Abraham Lincoln was not a Jew. He was of English descent. Like most Protestant Europeans, Abraham Lincoln's Christian name (Abraham) was chosen from the Bible. For most of the 18th and 19th century, particularly among Puritans, it was a trend to name children after characters in the Old Testament, such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Solomon, David, Noah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Samuel, Jacob, etc.
Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln, was descended from Samuel Lincoln, a Puritan from East Anglia, England, who landed in Massachusetts (possibly Hingham) in 1637. Some Lincolns migrated into Berks County, Pennsylvania, where they intermarried with Quakers, and later descendants dispersed into Appalachia and other backcountry. The surname Lincoln, is of English territorial derrivation and stems from the place name of Lincoln, the county seat of Lincolnshire.
Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln:
A man who was a Jew, Judah P. Benjamin, was elected in 1842 to the lower house of the Louisiana State Legislature as a Whig. In 1845 he served as a member of the state Constitutional Convention. In 1850 he sold his plantation and its 150 slaves. By 1852, Benjamin's reputation as an eloquent speaker with a subtle legal mind was sufficient to win him selection by the state legislature to the U.S. Senate. He was the second Jewish senator after David Levy Yulee of Florida, who was elected by his state legislature in 1845. Benjamin's father was a first cousin and business partner of Moses Elias Levy, the father of Florida senator David Levy Yulee.
Photograph of Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Secretar of State for the Confederacy:
The outgoing President, Millard Fillmore of the Whig Party, offered to nominate Benjamin, a Southerner, to fill a Supreme Court vacancy after the Senate Democrats had defeated Fillmore's other nominees for the post. The New York Times reported (on February 15, 1853) that "if the President nominates Benjamin, the Democrats are determined to confirm him." He was the first Jewish-American to be formally offered a Supreme Court appointment. Benjamin declined to be nominated. He took office as Senator on March 4, 1853. During his first year, he challenged another young Senator, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, to a duel over a perceived insult on the Senate floor; Davis apologized, and the two began a close friendship.
Benjamin quickly gained a reputation as a great orator. In 1854 President Franklin Pierce offered him nomination to a seat on the Supreme Court, which he declined. He was a noted advocate of the interests of the South. According to the author Carl Sandburg, the abolitionist Benjamin Wade of Ohio said the Southern senator was "a Hebrew with Egyptian Principles", as he represented slaveholders. Benjamin replied, "It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain."
By the next election, amid increasing regional tensions and divisions among Whigs over the issue of slavery, Benjamin had joined the Democratic Party; in the South the party was dominated by the planter slaveholding elite. He was elected by the state legislature in 1858 to serve as US Senator. During the 34th through 36th Congresses, he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Private Land Claims. Benjamin resigned his seat on February 4, 1861, after Louisiana seceded from the Union.
Davis appointed Benjamin to be the first Attorney General of the Confederacy on February 25, 1861, remarking later that he chose him because he "had a very high reputation as a lawyer, and my acquaintance with him in the Senate had impressed me with the lucidity of his intellect, his systematic habits, and capacity for labor." Benjamin has been referred to as "the Brains of the Confederacy."
In September 1861, he became the acting Secretary of War, and in November he was confirmed in the post. He became a lightning-rod for popular discontent with the Confederacy's military situation, and quarrelled with the Confederate Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Stonewall Jackson. He had strong disagreements with Davis about how to conduct the war.
Worried about Confederate defenses in the West, Benjamin had urged foreign consuls in New Orleans to defend the city when attacked. He had no power to order them into Confederate military service. He ordered the seizure of fourteen privately owned steamers at New Orleans. The impressed vessels were strengthened with iron casings at the bow to be used as rams. The ships kept civilian crews. Each vessel had a single heavy gun to be used in the event it was attacked by the Union. The Confederacy allocated $300,000 to outfit these vessels.
As a reward for Benjamin's loyalty, Davis appointed him as Secretary of State in March 1862. Benjamin arranged the Erlanger loan from a Paris bank to the Confederacy in 1863, which was the only significant European loan of the war. In a round of "secondary diplomacy," he sent commercial agents to the Caribbean to negotiate opening ports in Bermuda, the West Indies, and Cuba to Confederate blockade-runners to maintain supplies, which the Union was trying to prevent. After mid-1863, the system was expanded and "brought rich rewards to investors, shipowners, and the Confederate Army."
Benjamin wanted to draw the United Kingdom into the war on the side of the Confederacy, but it had abolished slavery years before and public opinion was strongly divided on the war. In 1864, as the South's military position became increasingly desperate, he publicly advocated a plan to emancipate and induct into the military any slave willing to bear arms for the Confederacy. Such a policy would have the dual results of removing slavery as the greatest obstacle in British public opinion to an alliance with the Confederacy, and easing the shortage of soldiers that was crippling the South's military efforts. With Davis' approval, Benjamin proclaimed, "Let us say to every Negro who wishes to go into the ranks, 'Go and fight — you are free." Robert E. Lee supported the scheme as well, but it faced stiff opposition from conservatives. The Confederate Congress did not pass the measure until March 1865, by which time it was too late to salvage the Southern cause.
A portrait of Judah Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of State graces the $2 Confederate banknote:
Judah P. Benjamin's cousin, David Levy Yulee, born David Levy (June 12, 1810 – October 10, 1886) was a member of the Confederate Congress during the American Civil War. He founded the Florida Railroad Company and served as president of several other companies, earning the nickname of "Father of Florida Railroads". His father, Moses Elias Levy, was a Moroccan Sephardi Jew who made his fortune in lumber. After the family immigrated to the United States, Moses Levy bought 50,000 acres of land near present-day Jacksonville, Florida Territory. He wanted to establish a "New Jerusalem" for Jewish settlers. In 1846, Levy officially changed his name to David Levy Yulee (adding his father's Sephardic surname). In 1851 Yulee founded a 5,000-acre sugar cane plantation along the Homosassa River.
Elected to the Senate in 1855, Yulee served until January 21, 1861, when he withdrew from the Senate after Florida seceded. He joined the Congress of the Confederacy. In 1865 after the war, Yulee was imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for nine months due to his participation in the Confederate government.
David Levy Yulee: