The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of whiteness in the South

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

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Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana in 1856. Source: Wikipedia

Preface

This essay started as a short “On this day in history,” November 21, 1861, marking Jefferson Davis appointing Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of War. I studied American Jewish history, particularly the Jewish experience in the antebellum and Civil War south, but only in passing did I know about Benjamin. I find Benjamin one of the most fascinating figures in American history and American Jewish history after a more thorough examination and reading. An often-overlooked historical figure, he achieved heights in the American Government that no Jew has yet achieved. Benjamin was the first Senator, who identified as a Jew, the first Jew nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court, he was nominated to be the Ambassador to Spain, an honor for a Jew, who came from a prominent Spanish Jewish family, and who traced their lineage to before the expulsion.[1]

Benjamin was a brilliant jurist, orator, plantation owner, sugar cane cultivator, and Confederate mastermind. The Confederacy had been welcoming to religious minorities. Benjamin, who was Jewish, married into a successful Louisiana Creole and Catholic family, excelled in an increasingly Protestant Christian evangelical majority. Benjamin long viewed secession as the inevitable solution to the North and South’s divisions over states’ rights and slavery. He served the Confederate cabinet from its inception as Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. He was longtime friend Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man and sometimes surrogate president. As historian Eli Evans indicates, Benjamin was “the brains of the Confederacy,” the Jew at “the very center of Southern history,” “in the eye of the storm that was the Civil War,” who remained in the “shadow” but took the fall as the Confederacy failed in the war. Benjamin was the leading cause of the rise of anti-Semitism in the South, the most welcoming place for Jews in America in the antebellum era.

Benjamin was also a chameleon rather than be captured by the Union Army and risk an Alfred Dreyfus (1894 France) like trial, and become the scapegoat of the North’s ire after the President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, he escaped through Florida to the Bahamas and then England. Benjamin had British citizenship from being born in the British Isle of St. Croix. Within months of his escape, Benjamin passed the British bar, and he became an equally successful barrister and eventually was chosen to be part of the Queen’s Privy Council. Through his success, Benjamin never renounced his Jewish faith despite marrying a Catholic and assimilating. Benjamin never discussed his Judaism, but it followed him, and he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from colleagues and political enemies alike. Benjamin was the consummate insider and outsider as a Jew at both times.

Benjamin never returned to the United States after the Civil War and burnt all his papers and letters. Near the end of his life in 1884, he declared in a letter, “I would much prefer that no ‘Life,’ not even a magazine article should ever be written about me…. I have never kept a diary, or retained a copy of a letter written by me…. I have read so many American biographies which reflected only the passions and prejudices of their writers that I do not want to leave behind me letters and documents to be used in such a work about myself.” Benjamin has remained a historical enigma. Very few books have been written about him, to his pleasure and the detriment to his historical legacy. No wonder Eli Evans’s 1988 book, the leading biography, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, took nine years to write.

With such thin historiography on Benjamin, his accomplishments in controversial circumstances at a critical moment in American history have been overlooked. The recent conflicts about the Confederacy’s place as part of the historical memory make biography and renewed discussion on Benjamin timely, especially since it is been thirty years since the last significant biography on his life was published. Despite reading the literature, there are still many unanswered questions on his life, his views on Judaism, and the inner working of the Confederacy, which were sometimes just Benjamin and Davis. If I would ever be asked if there is someone in history dead or alive I would like to meet, it would Benjamin to uncover the mystery of the prince of the Confederacy.

Bonnie K. Goodman

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

January 2019

Chapter 1 Introduction

Place in History

On November 21, 1861, former Senator Judah P. Benjamin took on the position which would define his place in American history, Secretary of War in the Confederate States of America. His position as Secretary of War determined the Civil War, the Southern rebel states and the Northern Union states, and the rise of anti-Semitism in America. Benjamin was one of the South’s loyal Jews, who took up preeminent positions in the new Confederate nation, reaching ranks in the government cabinet unheard of Jews anywhere even in the North, where anti-Jewish prejudice was more prevalent than in Benjamin’s South. Throughout the war as Attorney General, Benjamin in his cabinet positions, Secretary of War and Secretary of State essentially served in the most important one being Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man and acting president at times.

Historian Eli N. Evans authored Benjamin’s most prominent biography entitled Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. Evans indicates, “Benjamin served Davis as his Sephardic ancestors had served the kings of Europe for hundreds of years a kind of court Jew to the Confederacy. An insecure President [Davis] was able to trust him completely because, among other things, no Jew could ever challenge him for leadership of the Confederacy.”[2] However, as Evans indicates, “A man of his analytical skills and personal dynamism, acknowledged by scholars to have been one of America’s most brilliant legal minds and most arresting orators, could never have served merely as ‘Mr. Davis’clerk or administrative assistant.”[3] Benjamin was a great legal mind, orator. Historians long considered Benjamin “the brains of the Confederacy,” the Jew at “the very center of Southern history,” “in the eye of the storm that was the Civil War,” who remained in the “shadow” but took the fall as the Confederacy failed in the war. [4]

In the antebellum South, Southern Jews who adhered to the social norms were mostly spared anti-Semitism from their Christian neighbours. The South was an area where race was more important than religion. Jews being white led to increased social acceptance and minimal anti-Jewish prejudice. In America, with the promise of religious freedom, race as opposed to religion divided society, and nowhere was that truer in the South where slavery reigned, and even the poorest of whites saw their social status rise by their whiteness. Jews in the upper classes especially saw this as their ticket to freedom from persecution that haunted them in Europe.

Assimilation into Southern life was the best way for Jews to attain acceptance with their Southern Christian counterparts. In his article, “That Other ‘Peculiar Institution’: Jews and Judaism in the Nineteenth Century South,” Abraham J. Peck explains what assimilation meant. Peck writes, “Whereby a minority takes on many of the values and practices of the majority group.”Peck believes assimilation “was indeed possible for Southern Jewry, and may have been their only choice.”[5] Jewish support of slavery and then the Confederacy was the ticket to acceptance for Jews living in the South, and they took advantage of everything their whiteness could offer them in America.

Southern Jews had to show that they were more devoted and loyal to the south and Confederacy than their Christian counterparts to hold onto that acceptance. Jews participated in Southern practices because they wanted to feel they belonged to the chivalry and elite Southern society. Southern Jewry’s participation in the slave system was the primary method for them to belong to Southern white society and the southern political philosophy of the primacy of state’s rights over federal authority. They also partook in all Southern societal norms that would garner acceptance, including the South’s code of honor and duels.

As Henry Feingold claims in his book Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, “For their own part, Jews were anxious not to be set apart from other Southerners, owning slaves, if not for labor, then for status. They imbibed generously of its pervasive racist sentiment and participated in the ritualized violence formalized in its ‘code duello.’”[6] Historian “Mark I. Greenberg points out that Jews adopted the Southern way of life, including the code of honor, dueling, slavery and Southern notions about race and states’ rights.”[7] Greenberg also, however, notes in his article, Becoming Southern: The Jews of Savannah, Georgia, 1830–70, the devotion was more steadfast among Jews who were born in the South, writing, they “demonstrated stronger ideological dedication to and leadership in the fight for Southern rights.”[8]

For Southern Jewry adhering to the majority allowed them to be perceived by their Southern Christian neighbors as “white.” Southern Jews contrasted sharply with the slave population, move up in American society, and take part equally in the American democratic dream, a position of equality continually denied to Jews in their European countries of origin. Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer write in Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, “The views of southern Jews on race and slavery differed little from other white southerners who regarded slavery as the natural condition of blacks. An insecure minority eager to be accepted as equals by the society which they dwelled, southern Jews, like other southerners, did not challenge the slave system.” [9]

Many Jews were recent immigrants who did not want to instigate the segregationist anti-Semitism they experienced in Europe by opposing slavery. As Webb argues, “Confronted with such a hostile political climate, Jews had little choice but to accept slavery. Those who did harbor doubts about the ethics of the slave system kept such thoughts to themselves for fear of provoking an anti-Semitic backlash. Gary Zola has indeed suggested that at times this determination to avoid conflict caused southern Jews to support slavery even more aggressively than other whites.”[10] This privilege of whiteness allowed many Southern Jews to share similar experiences and beliefs about slavery as their Christian counterparts did, and Jews were devoted to the Southern cause. As Jacob Marcus writes, America’s Jews had “a readiness, if not an eagerness, to adapt themselves to the life and culture about them.”[11]

Southern Jewry’s participation in the South cultural and societal norms such as slavery and the honor code did serve as Jews’acceptance into the Christian society as white Southerners. As Lauren Winner, in her article, “Taking up the Cross: Conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” claims, “Recent scholarship has attempted to argue that Jews were accepted fully into the society of the Old South. One recent enterprising scholar claimed that Jews in antebellum South Carolina because they dueled, sported hoop skirts, and owned slaves were full participants in Southern society.”[12] Southern Jews did enjoy a relatively prejudice-free life in the antebellum South. In their book, Louisianians in the Civil War, Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. and Lawrence Lee Hewitt observe, “Nowhere else in the United States had Jews been as fully accepted into the mainstream of society. Nowhere else in the United States had Jews become as fully integrated into the political and economic fabric of everyday life.”[13] Southern Jews saw this lack of prejudice as a privilege that they held dear, and they supported the South’s peculiar institutions to hold on to this acceptance.

Benjamin adhered to Southern norms, including the support of slavery, being a plantation owner, slaveholder, and religiously assimilated. As Robert Rosen author of The Jewish Confederates, notes, “Judah Benjamin is a great example of how Southern Jews were assimilated into Southern Society. But of course, they accepted all the values of that society, including slavery.”Evans describes, “Benjamin as a Jew would have to be more loyal to the Cause than anyone else — more outspoken in the Cabinet, more courageous, and willing to wage war with the energy that total war demanded. And if he understood Jefferson Davis, loyalty to the President as the symbol to the Cause was the measure of a man’s worth to the Confederacy.”[14] Benjamin’s loyalty and adherence to Southern norms was the reason he was able to advance and in his political career despite his religion.

The acceptance Southern Jews experienced before the war allowed Benjamin to rise in the ranks of American politics and the Confederate cabinet disappeared as the situation became desperate in the Civil War. The situation was especially the case in the South, where Christian Fundamentalism took over, and anti-Semitism reared its head. Most of the anti-Semitism that spewed over to Southern Jewry during the war stemmed from Benjamin’s power and rank within the Confederacy and the missteps, blockades, and military defeats for which he took the blame. In the North, the attacks against Benjamin were commonplace even before the war. In his seminal book, American Jewry and the Civil War, American Jewish historian Bertram W. Korn recounts, “Almost every political opponent of Judah P. Benjamin referred to his name and faith. A typical case was that of Nicholas Davis of Alabama, who, in the heat of a political campaign, denounced the Louisiana Senator as that ‘infamous Jew… Judas P. Benjamin ….’” [15]

Benjamin was the most influential Jew in the American government up to that point. As Evans indicates, Benjamin “achieved greater political power than any other Jew in the nineteenth century — perhaps even in all American history.”According to Kurt F. Stone in his book, The Jews of Capitol Hill, A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, “Without question, Judah P. Benjamin is one of the most fascinating, accomplished, and talented individuals ever to grace the American political stage.”[16] Evans also points out, “Judah P. Benjamin was called ‘the dark prince of the Confederacy’ by poet Stephen Vincent Benet in John Brown’s Body.”[17] However, Benjamin faces obscurity in history because the very private Benjamin burnt all his papers but six pages, a “virtual incendiary,” leaving little record of his work for historians. Even Jefferson Davis scantily wrote about his “confident” in his 1500 page memoirs. One of the two comments Davis wrote about Benjamin was, “Mr. Benjamin, of Louisiana, 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.” [18]

In his article, “The Forgotten Confederate Jews How history lost Judah P. Benjamin, the most prominent American Jew of the 19th century,” Daniel Brook says it is the reason why “in every age, a heroic sage struggles to rescue Benjamin from obscurity — and invariably fails.”[19] There are no controversial monuments to Benjamin as there were for the other Confederate political and military heroes. [20]

During Benjamin’s lifetime, his likeness appeared on the Confederate two-dollar bill, the only Jew to have that honor in American history. Preeminent American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna explains in Brook’s article, “Non-Jews didn’t make statues of him because he was a Jew, and Jews didn’t make statues of him because he was intermarried and not really associated with the Jewish community. He kind of lost both sides.”[21]

The literature on Benjamin is very shallow. It includes Judah P. Benjamin by Pierce Butler first published in 1906, Rollin Osterweis’1933 volume Judah P. Benjamin: Statesman of the Lost Cause, Robert D. Meade’s 1944 biography, Judah P. Benjamin and the American Civil War, Martin Rywell’s Judah Benjamin: Unsung Rebel Prince from 1948, and Simon I. Nieman’s 1963 biography, Judah Benjamin: Mystery Man of the Confederacy. The complete biography is Southern historian Eli Evans’s 1988 book, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. In 2015, Don Lankiewicz wrote about Benjamin’s escape from America as the Confederacy surrendered and the Confederate Cabinet became fugitives accused of treason with the book Journey to Asylum: Judah Benjamin’s Great Escape.

