly no proslavery man. But Civil War for him was a calamity; even secession was preferable. Thus when the killing actually began he printed his famous editorial: “Silence, Our Policy” and he hewed to the line. “We are the servant of peace, not of war.” In 1863 he ran for the office of state senator on the Democratic, the Peace ticket. But the powers in the synagog working closely with the administration and enjoying clothing contracts, forced him to withdraw. They wanted no trouble. Cynically, certainly bitterly, Wise wrote his congregation: “God will save the Union and the Constitution, liberty and justice for all, without my active co-operation.” This truly great man betrayed no understanding of the moral issues involved in slavery. Strabismically he could see only the threat to the Union; behind all this agitation lurked the politically ambitious abolitionist Protestant evangelicals who were determined to Christianize this land. Once the Negro was freed the New England abolitionists, wrote a New York Jewish newspaper editor on January 9, 1863, these very troublemakers would move to disfranchise the Jews. Neurotic? About three weeks earlier Grant had begun expelling Jews as Jews along the lower Mississippi.27


WAR OF 1812

Wise and his fellow Jews dreaded the coming of war, they were immigrants who hailed from lands where the appeal to arms was constant and where the Jews were the choice victims of pillage and rapine. Few Jews had been touched by the Mexican War of 1846; many had not yet landed on these shores. Practically none of them knew anything about the War of 1812. Old Mordecai Myers, eighty-five years of age in 1861, was probably one of the last Jewish veterans of the second war with Great Britain. His life practically spanned the life of the country. Major Mordecai Myers had been wounded at the Battle of Chrysler’s Field in 1813; of the eighty-six men in his company, twenty-three were killed. Myers survived to serve in the New York State legislature, to run unsuccessfully for Congress and to be elected mayor of Schenectady when he was almost eighty. When Myers led his troops in 1813 there were only about 3,000 Jews in the United States; his religious fellows had not yet started to leave Europe because of the Napoleonic Wars. Yet in spite of these small numbers they were active in the War of 1812 as officers and soldiers. In Baltimore a relatively large number of Jewish militiamen had fought in defense of the city when Fort McHenry was bombarded and Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Farther south the merchant Judah Touro, no longer young, served as an ammunition carrier. This awkward taciturn militiaman was one of the very few men wounded in the Battle of New Orleans on January 1, 1815. He was almost killed but recovered to become one of America’s great philanthropists.28


By the time of the Mexican War, Jewry here had increased about fifteen fold with immigrants arriving in a small but steady stream. The war itself was one of the most unpopular in America’s history. The antislavery people feared it meant the extension of Negro bondage and the strengthening of the Southern bloc in Congress. Though Rebecca Gratz discreetly ignored the issue of slavery in antebellum days because of her Southern-minded friends and relatives and the fear of fratricidal conflict, she did not hesitate to condemn the attack on Mexico. It was wicked “to invade a country and slaughter its inhabitants.” Members of her immediate family had served in the War of 1812 and one of her favorite nephews whom she had reared was with the American fleet in Vera Cruz in the mid-1840’s. The officer in charge of the port was Captain Jonas P. Levy, a brother of Uriah P. Levy. In 1846 Baltimore Jewish immigrants flocked to join a volunteer militia unit which proudly called itself the Baltimore Hebrew Guards; most of its men and officers were Jews; the captain was a Gentile. It is doubtful, however, whether this outfit ever saw any active service.

These Baltimore newcomers who rallied to the colors no doubt thought it was fun to don a smart uniform and to parade proudly through the streets of the city past the admiring crowd. Young Jacob Hirschorn, all of sixteen, recently arrived in New York from Bavaria and eager to see more of the world, joined Company B of New York’s First Regiment. In the next two years he had had enough adventure to last him a lifetime. Because of his knowledge of French and German he was given a job as a supply man in Mexico and soon became an expert provisioner and forager. He fought in a series of battles and was part of that Forlorn Hope that stormed the heights of Chapultepec near Mexico’s capital. Because of his bravery he was made a squad leader. Corporal Hirschorn was too young to realize how lucky he was; his regiment left New York City 1,200 strong; it returned numbering 260. It is by no means improbable that somewhere in Mexico Hirschorn ran into Henry Seesel a compatriot from the German fatherland who had enlisted in Lexington, Kentucky, serving under Cassius M. Clay, that pistol and bowie knife toting belligerent Southern abolitionist. Why did Seesel join? Caught up in martial fervor, thrilled by the soul-stirring drum and fife of a recruiting squad, bored no doubt with counter-jumping, he signed up, bought his own horse and uniform, and rode all the way from Memphis to the Rio Grande. After his term of service ran out he returned to the humdrum business of making a living. Before he was to settle down permanently in Memphis he was to be a peddler, trunkmaker, storekeeper, stock raiser, saloonkeeper, and butcher. Physically mobile? He was to live and work and sell in Natchez, Vicksburg, Cincinnati, Lexington, Milliken’s Bend, and Richmond, Louisiana. While acting as warden of the Memphis Jewish cemetery he buried close to 100 of “our people” who died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1873. All in all a sturdy durable man.

