Abraham Jonas (politician)
Abraham Jonas (born September 12, 1801 in Exeter, England; died June 8, 1864) was the first permanent Jewish resident in Quincy, Illinois. He was a former member of the Illinois and Kentucky State Legislature, a leading lawyer, and a valued friend of Abraham Lincoln.
Jonas was born in Exeter, England to Annie Ezekiel and Benjamin Jonas. Abraham’s brother, Joseph Jonas, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio becoming the first Jew to settle west of the Allegheny Mountains. Abraham and his brother Edward joined Joseph in Cincinnati in 1819. Abraham and his two brothers were original members of Congregation B'nai Israel (Sons of Israel), the first Jewish congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains. Abraham also joined the Freemasons in Cincinnati. He and Joseph married Lucy and Rachel Seixas; daughters of the first Rabbi born in America – Gershom Mendes Seixas. Lucy suddenly died in 1825, and Abraham moved to Williamstown, Kentucky. There he married Lucy Block from a pioneering Jewish American family and operated a general store. He was elected to the state legislature for four years. While in Kentucky, Abraham organized a Masonic Lodge and was eventually elected Master of the lodge in 1832. During that time he and Lucy had five children.
In 1836 he moved to Columbus in Adams County, Illinois to operate another general store. Within two years he moved to Quincy, IL opening a carriage business and studying law in Orville Browning’s office. He then organized the Grand Masonic Lodge of Illinois in 1840 and was elected Grand Master. In 1842 he was elected as a Whig to the state legislature. Lucy and Abraham had three more children around this time. He decided to establish a law partnership with Henry Asbury, turning over the family business to his brothers Edward and Samuel who had joined him in Quincy in 1840 or 1841. It is suspected that it was during his years in legislation in Springfield that Abraham Jonas met Abraham Lincoln, as Lincoln was too a member of the state legislation at the time. Jonas ran for the Illinois Senate in 1844 but was defeated by the Democratic candidate. But his loyalty to the Whig party earned him the position as postmaster of Quincy in 1849 serving until 1853. Lincoln and Jonas remained dear friends during this time. When the Whig party died, Jonas and Lincoln both joined the new Republican Party. On November 1, 1854 Lincoln was accused of attending a Know-Nothing Party meeting, but was vouched by Jonas who he was actually with. Jonas arranged the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate in Quincy, and aided Lincoln to his candidacy. It was his law partner Henry Asbury who suggested Lincoln’s candidacy in front of a group of local Republicans. Asbury’s suggestion was greeted by silence until Jonas agreed that it would be a good idea.
Abraham Jonas was noted as one of the greatest orators himself in the area. He was elected Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Illinois in 1843. Lincoln appointed Jonas postmaster of Quincy in 1861 until his death in 1864. Jonas had five children, four sons and a daughter. Three of his sons, including future U.S. Senator Benjamin F. Jonas, fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War while the other fought for the Union. Lincoln personally ordered the release of his son Charles Jonas from a prisoner of war camp to be at his father’s bedside.
- Frolic, David A. (2004) “From Strangers to Neighbors: The Children of Abraham Lincoln in Quincy, IL”. Journal of Illinois History. Vol. 7 No. 1. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
- Markens, Isaac. (1909) "Abraham Lincoln and the Jews". Pp 17-22. http://books.google.com/books?id=-OxMjGRkFXwC&printsec=titlepage#PPA27,M1
- “Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress: President Lincoln’s Jewish Friends”. Jewish Virtual Library. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/loc/abe1.html
- Frolic, David A. (1998) "From Immigration to Integration: Jewish Life in Quincy in the Nineteenth Century". http://www.lib.niu.edu/1998/iht519829.html.
- Landrum, Carl. (January 31, 1971) “Lincoln and the Jonas Family”. Landrum’s Quincy Volume 2. Quincy Herald-Whig.
- Landrum, Carl. (August 29, 1982) "Abraham Jonas – Early Leader Here". Quincy Herald-Whig.
- Mehlman, Mike. (2001) "One of Lincoln's Most Valued Friends". Lincoln Herald.