In another recent study, John C. Fazio looked at conspiracy theories in his 2017 book Decapitating the Union: Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin, and the Plot to Assassinate Lincoln, examining how the highest levels of the Confederate government looked to assassinate Union officials for retribution, including President Abraham Lincoln. Two recent articles specifically examined Benjamin’s views and convictions on the two institutions he based his future on, slavery and secession. Maury Wiseman’s 2007 article “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery” and Geoffrey D. Cunningham’s 2013 article “‘The ultimate step:’Judah P. Benjamin and secession” attempt to determine his positions on slavery based primarily on public published addresses. Both historians determined that Benjamin’s devotion to slavery and secession was rooted in the law and predominantly the Constitution.

Evans finds that the Butler and Meade biographies are the “standard biographies of Benjamin.” Butler looked at Civil War orders and letters Benjamin sent that he could not destroy. Butler also interviewed those who knew Benjamin, including Varina Howell Davis, who knew him better than anybody else except for Jefferson Davis. Towards the end of her life, Varina Davis expressed, Benjamin’s “greatness was hard to measure… I loved him dearly.” While Meade also examined “diaries, memoirs, and papers,” including letters, he interviewed Benjamin’s family. Neither Butler nor Meade looked at his Jewish identity, gliding by his Jewishness. [22] Francis Lawley, who covered Washington and Richmond for The London Times during the Civil War, was fascinated with Benjamin and was researching to write a biography but never completed his attempt. Lawley’s letters to Varina Howell Davis provided insight into Benjamin’s views of Jefferson Davis.

Very few of the books look at Benjamin as a Jew, how his Jewish identity affected his political career and his role in the Confederate cabinet. Non-Jewish biographers were mostly anti-Semitic and stayed away from discussing Benjamin’s religion. Additionally, for many years American Jewry distanced themselves from Benjamin and his participation in the South’s rebellion. However, there was a resurgence of interest in the Confederacy in the 1930s, and American Jews followed suit. Most Jewish historians stayed away from Benjamin because “he was incomprehensible as a Jewish figure.” Evans explains, “As a Confederate leader who once owned 140 slaves, he was to those historians part of a failed culture, not a Jew whom scholars of American Jewish history could explain, and therefore it was easier to dismiss him as Jewish than try to probe him and understand him as an integral figure in American Jewish history.”[23]

Early views of Benjamin’s Jewishness came from Max J. Kohler’s 1905 biography, Judah Benjamin: Statesman and Jurist, where he called Benjamin, “Hebrew in blood, English in Tenacity and grasp of purpose.”[24] In his 1923 book, A History of Jews in Modern Times, Max Raisin recounted Benjamin’s closeness to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Raisin wrote, At the “right hand of President Jefferson Davis, sat a Jew to whom was attributed the distinction of being the ‘brains of the Confederacy.’” Raisin described Benjamin as a man “almost fanatical in his Southern patriotism … who never for a moment lost the confidence of the President who, more than upon any other member of his official family, leaned upon him in all the weightiest of problems.”[25]

American Jewish historian Bertram W. Korn analyzed Benjamin in his 1949 journal article; “Judah P. Benjamin as a Jew,” examining Benjamin’s attachment to Judaism and the Southern Jewish community. Korn looked at “What kind of Jew Judah P. Benjamin actually was.”[26] In his essay entitled, “Judah Phillip Benjamin,” Kaplan touched on Benjamin’s connection to Judaism superficially but with an American Jewish historical context. Kaplan called Benjamin a “wandering Jew, an exotic and mysterious personality, is one of the contradictions, controversies, and legend.” Kaplan also notes Benjamin was “Hated by his opponents, adored by his friends, charming, aggressive, egotistical, and brilliant, one of the most powerful and enduring forces of the Confederacy,” and “he was a man acquainted with grief, tortured with doubt about his mission in life.”[27] More recently, surveys of American Jewish history and Southern Jewry mention Benjamin. However, the only full-length book to examine Benjamin in the context of his religion is Evans’Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate and Evans makes it part of his thesis.

Benjamin wanted historical obscurity; he destroyed all his letters and papers, some when he escaped Richmond in 1865, the remaining he destroyed before his death leaving just six pieces. Late in his life in 1884, when a biographer asked for his papers, Benjamin bluntly and defiantly replied in a letter:

“I have no materials available for your purpose… I would much prefer that no ‘Life,’ not even a magazine article should ever be written about me…. I have never kept a diary or retained a copy of a letter written by me … for I have read so many American biographies which reflected only the passions and prejudices of their writers, that I do not want to leave behind me letters and documents to be used in such a work about myself.”[28]

Benjamin spent too many years vilified that he did not want to give biographers and historians an easier opportunity to continue. In destroying his papers, Benjamin is left a mystery making it easier for history to do what Benjamin feared or forget him almost entirely. Without his papers and records, it becomes difficult to criticize Benjamin because there is not enough to work from to do so, only the public image he carefully constructed at the time.

The documents that remain are law reports, limited legal documents, published speeches, newspaper reports, proceedings from the Senate and Confederate Records, and correspondence giving Benjamin’s public picture but not his private thoughts and convictions. Some correspondence remains from those to whom he wrote and who saved the letters. Every nugget gives a bit of insight into Benjamin, the man versus the jurist and politician. As MacMillan notes, “While sources allow a reconstruction of Benjamin’s life and his enormous influences, they largely fail to provide insight into Benjamin’s thoughts, perceptions, and motivations.”[29] About 100 letters from the 1850s until 1861 from Benjamin to New York banker Peter Hargous were recently discovered. In 2009, the Hargous family donated them to the American Jewish Historical Society. The letters were from Benjamin’s times as a railroad prospector. The letters reveal inward concerns, and despite his outward confidence, Benjamin was conflicted about secession, civil war, and the Confederacy. The letters show a side of Benjamin historians have barely seen in his personality. Evans remarks, “It has a voice that I’d never heard from him before, very blunt and very down, talking about failure in unadorned, unflowery language.”[30]

For many years the South blamed Benjamin for the South’s fall. As the “Brains of the Confederacy,” the North considered him the South’s “evil genius,” and the “Sphinx of the South.” While Jewish historians early on refused to acknowledge the traitor in American history and still consider him “One of the most misunderstood figures in American Jewish history.”[31] Part of the reason early American Jewish historians avoided Benjamin was his support for slavery. Evans points out, “Benjamin was fascinating because of the extraordinary role he played in Southern history and the ways in which Jews and non-Jews reacted to him. He was the prototype of the contradictions in the Jewish Southerner and the stranger in the Confederate story, the Jew at the eye of the storm that was the Civil War. Objectively, with so few Jews in the South at the time, it is astonishing that one should appear at the very center of Southern history.”[32]

Chapter 2 Benjamin Becomes New Orleans’Foremost Jurist

Benjamin’s Early Life

Benjamin was born in the West Indies on August 6, 1811, as Judah Phillip Benjamin. [33] His Sephardic observant parents moved from London to the Danish Island of St. Croix or St. Thomas, under British occupation, and then after to Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1821 to Charleston, South Carolina, looking for better opportunities. His mother, Rebecca Mendes, came from the Netherlands from the prominent Mendes family, whose origins were from pre-expulsion Spain. Rebecca Mendes was one of three daughters; her family moved to Britain and settled in wealthy Finsbury. Rebecca’s sisters married well and settled in the West Indies. In 1807 or 1808, eighteen-year-old Rebecca married fellow Sephardic Philip Benjamin, a merchant born in Nevis in his mid-twenties. Some historians claim they lived at first in London and operated a fruit store where Rebecca also worked, then moved to the West Indies. Others believe the Benjamins moved to West Indies directly after their marriage. [34]

The family’s meager existence would continue throughout Judah’s childhood and made Rebecca bitter, and she considered herself an “impoverished aristocrat.”[35] In his 1907 biography Judah P. Benjamin, Pierce Butler writes about Rebecca’s granddaughters remembering their grandmother’s pride. Butler noted, “Her granddaughter remembers even now the stern and severe rule of the old lady, resolved to hold her head high in spite of poverty. On one occasion, the prosperous sisters in the West Indies, probably suspecting the true state of affairs, sent generous chests of linen and other luxuries. Mrs. Benjamin never opened them but returned them with thanks, and the assurance that her needs were provided for.”[36]

Benjamin had British citizenship from his place of birth but also American citizenship from his naturalized father. When Judah Benjamin was born, the West Indies was under British control, allowing Benjamin to retain British citizenship his whole life, and this saved him when he escaped the Confederacy. According to Evans, that same lifeline to America’s “Revolutionary enemy” and being born in “enemy territory” on the eve of the War of 1812 made Benjamin an “outsider” his whole life. Although his father and the family became naturalized American citizens, Benjamin tried but never had those roots in America that gave him a sense of belonging to himself, the public and political colleagues and opponents. Benjamin was both religiously and by birth and an outsider to Christian and nativist America.[37]

In 1813 or as late as 1816, the Benjamins moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, because Rebecca had a brother, Jacob living there; he was her only family in America. [38] His father, Phillip Benjamin, came from Britain and then worked as a storekeeper selling fruit, and the family with seven children remained poor. Judah was the Benjamins’ second son, another son named Judah died as an infant. According to Sephardic tradition, the “oldest son was named after his paternal grandfather.”[39] Judah also had an older sister, Rebecca, called Penny. However, as Evan points out, Benjamin was “burdened” as the “oldest son,” “with all the family ambition attaching to his favored position.”[40] Benjamin’s younger siblings included two brothers Solomon and Joseph, two younger sisters Hannah, called Harriet or Hatty, Judith, and then Jacob, the youngest of the Benjamin family.[41] Pierce Butler claims the youngest of the Benjamins’ children was a daughter named Penina.

Charleston at the time was the Jewish center of America. Benjamin remained in Fayetteville with his siblings for schooling at Fayetteville Academy, while in 1812, his parents settled in Charleston. Charleston’s port offered more opportunities for the Benjamins. Still, Phillip Benjamin failed to succeed in business. South Carolina offered Southern Jews more rights than anywhere else in the South or the North. Jews had the right to vote, “worship freely, trade openly, own land, and leave property in wills.” Charleston boasted the largest Jewish population in the early part of the nineteenth century, with 500 of America’s 2,500 Jews in 1800. In 1695, Jews started settling in colonial Charles Town and established the first congregation in 1749, Beth Elohim Unveh Shallom, adhering to the Sephardic Orthodox tradition.

The Benjamin family was not Orthodox and kept their store open on the Sabbath. They did adhere to daily religious rituals. Judah’s father, Phillip Benjamin, “was an intellectual” and “well versed in Jewish law.”After failing in business, Philip Benjamin became a Talmud scholar, despite Rebecca still keeping the store open on the Sabbath. In his The Jews of South Carolina From the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Barnett Elzas recalled the Benjamin family’s lack of observance. Elzas wrote, “As a matter of fact, the Benjamins were not strict Jews. The mother kept her little shop open on the Sabbath and that at a time when strict Sabbath observance was general in Charleston. This was told to me by the late Sally Lopez, who died here in 1902 at the age of ninety-six… This trading on the Sabbath on the part of Mrs. Benjamin was much resented by the old-time Jews of Charleston.”[42]

Phillip was one of the founders of Charleston’s first Reform synagogue, the Reform Society of Israelites. Phillip Benjamin and 46 other members of Congregation Beth Elohim petitioned the synagogue for reforms, including modernize prayers using English, shorten the prayers, and include an English sermon in the service. The petitioners looked to anglicize Judaism in Protestant Charleston. Evans indicates, “As a son of one of the leaders of the society, Judah understandably would have been deeply affected by the religious divisions. The reform movement was not just for adults; it sought to influence history through the children of its members and the generations to come.”[43] When Judah turned thirteen in 1824, he participated in a confirmation ceremony rather than a bar mitzvah. Phillip Benjamin served on the committee of correspondence of the new congregation. The family’s religious observance was lax, primarily because of financial needs. Phillip kept his store open on the Sabbath. In 1827, the new reformed congregation “ousted” the Benjamins from the synagogue for not observing the Sabbath.[44]

Benjamin was a brilliant student, and with the help of Jewish merchant Moses Lopez, in 1825, Benjamin entered Yale College at age 14-years-old. Benjamin was the first Jewish student to attend Yale in 14 years and ranked atop of his class the two years he attended, where he honed his oration skills as part of the elite “Brothers in Unity” debating society. After his second year, Yale ousted Benjamin because of “a violation of the laws of the college” or “ungentlemanly conduct.” Benjamin always maintained it was because his father could not afford the tuition. Some historians claim he might have stolen money, gambled, or anti-Semitism may have been involved. Brooks went as far as to consider that maybe “homosexual” behavior caused his expulsion.

