[Audio available soon]
Jean Powers Soman, an author, transcribed the Civil War letters and researched the life of her great-great grandfather, Colonel Marcus Spiegel. Based on these, she co-edited the book, A Jewish Colonel in the Civil War. She has also written numerous historical articles for magazines and newspapers. As a child, in 1958, Soman moved to Florida from New York. At present, she is researching the life of her great grandfather, Samuel G. Alschuler, Lincoln's Jewish photographer. Alschuler’s 1857 photo of Lincoln can be found here. Jean and her husband Bill, an attorney, live in Pinecrest, Florida. The text of her remarks can be found below.
What Abraham Lincoln Means to Me:
Throughout my life I have greatly admired and respected Abraham Lincoln and his noble ideals of liberty, equality, compassion and perseverance. With my excitement renewed during the Bicentennial, I believe it is important now, more than ever, to share President Lincoln’s vision and pass along his precious legacy.
For as long as I can remember, my parents told me about our family’s historic connection with Lincoln. My great-great grandfather, Marcus M. Spiegel, was a Civil War Colonel from Ohio who fought and died for the Union. While researching for a book on his life, I studied his Civil War letters and learned of his evolution into an ardent abolitionist and supporter of Lincoln.
At home, a photograph of Lincoln taken by my great-grandfather, Samuel G. Alschuler, has always been prominently displayed. In the mid 1850’s, Alschuler operated a photography studio in Urbana, Illinois. One day, Lincoln arrived in an old and worn-out linen jacket. Prior to taking the photo, my great-grandfather lent him his velvet-collared jacket. A few years later, in Chicago, President-elect Lincoln returned to Alschuler’s studio to have another picture taken. This was the first photo of Lincoln growing a beard.
As a child growing up in New York, each February I would take my great-grandfather’s photo of Lincoln to school and with great pride tell the story of the borrowed coat. My teachers and classmates were always fascinated.
In 1958, my family moved to Florida. As in the past, I shared the Lincoln photo with my class. However, the teacher looked horrified and asked me to sit down. She said, “We do not celebrate Lincoln’s birthday here.” I was devastated. Yes, life in the segregated south was difficult for me to understand but I never abandoned my ”Yankee” roots or belief in Lincoln’s values.
Indeed, his commitment to liberty, equality and justice for all continues to inspire me. Both of my ancestors, Alschuler and Spiegel were German-Jewish immigrants. I have always been impressed with Lincoln’s unwavering support and friendship to the Jewish community. During the Civil War, Lincoln revoked General Grant's Order Number 11, which expelled Jews from the Department of Tennessee. Additionally, with Congress’ support, Lincoln permitted rabbis to become chaplains in the military. His insight and dedication ensured America would keep its promise. For this I am grateful.
Each time I read or hear Lincoln’s eloquent and moving Gettysburg Address, tears come to my eyes as I remember Colonel Spiegel and all the other Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice. I am honored to be a part of the Bicentennial of our greatest president and to celebrate a man who has profoundly inspired and influenced my own character and hopes for the future.