Four score and seven years ago, our Jewish forefathers brought forth, upon this continent… a stationery company that provided the paper on which Abraham Lincoln’s wrote the Gettysburg Address. The speech, given on November 19, 1863, still stands as the backbone of American democracy in part, one could argue, because of the fine paper on which it was written. This was supplied by the Washington, D.C. stationery company Philp & Solomons, which was co-founded by Franklin Philp and Adolphus Simeon Solomons, a prominent Jewish citizen with close ties to Lincoln.
Philp & Solomons was one of several companies known to supply paper and writing materials to the government, according to Michele Hamil, a Paper and Photograph Conservator at Cornell University who who made this discovery. Receipts from the Treasury Department have confirmed that the stationery company did in fact supply paper to the White House.
There are currently five known copies of the Gettysburg Address. Two are drafts and three are considered final versions of the speech, which Lincoln gave on that fateful Thursday afternoon in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in November 1863. Two of the three final copies were written on paper that came from the Philip & Solomons, as is indicated by the stationery store’s unique watermark on the top corner of the paper. Cornell University Library is home to one of these copies.
“Lincoln would have understood that in making copies of the Gettysburg Address he was creating important documents ,” Hamil explained, “and therefore would have specifically chosen a fine writing paper.” That, she said, would ensure the paper lasts longer and “has had a profoundly beneficial impact on its preservation.” Philp & Solomons were of the top quality paper producers in country; one ream of paper cost $3.25.
Solomons was one of the handful of Jews in Lincoln’s circle of friends and colleagues. (He also had good relationships with Ulysses S. Grant and Chester Arthur.) A practicing Jew from New York City, Solomons was born in 1826, to a British-immigrant father and an American born mother. In his youth, he served in the New York State National Guard, and he grew up to be a prominent Jewish Republican.
As Brandeis professor and scholar of American Jewry Jonathan Sarna wrote in When General Grant Expelled the Jews, President Grant, who had attempted to expel the Jews from his district in 1862 but later showed remorse for it, tried to appoint Solomons as a governor of Washington, D.C. In 1881, Solomons also co-founded the American Red Cross with Clara Barton and was appointed by President Arthur to represent the United States at the International Congress of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland.
When Lincoln was elected president, only 150,000 of the country’s 31 million people were Jewish—less than one-half of 1 percent—and yet he seems to have had significant relationships with members of the faith community, like Solomons. In his book Lincoln and the Jews: A History, Sarna explains, “Nobody realized that Lincoln played such a crucial role in making Jews equal in America. Nobody paid attention to Lincoln’s rhetorical shift away from ‘Christian America’ language, and toward inclusive language.”
It is believed that Lincoln is the first non-Jewish public figure for whom Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, was recited. In eulogizing Lincoln, Solomons is credited with saying “it was the Israelites’ privilege here, as well as elsewhere, to be the first to offer in their places of worship, prayers for the repose of the soul of Mr. Lincoln.”
The seldom reported factoid about the Jewish involvement regarding the paper on which the Gettysburg Address was written came to light when conservators at Cornell University Library analyzed the paper to shed greater light onto the context in which the speech was produced. “These things don’t go out of fashion,” explained Lance Heidig, a librarian at Cornell University Library who curated the library’s recent Lincoln exhibitions. “We’re still fighting the Civil War. These are topics that America is still struggling with.”
Rachel Delia Benaim is a freelance religion reporter. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, and The Diplomat, among others. Follow her on Twitter @rdbenaim.