In 1827, Benjamin briefly returned to Charleston, but his expulsion or leaving Yale caused a rift with his father. According to MacMillan, that was when Benjamin broke from Judaism. Benjamin tried to seek readmission from Yale’s President Jeremiah Day but was unsuccessful. Afterward, Benjamin moved to New Orleans in 1828 there he read and practiced law before entering politics. Korn recounts, Benjamin “arrived in New Orleans in 1828, with no visible assets other than the wit, charm, omnivorous mind and boundless energy with which he would find his place in the sun.” [45] The city was also welcoming to Jews because, as Korn points out, “anti-Jewish prejudice was notable for its absence.”[46]

While a law clerk “for the notary Greenbury Stringer and banker Samuel Hermann, and reading the law, Benjamin earned money teaching the wealthy Creoles English. One of his students was the Catholic Natalie Bauché de St. Martin, a teenager with a “scandalous” reputation. In turn, Natalie taught Benjamin, whom she called “Philipe” the French he needed for Louisiana’s French civil law. Benjamin also learned Spanish to serve the large French and Spanish communities. The St. Martins came from Saint Domingue after the slave revolt, and August St. Martin would become the president of the Orleans Navigation Insurance Company. [47] The St-Martins were “Creole Aristocracy” and could give Benjamin the connections he needed to succeed and to assimilate in a city that still had a large French Catholic community.

In 1832, at 21, Benjamin was admitted to Louisiana’s bar, and he would marry Natalie St. Martin, 16. Natalie’s father, August St. Martin, wanted Benjamin to convert to Catholicism; he refused, but he agreed to a Catholic wedding and to raise their children as Catholics. Historians have looked at the union as advantageous for Benjamin with her $3,000 dowry and two female slaves and entrance into upper society and business connections. McMillan explains, “In short, Benjamin’s unusual marriage was one which gave him the advantage as an attorney and served to broaden his connections and horizons later in life.”[48] Both kept their religions, but Natalie was not satisfied, and she was rumored to be unfaithful. Their personalities were very different aside from religion; Natalie enjoyed parties and drinking, while Benjamin preferred to work and never drank. Natalie was a Creole beauty, while Benjamin was little over five feet, he was “short and stocky with dark curly hair and an olive complexion” he had a short beard and always had a “perpetual smile.”[49] Benjamin’s marriage permanently cut his ties with the Jewish community, except his colleague John Slidell, who married into “Jewish financier August (Schonberg) Belmont’s”family.

During the first three years of their marriage, they lived with Natalie’s parents while Benjamin wrote a legal summary of Louisiana law, “Digest of the Reported Decisions of the Superior Court of the Late Territory of Orleans and of the Supreme Court of Louisiana” published in 1834. Benjamin co-authored the book with Thomas Slidell, who would become the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. His brother John would become Benjamin’s mentor, Senate colleague, and Confederate Ambassador to Britain and France. The book was a success opening up opportunities for Benjamin’s legal career, where he focused on commercial law, land disputes, and international law, and by 1851, Benjamin made $50,000 a year. Benjamin’s commercial law cases utilized both Louisiana’s civil code and common law and dealt with “real property (including slaves), personal property, mortgages, probate and inheritance, negotiable notes, insolvency, insurance, shipping. “Benjamin excelled as a legal scholar and his oratory skills in court.” [50] In 184, Benjamin was so successful John Smith Whitaker referred to him as “emphatically the Commercial Lawyer of our city, and one of the most successful advocates at our bar … and holds a deservedly high place among the members of his profession.” [51]

By the early 1840s, Benjamin constantly worked while Natalie became restless. Her affairs concerned Benjamin, who worried about how the gossip would affect his career. In 1844, Benjamin purchased a grand plantation Bellechasse, which Stone called “one of the grandest, most architecturally significant mansions in the entire South.”[52] Benjamin hoped becoming a plantation owner would help his political future in the South and his marriage. However, Natalie found the planter’s life isolating without her family. In 1843, their first daughter, Ninette, was born, but Benjamin’s excitement at fatherhood would not last long. After over ten years of marriage, in 1845, Natalie moved to Paris with the couple’s only daughter Ninette, who was raised as a Catholic. Afterward, Benjamin brought his mother and his sisters to live at his plantation; however, his mother died of yellow fever in 1847.

Benjamin visited Natalie and his daughter each year. When he became a Senator, he bought and furnished a house in Washington. In 1858, Benjamin enticed Natalie to return, but she found Washington too dull than Paris, left by early 1859, and never returned to America. However, Benjamin remained close to the St. Martins, including Natalie’s younger brother, Jules, who lived with him for a while. MacMillan does not believe Natalie moved to Paris and left Benjamin because she was bored or having an affair but that it was the custom for Caribbean French to educate their children in France. New Orleans was also an ethically unsavory city and an unhealthy one, prone to yellow fever epidemics. It is possible Ninette suffered from a “lifelong disorder” and would receive better medical care in France. [53] In contrast, historians also wonder if the five-foot Benjamin was a “homosexual” and if that was why Natalie left him and his insistence on his privacy in burning all his private papers.

Political Career

Benjamin began his political career in 1842 when he was elected as a Whig to the Louisiana House of Representatives. MacMillan notes, “Louisiana had particularly restrictive suffrage and office holding requirements which meant that election was dependent upon the backing of the powerful and in New Orleans, this came from the French community.”[54] Benjamin had the support and votes from the city’s elite because of his familial and business connections. As a Louisiana constitutional convention delegate in 1845, Benjamin impressed the party leaders. Evans explains Benjamin’s “tact, courtesy, and ability to find compromises impressed the political elders in all corners of the state.” [55] The convention looked to “amend voting and office-holding restrictions” in the state and revise their 1812 constitution. Benjamin spoke out about the expansion of slavery if Texas were annexed and the threat of slavery would not be allowed to expand. Benjamin urged the convention against reform and adopting opposed counting slaves as three-fifths of a human for population by representation purposes. Benjamin retreated from politics in the mid-1840s focusing on his plantation and successful law practice. Benjamin returned to politics in 1846, when he was appointed a land commissioner for California settling land disputes after the Mexican-American War.

In 1848, he served as a Louisiana Delegate to the Electoral College that voted General Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate, president, and he went to President Taylor’s inauguration. Taylor wanted Benjamin his cabinet but was reluctant about Natalie’s “scandalous” reputation. Benjamin again served as Whig delegate to the 1852 constitutional convention, where “Whigs won loosened state regulations on commerce, banks, railroads, and government investment in the economy after giving way on the office-holding restrictions and vote apportionment for slaves.”[56] Benjamin’s work at the convention garnered him a Senate nomination. In 1852, Benjamin became the first Jew elected in the United States Senate representing Louisiana as Whig.

In 1853, President Millard Fillmore appointed Benjamin to the United States Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, and the Senate confirmed him. However, Benjamin refused because he wanted to remain in politics. [57] Later on, in August 1858, President James Buchanan offered Benjamin to be the Ambassador to Spain, which also declined. When the Whigs went into decline as a party, Benjamin joined the Democrats in 1856. While in the Senate, he defended slavery and supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and Kansas’ 1857 pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Instead of sitting as a justice on the Supreme Court, Benjamin had a prolific career arguing cases in front of it.

Benjamin’s Senate colleagues considered him one of its “truly great minds” and a “most powerful orator.”[58] At the time, John Smith Whitaker,‎ a member of the New Orleans bar, recalled Benjamin, “As a speaker, he was calm, collected, forcible, though sometimes a little too rapid in his elocution. His voice has a silvery, mellifluous sweetness and seldom jars upon the ear by degenerating into a shrill or harsh tone while his manner and gestures are graceful and finished.”

Representative J.L.M. Curry recalled, “Benjamin was collected and self-possessed in debate… did not use notes…and had a memory like Macauley’s.”[59] Maryland lawyer and colleague Reverdy Johnson remembered, “Benjamin had a power of argument rarely if ever surpassed.”[60] Later, Senator George Vest asked longtime official Senate reporter, Dennis Murphy, who served forty years, who “was the ablest and best-equipped Senator he had known during his service as a reporter. Murphy replied without hesitation ‘Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana.’” [61]

[62] According to Stone, “he has been ranked by some historians as one of the five greatest orators in Senate history, the equal of Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun.” Despite his colleagues’ respect for his skills, there were still passive-aggressive attacks on Benjamin because of his religion. His political opponents routinely referred to Benjamin as “Hebrew” or “Israelite” in addition to more anti-Semitic attacks. MacMillan called Benjamin’s “brother Senators’”actions an “insidious anti-Jewish sentiment.”[63]

Benjamin would meet Secretary of War Jefferson Davis at a state dinner hosted by President Franklin Pierce. Jefferson’s wife Varina described him as having “rather the air of a witty bon vivant than of a great senator.” At first, the two quarreled when Benjamin questioned Davis over a military bill and firearms, with Davis insulting Benjamin insinuating that he “advancing the mercantile interests of a client” and was acting as a “paid attorney.” Benjamin privately called for a duel; however, Davis apologized, ending the duel and starting their next phase. Davis never publicly apologized, Senator Pearce made a “statement of fact” noting Davis’ error, and Davis explained but did not apologize. [64] When Davis became a Senator from Mississippi, the two formed a cautious alliance. Both opposed Stephen Douglas’nomination for president from the Democratic Party and his hypocrisy regarding popular sovereignty on slavery. In November 1860, after Lincoln’s presidential election, Benjamin believed secession and confederation were the south’s best advantages in negotiating with the Union.

In 1856, Benjamin became a Democrat abandoning the Whig Party, which no longer had a national party. Benjamin joined the Democrats to fuel his ambition and to save the Union with the South maintaining slavery. The Louisiana Democratic Party and the press welcomed his change of party affiliation. Benjamin supported James Buchanan’s presidential nomination and campaigned for him in 1856. The same cannot be said of Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois; Benjamin spoke out against him at length in the Senate during their vote on the Kansas Bill to support Kansas’pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. In the 1860 campaign, Benjamin’s attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Douglas were reprinted in a pamphlet for the Southern Democratic presidential nominee John Breckinridge, who was nominated at the Charleston Convention. Benjamin declared, “The Senator from Illinois faltered. He got the prize for which he faltered; but lo! the grand prize of his ambition to-day slips from his grasp because of his faltering in his former contest, and his success in the canvass for the Senate, purchased for an ignoble price, has cost him the loss of the Presidency of the United States.”[65]

Benjamin faced a problematic reelection bid in 1858. The state legislature was concerned that Benjamin, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Private Land Claims, misused his position to help fellow Senator Slidell profit from a land deal. The speculation of abuse of power and that Northern Louisiana wanted a senator from their region resulted in forty-two ballots until Benjamin won reelection to his seat. He would remain in the senator only another year before becoming the last senator from the South to resign two weeks after Louisiana became the fourth state to secede from the Union. According to Stone, “Until virtually the eleventh hour, [Benjamin] sought to bring about a rapprochement between North and South.”[66] However, Cunningham finds that Benjamin’s Senate speeches starting in 1855 spoke of the secession and civil war as inevitable if the North continued to trample on the South’s Constitutional rights regarding the expansion of slavery.

Benjamin delivered a farewell address to the Senate, warning of an upcoming civil war. Evans notes, “Historians consider Benjamin’s farewell … one of the great speeches in American history.” Benjamin warned in his speech:

“And now, Senators, within a few weeks we part to meet as Senators in one common council chamber of the nation no more, forever. We desire, we beseech you, let this parting be in peace . . . indulge in no veiled delusion that duty or conscience, interest or honor imposes upon you the necessity of invading our States or shedding the blood of our people. We have not possible justification for it . . . what may be the fate of this horrible contest no man can tell . . . but this much, I will say: the fortunes of war may be adverse to our arms, you may carry despoliation into our peaceful land, and with torch and fire you may set our cities in flame . . . you may, under the protection of your advancing armies give shelter to the furious fanatics who desire, and profess to desire, nothing more than to add all the horrors of a servile insurrection to the calamities of civil war; you may do all this — and more too, if more there be — but you never can subjugate us; you never can convert the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; and you never, never can degrade them to the level of an inferior and servile race. Never! Never!”[67]

Louisiana succeeded from the Union on January 26, 1861, becoming the fourth state to do so, and Benjamin resigned from the Senate days later on February 4, 1861.

