On Account of the President’s Feet
How did President Abraham Lincoln’s foot problems affect both the Civil War and the Jewish population of the United States? In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month, Jewish Treats presents the unusual history of Isachar Zacharie (1827-1900), podiatrist and diplomat.
Born in England, Zacharie came to America in the 1840s and set up shop in New York, where his successful chiropody (podiatry) practice served such clients as Henry Clay and William Cullen Bryant. It was Zacharie’s treatment of Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, however, that brought him to the White House in September of 1862.
In the course of the President’s foot treatments, a friendship developed. In 1863, Lincoln sent Zacharie on a special mission to report on the state of affairs in New Orleans, where Union General Nathaniel P. Banks had just assumed the command of the Department of the Gulf. While there, Zacharie offered his professional skills and treated nearly 15,000 Union soldiers. His 1872 petition for payment for these services (he sought $45,000) was dismissed by Congress.
Lincoln also sent Zacharie as a special envoy to Richmond, VA (the Confederate capital), to try to negotiate peace. Although it is said that he had a special rapport with the Confederacy’s Secretary of State, Judah P. Benjamin (also Jewish), his mission was unsuccessful. Lincoln’s cabinet rejected the plan with which he returned (of which no recorded details remain).
Zacharie’s unique relationship with President Lincoln allowed him to influence the White House’s view on Jewish affairs as well. When General Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Jews expelled from Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi, Zacharie advised the President to rescind the order.
In 1874, Zacharie returned to his native England, where he lived out the rest of his life.
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