Another Mexican War veteran, Dr. David Camden De Leon, had little in common with Hirschorn and Seesel except the accident of religion. De Leon was a scion of a cultured South Carolina family. Only two of his six siblings married and they chose Christian mates; one of the two married an Adams of Boston. David, a surgeon, fought in the Seminole Wars and then was stationed in a western outpost. During the Mexican War when the officers of his regiment were killed or disabled he twice took command; as the Fighting Doctor, for his gallant conduct in various battles and at the storming of Chapultepec, he twice received the thanks of a grateful Congress. When the South and the North went to war in 1861 he resigned his commission in the army and joined the Confederacy. He became the surgeon general for a brief period and served under General Lee as a medical officer during the war. After the South’s defeat he exiled himself like many others to Mexico but returned later to practice and to plant in New Mexico where he died in 1872.29


From the day war started, Jews both North and South were caught up in it. The elderly Mrs. Solomon Cohen of Savannah could boast of thirty-two of her descendants in the armed forces of the Confederacy. One of Mrs. Solomon Cohen’s family was Col. Abraham Charles Myers, Jr. In earlier days this West Pointer had been cited twice and brevetted to higher rank for gallant and meritorious service in three battles during the Mexican War. With the coming of the Civil War he became the first quartermaster general of the Confederate Army. Six Cohen brothers—no kin of Mrs. Solomon Cohen—enlisted in North Carolina and six Angles of Richmond also joined the armies of the South. Their father Myer was the first president of the Congregation House of Love, Beth Ahabah. Across the line the Wenks sent five brothers to support the Northern cause. Though there is no way of determining with any degree of accuracy how many Jews served in the opposing armies, students of the Civil War guess that there were anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000. Seven thousand may have borne arms in the North and 3,000 in the South. It is impossible to identify all Jews. For reasons that are known only to the men themselves some changed their names. Ellis M. Gotthold, the son of the first rabbi at Beth Ahabah, fought under the name of H. H. Ward. In the military plot in the Richmond Jewish cemetery lie a Robinson and a Henry Smith. Leeser wrote that there were some soldiers who changed their names because they were ashamed to be known as Jews.

With all their wonted patriotism and “American” identification many if not most Jews liked to soldier with their “own.” Waul’s Texas Legion had two “Jewish” companies. There were similar “Jewish” companies and troops in Syracuse and Chicago, in Macon and West Point, Georgia. The boys from West Point with true Georgia bravura took an oath to plant their banner on the capitol in Washington or die in the attempt. A Jewish editor of the New York Deutsche Handelszeitung hoped they would achieve the latter alternative. No Jewish company was completely Jewish. These men felt more comfortable with their brethren of the House of Israel since anti-Jewish prejudice was present among the troops. There were even filiopietists among the Israelites who played with the thought of a Jewish regiment, a Hebrew banner, kosher food, and a Jewish religious service in which all could join.30

Acts of heroism are common in all wars. Isaac Cohen of Richmond was denied the opportunity to prove his mettle by a cruel father. When young Cohen enlisted in the First Virginia Infantry at the age of fifteen his father yanked him out and took him home. His total length of service was about two and one-half hours. Mark? Max? Frauenthal (Fronthall—his name was spelled in at least a half-dozen ways) was assigned as a private to Company A of the Sixteenth Mississippi Volunteers and later distinguished himself as a rifleman during the Battle of Spottsylvania on May 12, 1864. For several hours he stood at the apex of the Bloody Acute Angle surrounded on three sides by Union attackers. Constantly firing, unflinching and unscathed, he was acclaimed by his comrades. “A regular Fronthall” became a descriptive term in the Sixteenth Infantry for a great soldier. After the war he made a career as a successful businessman in Conway, Arkansas.

The typical Jewish soldier—and this is as true of the North as it was of the South—was usually an immigrant who speedily took on the color and the culture of his environment. Lewis Leon of the First North Carolina Regiment was a clerk when he enlisted; he had never handled a shovel to build breastworks and probably had never even fired a rifle, but he learned to shovel and to hit the bullseye at 500 yards. Like his comrades he venerated Robert E. Lee, disdained Negroes, and was convinced to the day of his death that the Southern cause was sacred and just. Food was important to him; he learned to gripe and he learned to be a good forager. Philip Sartorius of Mississippi wrote that the Texas steers they ate were so poor that two men had to hold them up so that the butcher could knock them down. Leon reports faithfully: “We got to one house and there was no one at home, but in the yard there were two chickens which we captured, for we were afraid they would bite us.” Most of the men looked forward to the Jewish Holy Days when they could get a pass for a day or two to attend services or just to loaf. Jewish officers in the South, nearly always natives, were rarely observant.

Levy C. Harby, also known as Levi Myers Harby, Charles Levi Harby, and Levi Charles Harby, reached the rank of commodore in the Southern navy. He was a brother of Isaac, one of the founders of the Reformed Society of Israelites. Levy, a South Carolinian (1793-1870), had entered the navy as a midshipman when he was fourteen years of age and had served the United States government as a navy and revenue cutter officer for about fifty years before he resigned to join the Confederates. He had been a privateer during the War of 1812, had been captured and imprisoned by the British, and in later years had fought in the Texas War of Independence, the Seminole Campaigns, and in the conflict with Mexico.31

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