Chapter 3 Benjamin on Judaism, Slavery, and Secession

Benjamin and Judaism

Despite his non-observance, Benjamin remained a Jew his whole life. However, he had never attended or was a synagogue member or involved in the Jewish community of any city he lived throughout his adult life in America or Britain. According to Korn in his article, “Judah P. Benjamin as a Jew,” “Altogether it would appear that Benjamin had no positive or active interest in Jews or Judaism. The only known facts are that he was born into a Jewish family… that he never denied being Jewish or sought to escape his background through conversion to the Catholic faith of his wife and daughter.”[68] More recently, Evans claims, “To presume Benjamin a nonbeliever by his public acts represents a fundamental error in Southern history.” Evans believes Benjamin could not cut ties completely with his Judaism after his religious upbringing, arguing, “No Jew can make the leap from a childhood with religious immigrant parents to an assimilated Southern leader in twenty years, without retaining psychological ties to his Jewish past.”[69]

The lack of private sources about Benjamin makes it even more difficult to analyze his personal feelings about his Jewish identity instead of the public reticence available from the scarce sources. To MacMillan, “This failure is significant not only in the understanding of Benjamin’s life but also in a greater understanding of one of the most prominent Jewish figures in the nineteenth-century English speaking world. This prevents a greater understanding of the acceptance of Jewish people in America and the United Kingdom.”[70] Benjamin’s success was due to his passionate loyalty to Southern issues and his ability to downplay his religion. Despite Benjamin assimilating to Southern white Christian society, the anti-Semitic attacks towards Benjamin both before and especially during the Civil War gave rise to widespread anti-Jewish prejudice in the South. Historians will never know how he felt about the personal attacks or how he felt about his actions in the Confederate cabinet were affecting the broader Jewish community in the South.

Judah Benjamin supposedly only once declared his Jewishness in his political career on the Senate floor; however, historians dispute the occurrences since it was out of caricature for Benjamin. Benjamin chose not to discuss his Judaism, but it followed him, and he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from colleagues and political enemies alike. Benjamin was the consummate insider and outsider as a Jew at both times.

In March 1858, while Benjamin delivered a speech supporting Kansas being admitted to the Union as a slave state, supposedly, Republican Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio “denounced” Benjamin on the Senate floor. Wade called Benjamin “an Israelite with Egyptian principle.” Wade stated, “Why sir, when old Moses, under immediate inspiration of God Almighty, enticed a whole nation of slaves, and ran away, not to Canada to old Canaan, I suppose Pharaoh and all the chivalry of old Egypt denounced him as a most furious abolitionist… there were not those who loved Egypt better than they loved liberty… They were not exactly Northern men with Southern principles, but they were Israelites with Egyptian principles.”

Benjamin supposedly responded, “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 lightning of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.”[71] Although attributed to Benjamin, Benjamin never acknowledged his Jewishness in the Senate’s issues that affected American Jews. Historian Bertram W. Korn does not believe that Benjamin delivered this remark. According to Korn, “The fact that Benjamin did not feel obliged, in either of these cases, to register himself as a Jew would appear to be much more significant than any of the questionable traditions and legends concerning allegedly defiant answers to which he is purported to have made to any anti-Jewish attacks upon himself.”[72] Evans also questions Benjamin’s declaration, since historians have told “four different versions”of the anecdote and “the quote cannot be verified.” Still, Evans notes, “the statement remains a part of the legend of Judah P. Benjamin, even though it indicates an uncharacteristic acknowledgment in public of his Jewishness.”[73]

The minimal record does not indicate if he had any pride in being Jewish or was involved after childhood. In his Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, The Portraits Selected Principally from the Bench and Bar, John Smith Whitaker noted in 1847 that the public was aware that Benjamin was Jewish. Whittaker wrote, “Mr. Benjamin is by birth, and as his names imports, an Israelite. Yet how far he still adheres to the religion of his fathers, I cannot tell, though I should doubt whether the matter troubled him much.”[74] One incident indicates that Benjamin took an interest in the community; he purchased a subscription to the Philadelphia Rabbi Isaac Leeser’s newspaper The Occident and American Jewish Advocate. On March 20, 1848, Gershom Kursheedt, the New Orleans Jewish community leader, notified Leeser in a letter that “Before I forget it let me state on Friday last Mr. J.P. Benjamin handed me $5.50 for you.” In 1843, Leeser sent free copies to influential Jews to purchase a subscription to his magazine. Benjamin was not as distanced to know the community leader and his connection to Leeser and to want to be current on Jewish issues.

Jewish leaders looked to claim Benjamin as a member of the Jewish community more than Benjamin wished to identify publicly with his religion. Two stories circulated that embellished his involvement. The first attributed to Isaac Mayer Wise, who claimed in the fall of 1850 he had two discussions with Benjamin, Secretary of State Daniel Webster, and Lieutenant Matthew F. Maury. In 1874, Wise recounts in his memoir, Reminisces he discussed religion and Judaism with Benjamin in the two meetings, the first in Webster’s office then later at dinner. Korn believes the discussions did not occur because Benjamin became a Senator in 1853, while Webster died in 1852, and Benjamin did not visit Washington in the fall of 1850 but July 1851. Wise contradicted his story in response to a Boston Transcript editorial from January 5, 1861, which criticized Jews, Benjamin, Senator David (Levy) Yulee, and Benjamin Mordecai of Charleston for contributing to the secession crisis. Benjamin and Yulee, through their Senate actions, and Mordecai with a monetary contribution. Wise responded Jews were divided politically and that he had only met Mordecai. Neither did Wise mention meeting Benjamin in his obituary for Benjamin in the Israelite.

Years later, Herbert Ezekiel, author of the book The History of the Jews of Richmond from 1769 to 1917 (1917) claimed in 1860 that while Benjamin was in San Francisco arguing the mining case United States V. Castillero, he delivered a sermon at a San Francisco synagogue for Yom Kippur, on September 26. The United States V. Castillero was one of Benjamin’s most important cases in front of the Supreme Court concerned with “the ownership of the New Almaden quicksilver mine in California.”[75] Ezekiel quoted Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati. Wise had not been San Francisco that year. Neither did the only Jewish paper The Weekly Gleaner claim Benjamin was anywhere near a synagogue, let alone deliver a Yom Kippur sermon.

Two days earlier Rev, Julius Eckman of The Weekly Gleaner reported Benjamin delivered a lecture on politics and government at Tucker’s Academy for an Episcopal Church. However, the speech mentioned American Jewry; Eckman reported that Benjamin made rare comments against political discrimination. Gleaner wrote, “He next referred in a very happy manner to the injustice in the distribution of offices and asked why the citizens of his religious tenets were not favored by those who have it in their power to bestow offices of emolument and trust. In a very pathetic manner, he asked ‘Would the great Washington have excluded a citizen from holding federal appointment because of his religion.’” [76]

Ezekiel believed Benjamin’s speech was delivered as a Yom Kippur sermon, Korn, however, indicates the speech must have been one Benjamin delivered to the Church of Advent. Korn claims the official printed version of the speech referred to “the spoils system and political prejudice, not religious prejudice.” Korn argues, “Eckman was either drowsy that evening and did not hear Benjamin right, or he was so eager to identify Benjamin as a positive Jew that he misinterpreted what the Louisiana Senator did say.”[77] Korn based his analysis on Benjamin never spoke about himself in his address or anything related to Judaism in his addresses, quoting Jefferson Davis, who claimed, “No more reticent man ever lived where it was possible to be silent.”

Without many records, it is difficult to say for sure. Despite Korn debunking the Benjamin quote, Eckman’s paraphrasing of Benjamin speaks volumes on why he, for the most part, stayed away from Judaism in his public life, his fear his religion would hold his ambition back from political advancement. Historian Diane Ashton explains the situation for Southern Jews during the Civil War in her essay “Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics, and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War.”Ashton writes, “When the determination of friend or foe was the degree to which an individual displayed shared values and commitments, and when religion was made to serve political causes, Jewish identity could be a liability or an asset.”[78] With the array of anti-Semitic attacks on Benjamin from his political foes, he long learned that assimilation and keeping his religious difference private was best for his political advancement.

However, while Benjamin served in the Senate, two later incidents demonstrated just how publicly distanced he was from his religion. In 1850, the “American Minster to Switzerland” A. Dudley Moore negotiated a commercial treaty with the Swiss Confederation. An article in the treaty allowed Swiss cantons to refuse Jews’ entry and not benefit from the treaty, only Christians. It included the ability to expel any Jew conducting business in their canton. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Senator Henry Clay opposed the clause, and President Millard Fillmore wanted the clause removed from the treaty.

The controversy became known as L’Affaire Swiss. Rabbinical leaders in both North and South opposed the anti-Semitic clause and lobbied the government to advocate religious tolerance abroad. Among those leading the movement were “Rabbis Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, David Einhorn of Baltimore, J. M. Cardozo of Charleston, and Capt. Jonas Phillips Levy of New York.” Former Representative Phillip Phillips of Alabama and Jonas Levy advocated the government on behalf of American Jews. In the Senate, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan led a movement opposed to ratifying the treaty. Cass would later become Secretary of State and notably delivered a speech on the Senate floor on April 19, 1854, placing his support in America’s Jewish population.

However, Benjamin refused to be involved in the Senate floor debate; instead, he did not identify himself as a Jew that would have been subjected to the treaty’s exemption. Benjamin presented the petition on May 10, 1854, on the Senate floor; he advocated for equality in the treaty. However, Benjamin chose not to include that he too was a Jew, excluding himself from his coreligionists. According to the Congressional Globe from the day, “Mr. Benjamin resented… a petition of citizens of the United States, professing the Jewish religion, praying that measures be taken to secure to American citizens of every religious creed, residing or traveling abroad, their civil and religious rights; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.”[79] The clause was rewritten, but it still allowed the Swiss to discriminate against Jews. What had been an objection became a protest movement by American Jews; the situation only grew when an American citizen and Jew, A. H. Gootman, who conducted commercial business for five years, was forced to leave La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Neuchâtel in 1856.

Except for presenting the petition, Benjamin chose not to take on a leadership role; historians suggest he felt it better for non-Jewish Senate members to take on that position. However, it was often the practice of some Jews in the South to “veil,” as historian Diane Ashton called it, their religion in front of their Christian neighbors. If he had taken on a leadership role, he would have been known as the “Jewish Senator,” and he worked his whole career not to be defined or hindered by his Judaism. [80] In 1860, Benjamin remained detached when China and Japan put similar clauses in their treaties with America, only allowing Christians to worship freely. Again, Jewish leaders objected to the included clauses and lobbied that any American of any faith should have their right. Rabbi Max Lilienthal wrote to Benjamin to advocate in the Senate on American Jewry’s behalf. Benjamin replied:

Washington, March 24, 1860

My dear Sir:

I have received your favor of the 21st inst., and shall be watchful of the China treaty, in order to take care that by no omission shall the Israelites of the United States be debarred the privilege secured by the treaty to their Christian fellow citizens.

Thank you for your complimentary expression toward myself, I remain,

Yours with great respect,

J.P. Benjamin.

Rev. Dr. Lilienthal.

Benjamin’s reply was detached from the situation; although he agreed to advocate, he did not include himself as one of the aggrieved Jews.

Views on Slavery

In the antebellum South, Southern Jews who adhered to the social norms were mostly spared anti-Jewish prejudice. Race was more important than religion; Jews being white led to increased social acceptance and minimal anti-Semitism. Benjamin adhered to all the Southern norms, including supporting states’ rights and slavery. As Bertram Korn, the authority on Southern Jewry and Jewry during the Civil War years, writes, “No Jewish political figure of the Old South ever expressed reservations about the justice of slavery or the rightness of the Southern position.” [81] Kaplan finds Benjamin’s position on slavery a contradiction considering the religious home he was brought up in. As Kaplan notes, “Benjamin’s dedication to slavery seems a contradiction in one who came from a home where Judaism and its traditions held freedom as an inherent right of every person.”[82]

Most of Benjamin’s biographers concur that although he supported slavery, it was not with other Southern politicians’ fanaticism. While Rosen claims Benjamin was not a “proslavery ideologue.” In his biography Meade found that Benjamin “viewed Africans as human beings not resigned to their lot as commonly perceived in the South.” While Evans claims Benjamin’s support of slavery was never a “fist-pounding, red-faced, blowhard defense of it.”[83] Benjamin’s support of slavery rested on political, legal, commercial, and social reasoning. However, Benjamin believed in emancipation both before the war with financial compensation and African colonization. During the war, Benjamin believed emancipation could be a mean to save the Confederacy at any cost.

Benjamin was also the most prominent Jewish plantation owner. Although he owned a large plantation only briefly, he represents the Jewish version of the traditional Southern gentleman and planter embodied on the screen by the character Ashley Wilkes in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. As Jason Silverman recounts, “If there was a Jewish Ashley Wilkes in the Old South surely it would have been Judah P. Benjamin. Master of the New Orleans plantation, Bellechase, and its around one hundred and forty slaves, Benjamin was in many ways an icon of the southern planter and gentleman. And, while no one would doubt that Benjamin was a true, bona fide antebellum southern slaveowner, his quiet attitude toward the ‘peculiar institution’ perhaps reflects the deep and contradictory feelings shared by some of his fellow southern Jews seeking acceptance and assimilation.”[84]

Before purchasing his large plantation Bellechase situated near New Orleans, Benjamin was a lawyer, merchant, broker, and railroad speculator. Benjamin’s career allowed him to gain the fortune needed to purchase and rebuild the plantation into mythic Old South splendor. Benjamin bought the plantation in 1844 with planter Theodore Packwood. On the property was a small house that did not fit Benjamin’s view of a prosperous planter’s mansion, so he rebuilt it after Natalie left. Korn described Bellechase as “an elegant example of ante-bellum grace,” with “great, double-leveled porches, almost fifteen feet across, a parade of massive, rectangular pillars and everything else in proportion; curving stairways of mahogany, massive carved decorations, silver-plated doorknobs, extensive rose gardens between the house and the levee, and an enormous bell into which Benjamin was said to have dropped five hundred silver dollars during the melting, to ‘sweeten the tone.’” [85]

Meanwhile, Eli Evans, in his biography Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate gives a more complete picture of how Belle Chasse looked in its glory days. Evans recounts, Benjamin “tore down the old house on the plantation and built an even more splendid new one, a square mansion surrounded by double balconies supported by twenty-eight square cypress columns. There were twenty rooms, with hallways 16 feet wide running through the house, crystal chandeliers, a marble fireplace, some statues he had purchased in Florence, a spiral mahogany staircase that ran up the middle of the structure, and a veranda around the entire house, so he could look out at his land in any direction and catch the air and a view of the flowing Mississippi River. No detail was overlooked: silver-plated doorknobs, great escutcheons, the finest furnishings.”[86] To Benjamin, owning a plantation was about more than belonging, but excelling. As Evans notes, “Bellechasse would be a Louisiana showplace and would add to the Judah P. Benjamin legend. He would be as successful a planter as he had been a lawyer.”[87]

Benjamin owned the plantation for only a few years; he was forced to sell it after losing money when a friend went bankrupt after endorsing a $60,000 loan for them. He also owned 140 slaves more than any other Southern Jew, while only 80 of them worked in the fields, the rest worked as servants. During the Civil War, Union forces raided and pillaged the plantation and its decorations. After the war, the plantation house went into disrepair; the Judah P. Benjamin Memorial Foundation purchased the plantation in 1924, hoping to revive it to its formal glory as a museum-like George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. In 1934, they moved the home further back; although it was built 1,000 feet from the levee, water was creeping up to the home. Without any government funding, the foundation could never rebuild the plantation, and it was razed in March 1960 for the construction of government buildings.[88]

In the short period he owned it, he earned a reputation as an expert in growing sugar crops, writing some articles on the burgeoning sugar cane extraction in De Bow’s Review, which earned him a first prize from the Louisiana Agriculture Society. In an 1847 article, Benjamin called the sugar cane planter a “manufacturer as well as an agriculturist.”[89] Benjamin introduced modern methods to sugar cane production. According to Stone Benjamin, “all but single-handedly introduced sugarcane to the South, and successfully ushered in new, more efficient techniques of drainage, fertilization, and extracting sugar from molasses.”[90] Benjamin also owned 140 slaves more than any other Southern Jew, while only 80 of them worked in the fields, the rest worked as servants. Benjamin biographers believe Benjamin treated his slaves well, but the sugar cane crop is labor-intensive, and for most slaves, the treatment and conditions were terrible and decreased the slave population.

Since Benjamin came to slaveholding plantation lifestyle later in life after living an urban lifestyle, he was not ingrained in the opinions that older planters held for generations. Although Judah Benjamin did full-heartedly support slavery, he did not support the violence towards slaves. Evans explains, “Consequently, he was not steeped in its traditional philosophy. He would acquire an articulated point of view, but without the Biblical justifications that sustained its most extreme advocates. Though he entered the ranks of the planter class that ruled Louisiana [the Old South],” he never felt that slavery reflected the divine order of things. He was not taken in by distorted theories of the Bible; he never argued that Blacks were of a lower order, and he hated the cruelty of the overseers he heard about.” [91] Benjamin was the most prominent political Jew in the South, holding many positions in the Confederate cabinet. However, as Silverman writes, “Yet this undeniable symbol of what the Old South represented was vehemently critical of the most inhuman aspects of slavery and eloquently denounced its cruelties, though he stopped short of actually opposing the “peculiar institution” itself.” [92]

As a lawyer in New Orleans, Benjamin specialized in commercial law, and the slave trade came under the banner of that area of law. Benjamin based his views of slavery on the law of the country and location at the time, and he supported slavery based on those confines. In an 1845 court case McCargo v New Orleans Ins. Co, Benjamin defended insurance companies after a slave revolt on the ship the Creole in 1841, where the slave owners were looking for compensation. On the Creole, the slaves mutinied; they killed the slave-owners agent and forced the ship to sail to the Bahamas, where the British arrested only the leaders of the revolt and gave the rest of the slaves on the ship freedom. Benjamin argued Britain could emancipate the slaves because “slavery was against the law of nature but was allowed by the law of nations.”[93] In court, Benjamin made his point, saying, “the force and effect of the law of nature and of nations on the relations of the parties against which no insurance was or could be legally made…. [S]lavery is against the law of nature, and although sanctioned by the law of nations it is so sanctioned as a local or municipal institution of binding force within the limits of the nation that chooses to establish it and on the vessels of such nation on the high seas but as having no force or binding effect beyond the jurisdiction of such nation.”[94]

Benjamin also argued about the humanity of the slave within the confines of the slave’s societal position claiming the slave owners caused the revolt with the ship’s tightly confined conditions:

“What is a slave? He is a human being. He has feeling and passion, and intellect. His heart, like the heart of the white man, swells with love, burns with jealousy, aches with sorrow, pines under restraint and discomfort, boils with revenge, and ever cherishes the desire for liberty. His passions and feelings in some respects may not be as fervid and as delicate as those of the white, nor his intellect as acute; but passions and feelings he has, and in some respects, they are more violent and consequently more dangerous, from the very circumstances that his mind is comparatively weak and unenlightened. Considering the character of the slave, and the peculiar passions which, generated by nature, are strengthened and stimulated by his condition, he is prone to revolt in the near future of things and ever ready to conquer the liberty where a probable chance presents itself.” [95]

Benjamin won the case; Evans, however, does not think that represented Benjamin’s personal views, which would have hindered his political ambitions. Although he supported slavery throughout his career, Benjamin defended free “persons of color” in two known cases early on in his law practice. In one case, Boisdere v Citizens’Bank of Louisiana, Benjamin defended free blacks’ interest when the bank denied allowing them to own stocks in the bank. In the second case, Robert v Allier’s Agent and Succession of Robert in 1841 and 1842, a free black woman Genevieve Robert was trying to claim a part of her daughter’s estate.

Benjamin, however, took his words seriously about the slaves’ humanity and treated his slaves kindly. As Evans writes, “Benjamin took care to have a plantation noted for its humanness and sought to be known across Louisiana as a gentleman who treated his slaves well. According to early Benjamin biographer Pierce Butler, former Bellechasse slaves who were still living in the early twentieth century reported “none but kindly memories and romantic legends of the days of glory on the old place.”[96] Despite varying opinions about the treatment of slaves and the institution, Benjamin, as most Southern Jews, still unified supporting the beloved and necessary peculiar institution even if fighting a war with their Northern brothers was necessary.

In the first session of the Senate session in 1855, Free Soil Party Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts introduced a resolution to create a Pennsylvania Abolition Society memorial. Benjamin turned the issue into a debate on the Fugitive Slave Act. Benjamin’s argument focused on legal and constitutional elements. In badgering Sumner, Benjamin expressed, “the Senator on several occasions … has denied the obligation, as I understand him, under the Constitution of the United States, to deliver up the fugitive slaves from the free States to the owners in the slave States …” When Sumner pushed the issue of liberty laws for free Northern blacks in the slave South Benjamin ridiculed Sumner over his evasion on the Fugitive Slave Act. Benjamin’s argument in favor of slavery earned him goodwill with Southern senators and defeating Sumner’s resolution. Benjamin’s arguments for slavery emphasized “legal obligations,” legal precedent, and the constitution, which was his prime way to show support of slavery.

On March 11, 1858, Benjamin’s political views of slavery were on full display as he defended the Kansas Bill on legal grounds in the Senate in an impassioned speech, “Slavery Protected by the Common Law of the World.”Since 1854, Kansas was at the center of the slavery debate. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act voided the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and gave territories the choice to determine if they will enter the union as free or slave states. Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas’popular sovereignty was pulling Kansas apart as it became Bleeding Kansas with violence that erupted between slave and free soilers. Both the proslavery and antislavery factions created competing governments and constitutions. The proslavery faction set up a government in Lecompton, Kansas, and wrote their constitution, looking for Congress to admit Kansas into the union as a slave state. President James Buchanan supported the Kansas Bill admitting it as a slave state, and wanted Congress to pass the bill. However, a champion of popular sovereignty, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, opposed the Lecompton Constitution.

Benjamin’s argument was in defense of the laws of both popular sovereignty and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857 declaring that slavery legal in the country and not just the South, and that Congress and state legislatures could not enact legislatures to the contrary. Benjamin argued that the slaves are private property and the laws need to be respected, “As long as the constitution of my country endures,” it is his “constitutional duty to perform the most sacred of all obligations.”Benjamin supported the Dred Scott decision on legal grounds. Despite believing the Democratic Party could spare the Union, he openly attacked Douglas, stating, “The Senator from Illinois would have us believe that this is an abandonment of the principle of popular sovereignty… [It] is its very essence.” To Benjamin, Lecompton was “the legitimate fruit of the Kansas bill,” and declared his intention, “For that act, I will vote.” His speech indicated a rift in the Democratic Party over Kansas. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House. Maury Wiseman, in his article, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” argued, “While Benjamin was never wed to the peculiar institution, an analysis of his speech on the Kansas Bill depicts an individual firmly bound to its legal sanctity. Benjamin’s views on slavery resonated with the Talmudic expression, ‘the law of the land is the Law,’ and they corresponded to those of many white southerners, including southern Jews.” [97]

Views on Secession

While it is challenging to determine Benjamin’s personal opinions on any relevant issue, including Judaism, slavery, and secession, a picture emerged from Benjamin’s published speeches on his public views. Although he rose to the top of the Confederate ranks, Benjamin never had a fanatic loyalty to either slavery or secession. Benjamin’s opinions were pragmatically rooted in the laws and the Constitution. Most of the historians who have written about Benjamin do not believe he thought of secession before Lincoln’s election, mostly since he was the last to resign from the Senate. Historians find that Benjamin was conflicted, not an agitator but resolved to secession and therefore not responsible for pushing the South towards it. Before his death, Benjamin wrote to Francis Lawley about secession’s inevitability, “Such mighty convulsions which amount indeed to revolutions, are never the work of individuals, but of divided nations.” According to Meade, “The aggressive stand Benjamin advocated was to be made within the Union. There is no indication that he ever advocated secession before December 1860… apparently against his better judgment.” Evans, however, puts Benjamin further from the forefront of the secession movement. Evans claims Benjamin was “part of the small band of moderates who had tried to hold the union together but were not able to compromise on slavery.” [98]

In contrast, Geoffrey D. Cunningham, in his article “‘The ultimate step:’ Judah P. Benjamin and secession,” finds that by examining Benjamin’s speeches, it is clear that Benjamin saw this as a solution for the South early on. Cunningham explains, “Benjamin’s speeches, which comprise the largest extant body of sources, reveal Benjamin to have embraced the logic of secession early in his career. While never a fire-eater or an extremist, Benjamin publicly embraced secession’s logic with remarkable rapidity.”[99] To Cunningham, Benjamin was “Neither a closeted secessionist nor conflicted about the South’s right of revolution; Benjamin emerges as a stalwart adherent of secession’s logic and political power. No doubt wary of secession’s consequences, Benjamin nevertheless employs the South’s chief political weapon regularly and confidently in his debates with adversaries.”[100]

Benjamin became resigned to the probable inevitability of secession by 1855, whereas Davis was far more conflicted even by 1860. In 1855, Benjamin expressed in the Senate, “Every day I am more and more persuaded [conflict] is becoming inevitable.” Later he argued more forcefully, “When those guarantees shall fail, and not till then, will the injured, outraged South throw her sword into the scale of her rights, and appeal to the God of battles to do her justice.” Davis was more conflicted about secession, according to poet Robert Penn Warren “Even … as a leading exponent of Southern rights, [Davis] found it hard to face the logically ultimate step of secession.” [101]

On February 23, 1855, during the Senate session, Benjamin made his first reference to secession going beyond defending slavery in a heated exchange with Free Soil Party Senator Salmon P. Chase of Ohio over the Fugitive Slave Act, liberty laws, and nullification. Benjamin accused the North of corrupting the constitution and accused them of being aggressors towards the South, stating, “I am not going too far in stating that the whole course of northern legislation upon this subject … has been a course of direct war upon the South.” In his address made his first allusion to secession and civil war to defend Southern rights. Benjamin declared:

“If the time must come when southern men shall be driven into their last entrenchments before the superior power of a numerical majority that listens to no reason, that admits of no discussion, that uses for its rule nothing but brute power … I believe the South will, with one voice say … if you believe yourselves degraded by being members of the same Government with us, let us part in peace.” He scaled back on saying he would “assist in averting that last, lamentable catastrophe to the remotest possible time” but Benjamin lamented, “Every day I am more and more persuaded [conflict] is becoming inevitable.”[102]

Cunningham argues that on May 2, 1856, Benjamin’s most notable Senate speech on the Senate floor, first denoted the South as a single unit, when he demanded the outright acceptance of the Southern interpretation of the Constitution. “In the later part of the speech, Benjamin announced that he would be joining the Democratic Party seeing as the only means to save the union. In the first part of his address, Benjamin declared a threat of secession if the North does not respect the South’s constitutional rights. Benjamin expressed, the South “has no longer any compromises to offer or accept. She looks to those contained in the Constitution itself. By them she will live; to them, she will adhere…. then she will calmly and resolutely withdraw.” Benjamin calls it the “ultimate step” and puts it on par with the reasons the colonies declared independence. Benjamin explained, “The principle that underlies” the American government is “the equality of the free and independent States which that instrument links together in a common bond of union… Take away this league of love; convert it into a bond of distrust, of suspicion, or of hate; and the entire fabric which is held together by that cement will crumble to the earth.”[103]

Benjamin’s speech was the first time he openly declared that civil war would be inevitable if the South would not extend slavery in the Western territories. Benjamin expressed, “When those guarantees shall fail, and not till then, will the injured, outraged South throw her sword into the scale of her rights, and appeal to the God of battles to do her justice…. I say her sword because I am not one of those who believe in the possibility of a peaceful disruption of the Union. It cannot come until every possible means of conciliation has been exhausted… It cannot come until every angry passion shall have been roused… until brotherly feeling shall have been converted into deadly hate.” “[T]hen, sir, with feelings embittered by the consciousness of injustice, or passions high wrought and inflamed, dreadful will be the internecine war that must ensue.” The South “be compelled in self-defense to wage a continual, unremitting war in which no sacrifice would be too costly …”[104]

In his conclusion, Benjamin used Biblical imagery to infer a potential civil war. Benjamin stated, “As the designs of the enemy become more and more developed, the patriot band will be augmented with fresh recruits. Yes, sir; let the note of alarm be sounded through the land; let the people only be informed; let them be told of the momentous crisis which is at hand; they will rise in their might, placing their heel on the head of the serpent that has glided into their Eden, they will crush it to the earth, once and forever.” [105]

By 1860, The Democratic Party split into North and South factions with two different nominees; Benjamin again ranked up his secessionist rhetoric. Then after Lincoln was elected president, secession became an all-out conclusion to all proslavery southerners. On December 9, 1860, Benjamin wrote to Samuel Barlow, and described secession as a “wild torrent of passion which is carrying everything before it … It is a revolution … of the most intense character … and it can no more be checked by human effort … than a prairie fire by a gardener’s watering pot.” In his farewell address to the Senate, Benjamin again revived his view that secession and civil war was the only answer for the South. Davis called the day he resigned from the Senate “the saddest day of my life.” However, Benjamin looked forward to the prospects of the new southern confederacy. As with most Southern Jews, he was more ardent in his public views supporting both slavery and then secession than his Christian counterparts and colleagues. Cunningham finds that Benjamin was a “redoubtable defender of slavery and an unyielding sentinel for secession’s logic years before an imminent crisis demanded action”still, he “had never championed disunion, and he had turned to the Democratic Party in the hope that such an event might be forestalled or avoided.”[106]

Benjamin’s ardent secessionist views were in keeping with the views of Southern Jews. Jews in the South were loyal to slavery, the Southern way of life, and the Confederate cause. As Abolitionist Rabbi Bernhard Felsenthal observed, “Israelites residing in New Orleans are man by man — with very few exceptions — ardently in favor of secession, and many among them are intense fanatics.”[107] Most Southern Jews supported the South’s secession from the Union and the newly established Confederacy, whether they were citizens of the South for many years or recently arrived immigrants. The South had been beneficial to its Jewish population; they flourished economically, politically, and socially in a Christian society, virtually without anti-Semitism.

Most Jews, however, believed their support for the Confederacy; states’ rights and slavery were the keys to maintaining acceptance as a part of the white majority. As Williams writes, “During the Civil War, Jews defended the system which ensured them acceptance and success in the South,” [108] While Clive Webb indicates, “Through their loyal support for secession, Southern Jews, therefore, hoped to reinforce their social acceptance.” [109] Rosen also recounts, “The Charleston Jewish community gave its enthusiastic support to the Confederacy. Having found in South Carolina from colonial times a haven from religious persecution, a freedom to practice their religion, and the freedom to engage in all forms of commerce, the Jews of Charleston showed great devotion to the Confederate cause.” [110]

They supported slavery and states’ rights that were the prime motivators for secession and the Civil War. As Jacob Rader Marcus explains, “Some Southern Jews, as we have already noted, were particularly fervent in their advocacy of slavery and of the rights of the South. In defense of a cause that was holy to them, they were willing to sacrifice their lives, and they did.”[111] Webb concludes it best, claiming, “Nothing better defines the depth of Jewish support for the South and the institution of slavery than the Civil War. Southern Jews were staunch supporters of secession and war.” [112] Lewis M. Killian explains, “What ever their status may have been in the South, Jewish southerners were loyal to the Confederacy and supported slavery with greater unity than their northern co-religionists opposed it. One historian has observed: ‘If the rabbis of the North were in…through disagreement about the Jewish approach to slavery and abolitionism, it is not surprising to that their Southern colleagues gave complete support to the slave system.’” [113] Slavery’s economic benefits helped in Southern Jews’ support for the Confederacy. Killian indicates, “With ties to the plantation economy and subject to the passions of the times, the majority of Southern Jews were for the continuation of the slavery system.” [114]

State Rights were directly related to the expansion of slavery a central issue of contention between the North and South. Solomon Cohen wrote to his aunt, “Now we of the South, seeing that public opinion, the law of the land in the North, is against all that we hold valuable … and that the government is about to pass into the hands of those who hate us and our institutions, feel that prudence and self-defense demand that we should protect ourselves.” [115] Although Southern Jews would not admit that they fought to uphold the institution of slavery after the war, they openly expressed that states’ rights were their prime concern.

Southern Jews may have been more loyal to the South and Confederacy when war broke out, but it was not only because they fervently agreed with the South’s cause; they feared anti-Semitic repercussions could occur if they did not lend their full support. Webb argues, “Spread thinly throughout the vast region, the Jews in the South tended to avoid taking public stands on controversial issues. When the issue of slavery tore the country in two during the Civil War, for example, Southern Jews largely accepted slavery and supported the South.” [116] They may have feared the possibility of anti-Semitism in the South; they knew anti-Semitic occurrences in the North, which increased throughout the war. With the frequent anti-Semitic attacks against him, as with the remaining community of Southern Jews, Benjamin needed to more fervent in support for not only slavery but also secession.

Chapter 4 Confederate Cabinet Secretary 1861–63

Confederate Attorney General

After a provisional Confederate Congress elected Davis president, on February 25, 1861, Davis appointed Benjamin as the Confederacy’s first Attorney General. Benjamin served as Davis’ right-hand man, working on setting up the government. Historian William C. Davis indicated in his book, A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy, “For some, there was next to nothing to do, none more so than Benjamin.” [117] Many of Benjamin’s suggestions, which might have helped the Confederacy, were also ignored, including selling stored cotton to Britain or European countries in exchange for arms and supplies, but the Cabinet dismissed that the war would last that long. Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker, however, remarked, “There was only one man there who had any sense, and that man was Benjamin.”[118] Benjamin also hosted dignitaries and gave some legal opinions as no Justice Department was established so early on. As a war hero and former Secretary of War, Davis often overrode Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Walker of Alabama. When the press criticized the Walker for not winning any more battles after the First Battle of Manassas, he resigned in September and joined the Confederate army as a Brigadier General, leaving Davis decided to appoint Benjamin as Secretary of War.

Confederate Secretary of War

Davis chose Benjamin because he wanted a trusted friend who would allow him to control the military decisions in the Civil War without question and take the blame just as easily. During that time, Benjamin proved loyal to Davis as they embarked on a defensive military strategy. Evans points out how vital Varina Davis was to forging the working relationship between two untrusting people, Davis and Benjamin. Evans explains, “Varina Howell Davis was the crucial element that fostered the growth of trust between the two men and made it sustain itself.”[119] Varina Davis observed, “It was to me a curious spectacle, the steady approximation to a thorough friendliness of the President and his War Minister. It was a very gradual rapprochement, but all the more solid for that reason.” [120] Benjamin utilized Jewish stereotypes to his advantage, as Evans describes, “He would turn prejudice to his favor and play on the Southerner’s instinctive respect for the Jewish mind with a brilliant performance.” [121] Despite his loyalty and brains, Benjamin had no military experience and could not deal with the Confederate army’s ongoing problems, including lack of soldiers, officers, arms, and ships.

Benjamin had problems throughout his tenure, especially with the generals, including General P.G.T. Beauregard and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Benjamin chastised Beauregard, who has just won the Battle of Bull Run. When General Beauregard decided “to recruit volunteers for adding a rocket battery to his command,” calling it a “defect of judgment.”[122] Jefferson refused to placate Beauregard because he feared Beauregard wanted the Confederate presidency. In 1862, Jackson wanted to resign over Benjamin, recalling his troops left in West Virginia under William W. Loring, without supplies. Lorring wanted the troops recalled by the War Department. However, when Benjamin complied with Davis’ approval, Jackson wanted to quit but was convinced otherwise. Benjamin’s most significant problem was with the state governments’ conflicting demands, who requested troops returned home for defense.

The loss at the Battle of Roanoke became part of Benjamin’s near downfall. Roanoke was in danger after Cape Hatteras in North Carolina fell to the Union forces and with it some ports in the vicinity while Norfolk, Virginia, would be at risk by land. General Henry A. Wise demanded more troops and supplies to defend Roanoke. Benjamin and the War Department could not send any help because of the blockade, and Benjamin and Davis thought the troops Wise had could off the Union Army. Neither Benjamin nor Davis would let Wise know they had no arms to send. Only Benjamin, Davis, and his wife Varina knew the truth about the lack of supplies. Benjamin and Davis underestimated the number of Union forces that attacked Roanoke in February 1862. Union General Ulysses S. Grant took Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee, and the Confederates faced their most significant strategic losses in the war. Wise put the blame entirely on Benjamin, something Benjamin agreed to do for Davis. General Wise’s family blamed Benjamin personally because one of the general’s sons, Captain Jennings Wise, died at Roanoke. The Confederate Congress wanted to censure Davis for Roanoke instead of blaming Davis; Benjamin took the fall and resigned as Secretary of War. A letter from Benjamin explained why he took the fall for Davis:

I consulted the President whether it was best for the country that I should submit to unmerited censure or reveal to a congressional Committee our poverty and my utter inability to supply the requisitions of General Wise, and thus run the risk that the fact should become known to some of the spies of the enemy, of whose activity we were well assured. It was thought best for the public service that I should suffer the blame in silence, and a report of censure on me was accordingly made by the Committee of Congress.[123]

Benjamin and the Rise of Anti-Semitism in the South

As the situation in the Civil War was becoming increasingly worse for the Confederacy, Southerners’anti-Semitism arose. Before the war, Southerners kept these sentiments publicly to a minimum, and Jews were, for the most part, tolerated in Southern society. As Korn writes, “Granted an original suspicion and dislike of the Jew before the War, the four-year-long travail of the Confederacy was certain to emphasize it.”[124] The rise in anti-Semitism commenced as the war turned towards the worse for the South, defeat was imminent, and the economy worsened with food and supplies challenging to acquire as the war raged on. Jews were blamed because their religion differed, clashing with the Christian Fundamentalism of the Confederate South, Jews’roles as merchants, and Benjamin’s prominent political role in the Confederate government as Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. Anti-Jewish sentiment magnified after the South lost the war; the blame shifted over to the Southern population, even though very few Jews had political or economic power.

The religious fervor in the South translated from the Confederacy as a chosen nation, in defeat that God punished them for sinning; they looked at Jews’economic and political involvement as part of that sinfulness. Southern Christians began to blame the Jewish leaders of the Confederacy for the South’s loss. Historian Diane Ashton recounts, “Denunciations of Jews became more commonplace during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Southerners explained their defeat as God’s chastisement for widespread sinfulness.”[125] The Confederate anti-Jewish feelings, however, were mostly reserved for Judah Benjamin and Jewish merchants. Southern newspapers and magazines attacked Jews emphasizing their otherness, calling them “Yankees among us.” These newspapers also invoked the common anti-Semitic call from Europe, referring to them as “Shylocks, because Jews often worked as merchants.”[126]

The Northern press had a special hatred for Benjamin. Although Benjamin did not practice Judaism and married a Catholic, he still identified as Jewish. The Northern press did not mention Benjamin often, but when they did, they made sure to reference he was Jewish as a derogatory note to prove Jews were traitors as Benjamin. Benjamin’s actions as Secretary of War also were a catalyst that led to the rise of anti-Semitism in the South. [127]

Union general anti-Jewish sentiment served as the primary example of the anti-Semitism Jews experienced from the press and the public. As Korn indicates, “Some of the most prominent persons in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews.”[128] One of the worst offenders was Major General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, whom the Confederacy named the “Beast.” According to Korn, Butler considered Jews “a tightly-knit and highly-organized nation who set themselves apart and defended themselves against others even when one of their group was wrong.” Butler considered them all “traders, merchants, and bankers.” Butler found the only Jews he came across had “been principally engaged in the occupations [i.e., smuggling] which caused the capture which has occasioned this correspondence.” He accused all Jews of being disloyal and “supporting the Confederacy with whole heart” pointing out, “two of them certainly are in the Confederate Cabinet,” although only Judah Benjamin was Jewish. [129]

Evans notes, “Butler had a special penchant for attacking Jews.” Butler had said of Jews, “The most active agents and the most effective supporters [of the Confederacy] have been the same quasi-foreign houses, mostly Jews… who all deserve at the hands of the Government what is due to the Jew Benjamin, Slidell, Mallory, and Floyd.” Butler verbally attacked Benjamin’s family, he “called” Benjamin’s brother-in-law “a Jew famed for a bargain.” Butler stereotyped Jews as dealing with money and working as money brokers, claiming, Money brokers “were principally Jews. Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of State was a Jew, and his brother-in-law was a broker. I suppose there were some of the Jew who get true intelligence from Richmond.” Butler’s anti-prejudice derived mostly for his hatred of Benjamin and wrote, “Progenitor of the tribe of Benjamin, the Jewish Secretary of State.”[130]

Butler also made sure to make miserable the lives of Benjamin’s family in New Orleans. An English acquaintance of Benjamin recounted, “Mr. Benjamin told me that his property had lately been confiscated in New Orleans and that his two sisters had been turned, neck, and crop, into the streets there with only one trunk, which they had been forced to carry themselves. Everyone was afraid to give them shelter, except an Englishwoman, who protected them until they got out of the city.”[131]

After Butler issued his infamous women’s order-making war with the women of New Orleans, Benjamin sent a letter to Slidell, giving perspective at his outrage over Butler’s actions.

The press of the civilized world has already informed you of the nature of tyranny exercised over the unfortunate city by the brutal commander who temporarily rules over it. The order inviting his beastly soldiery to treat the ladies of New Orleans “as women of the town pursuing their avocation”is not only authentic but has been tacitly approved by his government… His thousand similar acts of atrocities…. All combine in stamping upon him and upon the Government which sustains and supports him indelible infamy. [132]

Future Vice President and President Andrew Johnson was also imbued with anti-Jewish prejudice. In a February 28, 1861, interview the then-Senator from Tennessee spoke to Charles Francis Adams, and Johnson unleashed on Senate colleagues David Levy Yulee and Judah Benjamin. Johnson said of Yulee, “There’s that Yulee, miserable little cuss! I remember him in the House — the contemptible little Jew-standing there and begging us-yes! begging us to let Florida in as a State. Well! we let her in, and took care of her, and fought her Indians, and now that despicable little beggar stands up in the Senate and talks about her rights.” Johnson also went on about Benjamin, “There’s another Jew-that miserable Benjamin! He looks on a country and a government as he would on a suit of old clothes. He sold out the old one, and he would sell out the new if he could in so doing make two or three million!” [133]

“Parson” William Ganaway Brownlow of eastern Tennessee demonstrated one of the worst anti-Jewish prejudices of all newspaper editors in the Union and supported Grant’s expulsion order against the Jews. Brownlow was a Methodist “circuit-rider” who became a partisan press publisher, whom Korn describes as a “vociferous propagandist for causes all his life.”[134] In 1856, Brownlow advocated for the nativist Know-Nothing Party with anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. At the time, Brownlow wrote a book of editorials and speeches, Americanism Contrasted with Foreignism, Romanism, and Bogus Democracy, in the Light of Reason, History, and Scriptures; in which Certain Demagogues in Tennessee and elsewhere, are Shown up in their true Colors. Korn explains, “It was a revelation of a man goaded to hatred. Less a religious zealot than a fanatic who latched his neurosis on to a religious vehicle, more a demagogue than an orator, more a propagandist than a journalist, Brownlow was a dangerous enemy for anyone to make.”[135]

Brownlow’s hatred reached new heights after Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin imprisoned him and banned him to the North. Brownlow was part of the “anti-Confederate forces in the Tennessee highlands.”Benjamin had him captured but chose to send him to Union territory, not to make Brownlow a martyr. Instead, Brownlow attacked Benjamin in his book, Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession; with a Narrative of Personal Adventures among the Rebels. In another book, he called Benjamin and all other Jews “Christ-killers,”writing, “no more mercy from [ Benjamin ] than was shown by his illustrious predecessors towards Jesus Christ.” In a speech Brownlow wrote, Benjamin “threatened to hang [me] with or without evidence. My only wonder was that he did not threaten to crucify me.” [136]

Historian Henry L. Feingold, in his book Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, also reiterates that Benjamin was blamed for war losses because of his religion instead of his actual policies and military decisions. The Confederate Congress wanted to censure Benjamin for not sending troops and supplies to Roanoke. They created a committee to investigate the reasons behind Benjamin’s decision for which he testified. Feingold recounts, “In 1862 Judah Benjamin, who had suffered much calumny because of his being Jewish, was censured by the Confederate Congress for failing to send war supplies to Roanoke and thus causing its loss to the Union Army. He did not reveal that if he had complied with Roanoke’s request, Norfolk would have been left vulnerable.”[137]

After Benjamin’s turn as Secretary of War, anti-Semitism exploded in a desperate South, with Benjamin the pride target. Lauren Winner, in her article “Taking up the cross: conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” states, “Benjamin was only one of the many Confederate Jews whom Confederate Christians plugged into age-old stereotypes of the Jew qua extortionist, thief, shylock, of Jews driven by, in the words of historian John Higham, “cunning” and “avarice.” [138] Benjamin was the scapegoat that represented the cause for most of the anti-Semitism in the South during the war. As Evans explains, “The virulence of the times, which saw an outpouring of anti-Semitism such as no previous period in American history, required a symbolic figure as a catalyst for an ancient hostility.”[139] According to historian Leonard Dinnerstein in his book Anti-Semitism in America, Benjamin was “the archetypal perfidious Jew and while “Southern antisemites resented him… he suffered no undue attacks while an attorney in Louisiana, or as a United States Senator representing the state from 1853 through 1861, many confederates attributed military losses and diplomatic failures to his being Jewish.”[140]

Actions as Secretary of War

The Confederate side also found Kentuckians to have divided loyalties. On September 10, 1861, “General Albert Sidney Johnston was placed in command of Confederate Department №2, a military monstrosity that stretched all the way from the Appalachian Mountains in the east to the Indian Territory in the west.”[141]Johnson was a native Kentuckian, and he appointed Buckner his brigadier general ordering him to occupy Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the south of the state. When Johnston arrived in late October, he also found Kentuckians less than excited to join the Confederate army, the same enthusiasm gap as with the Union army. Johnston complained to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, “There are thousands of ardent friends to the South in the state, but there is apparently among them no concert of action.”[142] In the last months of 1861, there was military action in Kentucky with both the Union and Confederacy clashing. As Harrison observes, “More than a score of other Kentucky communities also experienced their first taste of the war during the closing months of 1861.”[143]

The Confederate Kentucky shadow government represented a minority of Kentuckians. As Rawley notes, it “never amounted to more than a rump of the people.” Soon, however, Confederate Kentucky leaders were forced to leave their capital of Bowling Green. They could not raise taxes but raised volunteers for twenty companies for the Confederate army as prescribed in a December 23, 1861, Confederate law. When the Confederacy required Kentucky to raise 46,000 soldiers for the army, Secretary of War Judah Benjamin knew Kentucky could not do it. In a February 3, 1862, letter to Governor Johnson, Benjamin wrote, “under the peculiar circumstances in which Kentucky is placed and the difficulties which embarrass her authorities, I cannot hope that you will be able at present to meet this call.…” The Confederate Treasury kept the Kentucky government alive.

Judah Benjamin, as the Secretary of War and then State for the Confederate government, took the blame for many of the South’s defeats and problems. Anti-Semitism fueled the outcry against Benjamin, and he could not escape the rise of anti-Semitism in the South and the increase in the North. The press in both North and South villainized Benjamin with anti-Semitic overtones. In her diary, southern patriot Mary Chestnut recalled, “the mob calls him Mr. Davis’s pet Jew.” The Richmond Examiner thought it was “blasphemous” that a Jew held such a high post in the Confederate government. The anti-Semitic attacks used age-old stereotypes on Jews that Jews thought they escape in America, especially in the South. The press thought Benjamin was not sending arms and supplies to make a profit. A Methodist minister in Nashville called Benjamin “a little pilfering Jew . . . one of the tribes that murdered the Savior.”[144] At the same time, Christian ministers thought that with the Jewish Benjamin serving in the Confederate cabinet, God was not listening to the Confederacy’s prayers.

Benjamin’s fellow Confederates also abhorred him mostly for his Jewishness. Thomas R. R. Cobb, “a brigadier general and member of the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy,” referred to Benjamin as “a grander rascal than this Jew Benjamin does not exist in the Confederacy, and I am not particular in concealing my opinion of him.” Confederate Congressman Henry S. Foote of Tennessee referred to Benjamin as Judas Iscariot Benjamin. Foote made it known he “would never consent to the establishment of a supreme court of the Confederate States as long as Judah P. Benjamin shall continue to pollute the ears of majesty Davis with his insidious counsels.”[145] The fact that Benjamin was a Jew led a citizen of North Carolina and Confederate clerk, John Beauchamp Jones, to swear, “All the distresses of the people were owing to a Nero-like despotism, originating in the brain of Benjamin, the Jew.”[146] Beauchamp’s Civil war diary, “A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital,” was filled with anti-Semitism much directed at Benjamin. Years later, in 1936, Wise’s grandson called Benjamin “the fat Jew sitting at his desk,” while Wise’s other grandson went on an anti-Semitic diatribe in his 1899 book The End of an Era blaming Benjamin for the entire fall of the Confederacy. [147]

Chapter 5 Confederate Secretary of State 1863–65

Confederate Secretary of State

Despite Confederate military failures, in March 1862, Davis appointed Benjamin to a third cabinet post as Secretary of State. He was responsible for getting Britain and the European nations to recognize the Confederate States of America and aid them in the war. Despite his loyalty to Davis and the Confederacy, Southerners, especially in Virginia, never forgave him for Roanoke. Varina Davis in her memoirs acknowledged, “While many of their constituents objected to Mr. Benjamin retaining the portfolio of War, because of reverses which no one could have averted, the President promoted him to the State Department with a personal and aggrieved sense of injustice done to the man who had now become his friend and right hand.” [148] Benjamin was indispensable to Davis, working ten to twelve hours a day by his side, serving as a speechwriter and trusted confident.

The Confederacy’s Secretary of State Robert M. T. Hunter resigned in March 1862 after disagreeing with Davis. The Confederate president chose to save his friend Benjamin and appointed him to the post on March 17, 1862, and despite objections, the Senate confirmed Benjamin quickly. Benjamin had two jobs as Secretary of State “to gain support from England and France and gain recognition as an independent nation.”[149] The Confederacy needed England and France to support them before the rest of Europe would recognize them as a country. England most objected to the Confederacy because of their continuing slavery. Davis refused to abolish slavery even when Benjamin suggested it as a last-ditch effort before surrender.

Both Britain and France were more interested in negotiating when the Confederacy would win in battles, but it became more difficult in defeat, especially after Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863. The Confederacy’s best opportunity for recognition was in June 1862, after General Robert E. Lee’s victory at the Seven Days Battle. There Lee successfully defended the Confederate capital of Richmond against Union General George B. McClellan. France’s Napoleon III was receptive to the Confederacy and Benjamin’s overtures. Confederate diplomat John Slidell offered to France 100,000 bales of cotton in exchange for France’s intervention. Referred to as Cotton Diplomacy, the Confederacy was able to acquire a 15 million dollar loan from France to be paid with seven percent interest. The Confederacy could not unload cotton they had stored, which Davis refused to import to countries that would not recognize the Confederacy. The struggling South received money for arms they desperately needed.

The Confederate loss at Antietam only increased the British interest in intervening; they viewed the bloody loss as a stalemate. Britain considered President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Confederate territories as a farce. They wanted to end the interruption of imports from America that were affecting their citizens from the blockade. Benjamin made headway in October 1862, when the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, remarked that the Confederacy “have made a nation.” France suggested that Britain, France, and Russia interfere, forcing a six-month armistice to the fighting and blockade for negotiations between the North and South. The British Government was not as enthusiastic, and with War Secretary George Cornewall Lewis’recommendation, in November 1862, they decided to wait until the Confederates won the war to recognize them as a country. Britain wanted an end to slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation and Union victory would ensure it, and Davis would not allow Benjamin to use freeing the slaves to entice British recognition.

Benjamin negotiated one other successful loan from the banker Baron Frederic Emile d’Erlanger and his firm Erlanger et Cie, which provided a commission to Erlanger and allowed the bondholder to buy cotton at a reduced price when “the South won the war.” Although, under the Treasury Department, Benjamin negotiated terms favorable to the Confederacy that allowed them to keep up their payments. In October 1863, after losses in Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the British consul in Savannah went as far as barring their citizens from fighting for the Confederacy. In turn, with Davis out of Richmond, Benjamin convened a cabinet meeting and expelled the British consuls.

Evans finds that Benjamin was serving as an acting president of the Confederacy, and therefore the first Jewish president. Jane Singer indicates in her book The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union notes, “In the last year of the war when Benjamin with autonomy often making decisions on his own, the Confederate president was forever grateful.”[150] Benjamin was also responsible for the Confederate Secret Service who conducted covert attacks in the North aimed at crippling Lincoln politically and boosting the Peace Democrats; it included the St. Albans Raid and an attempt at burning down New York City. The actions led to suspicions that Benjamin and Davis planned Lincoln’s assassination.

Emancipating the slaves and using them as soldiers might have saved the Confederacy. In 1863, the concept of using slaves in the Confederate army was suggested to Benjamin; he refused because Davis objected to the idea. James Spence, a British financial agent through emancipation, would gain British recognition. Benjamin let him remain in the government before dismissing him in late 1863. In early 1864, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee suggested emancipating the slaves and having them serve in the Confederate army, but Davis refused the idea. Evan recounts, “Benjamin had been thinking in similar terms for much longer, and perhaps the recommendation of so respected an officer was just the impetus he needed.”[151]

Benjamin had considered the idea ever since Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation; he thought the idea of a Confederate Emancipation Proclamation would be beneficial to the war and save the south. The concept would be an exchange; the slaves who served in the army would gain freedom when the Union captured a town or city or location they did the same. Benjamin stated, “The true issue is it better for the Negro to fight for us or against us?”[152] Benjamin also believed “the action of our people on this point will be of more value to us abroad than any diplomacy or treaty-making.” Evans explains, the problem was “The whole Southern “way of life” rested upon slavery. To abandon it precipitously might create social chaos that would plunge the nation into anarchy.”[153]

The Confederacy was already on the brink. According to Evans, “For all the risks, there was no doubt in Benjamin’s mind that Emancipation could be the one stroke to save the South from defeat.”[154] Benjamin tried to convince Lee and Confederate military aides about the concept in 1864. He met with resistance when he mentioned Richmond’s idea, because to Southerners, it reflected the antithesis to slavery. In 1864, the Union victories included the capture and burning of Atlanta, Georgia, and General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea. Benjamin urged Davis to reconsider freeing the slaves for British and France support. Davis would only offer gradual emancipation ending any chance of British and French help. In 1864, Benjamin delivered his first speech in four years, speaking to 100,000 about emancipating the slaves willing to fight for the Confederacy. As late as February 1865, Benjamin pushed the idea of freeing and arming the slaves. Governor of Georgia and Secretary of Treasury, Howell Cobb, commented on the irony, “If slaves will make good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”[155] The Confederate Congress passed a bill with many restrictions in March, but it was too late to help the Confederacy. In the end, Evans notes, “The South chose [instead] to go down in defeat with the institution of slavery intact.”[156]

Chapter 6 Confederate Escape and Later Life in Britain

Escaping the Confederacy

By March 1865, the Confederate government had to consider an escape. On April 2, Lee notified the cabinet that he could not hold off the Richmond-Danville railroad much longer and urged the Confederate Cabinet to leave, which they did late at night. The cabinet made Danville the capital while Lee negotiated the surrender at Appomattox, and they held their last Confederate cabinet meeting in Danville. Davis and the Confederate cabinet became fugitives looking to evade capture by the Union forces moving to Greensboro, North Carolina, and Charlotte. On May 2, in Abbeville, South Carolina, while Davis and the cabinet were heading to Texas, Benjamin broke off saying he would be going to the Bahamas to get instructions to Confederate foreign agents. Supposedly, Abbeville was the site of the last Confederate cabinet meeting.

On May 3, Benjamin left the Confederate party, including Davis, at the South Carolina, Georgia, border, where Benjamin sought to go south through Florida and freedom. Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton would capture Davis, infamously disguised as a woman. Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm, Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory, and Postmaster General John Reagan, while like Benjamin, and Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge was also able to escape capture by leaving for Cuba. When separating, Reagan asked Benjamin where he was going, to which Benjamin responded, “To the farthest place from the United States, if it takes me to the middle of China.” Historian William C. Davis did not believe Benjamin had any plans of meeting up again with Davis, the evening before he burnt “some of his most sensitive papers.” Davis indicated in his memoir, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, “The pragmatic secretary of state almost certainly never had any intention of returning to the South once gone.”[157]

Both Benjamin and Davis were at risk of being charged as traitors and in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. According to Stone, “The New York Times called for Jefferson P. Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and John C. Breckinridge to die. The Times wrote, “the leading traitors should die the most disgraceful death known to our civilization –death on the gallows.’The price on Benjamin’s head was $40,000, dead or alive.”[158] Davis ended up spending two years in prison while fleeing Benjamin evaded any imprisonment. Benjamin knew with all the vitriolic anti-Semitism against him “they probably would have put him to death”[159]

After Lincoln’s death, the Northern press referred to Lincoln as the martyred Christ and Benjamin as Judas. Historians believe that Benjamin did not intend to return to America and certain capture. Evans believed if captured, America would have a trial like the later Alfred Dreyfus trial in France. Secretary of War Edward Stanton would have made Benjamin the scapegoat. Evans also believes Benjamin’s creation of a Confederate spy ring in Canada and their possible link afterward with Lincoln’s assassination was why Benjamin fled to Britain and remained silent about his time in the Confederate cabinet.

Benjamin’s escape through Florida out of the country is considered the stuff of legends. The New York Times reported on August 3, 1865, called it “a mythical escap[e] from Florida,” however, the paper had no idea how he succeeded to evade capture and simply wrote, “The truth is he got out of Dixie somehow.” Benjamin used two disguises to escape, one through Georgia and the second traveling through Florida. In Georgia, Benjamin dressed up as a Frenchman, wearing a “hat, goggles, cloak, and full beard,” complete with a Confederate passport, which claimed he was from France, going by the name M.M. Bonfals, Monsieur Bonfals, or Bonfals, which means “good disguise” in French Cajun. Benjamin also spoke in a broken French accent to complete his disguise. Benjamin might have traveled with Colonel H. J. Leovy, but historians differ on the fact. [160]

In Florida, Benjamin traveled disguised as a farmer. In July 1865, while already safe in the Bahamas, Benjamin recounted to his sister in a letter his escape. Benjamin wrote, “I found my successful disguise to be that of a farmer. I professed to be traveling in Florida in search of land on which to settle, with some friends who desired to move from South Carolina. I got a kind farmer’s wife to make me some homespun clothes just like her husband’s. I got for my horse the commonest and roughest equipment that I could find.”[161] Benjamin made better time than Breckinridge made and hoped to follow his route to the South of Florida, but his inability to secure a boat altered his course and instead traveled to Florida’s Gulf Coast. On the coast, loyal Confederates aided Benjamin in hiding him at a plantation on the Manatee River. While there, federal troops searched for “Confederate officials,” forcing Benjamin to hide in the woods. [162]

Benjamin again changed his disguise name, going by Mr. Howard. In Manatee’s village, former blockade-runner Captain Frederick Tresca helped Benjamin. He would serve as his guide to the coast in the high-risk seventeen-day journey, where they evaded federal forces and survived a harrowing boat trip. Benjamin worried about thieves stealing his gold as much as he did federal forces and potential capture. Mrs. Tresca sewed Benjamin gold in his waistcoat, and he parted from Tresca. From Manatee, Reverend Ezchiel Glazier helped Benjamin travel to Sarasota Bay. At the bay Benjamin again met up with Tresca and Confederate sailor H.A. McLeod.

They left Sarasota on June 23, and when they reached Gasparilla, they again were forced to hide from Federal patrols. McLeod recounted:

“We put in at Gasparilla Pass, and there was no wind; we lowered mast as soon as we got behind the island, pulled our boat under the mangrove bushes until completely hidden, lay down, and waited. The pursuing boat came on, searching diligently, and once came so near that we could hear them talking, but we kept quiet, so quiet indeed, that the above voices of our enemies, and the taunting song of the mosquitoes, against who attacks we were quite helpless, rose the hollow sound of our beating hearts.” [163]

After, they set up camp on Gasparilla Island for two days, surviving on fish and bananas but “did not light a fire for fear of being spotted.”[164]

When they reached, Knights Key Fresca secured a larger boat for their sea journey to Bimini in the Bahamas. The rough journey lasted four days. McLeod recounted the harrowing journey, writing, “Squalls and water spouts and tropical storms came near finishing us. The water came down in sheets. I took a tin pan and bailed, and Mr. Benjamin used his hat and, turning to me, said with a smile, ‘McLeod this is not like being Secretary of State.’”[165] Benjamin made the journey lively with jokes and stories, and after they reached Bimini, Benjamin paid Treca “$1,500 in gold.”

Then Benjamin was on to Nassau, booking a spot on a “small sloop.”On the way to Nassau, the ship exploded. Benjamin recounted to his sister:

“We had barely time to jump into a small skiff that the sloop had in tow before she went to the bottom. In the skiff, leaky with but a single oar, we had no provisions save a pot of rice that had just been cooked for breakfast, and a small keg of water; I found myself at eight o’clock in the morning with three negroes for my companions in disaster, only five inches of boat out of water, on the broad ocean, with the certainty that we could not survive five minutes if the sea became the least rough.” [166]

Benjamin and the sloop crew were lucky the sea was calm by the afternoon they “were rescued by a passing ship.”The ship dropped Benjamin back in Bimini, where he again “chartered” a boat. This time, the sea was calm, and after six days, Benjamin reached Nassau. After reaching Nassau, Benjamin went to Havana, Cuba. There Benjamin met up with Confederate General Kirby Smith, who escaped from Texas through Mexico then going on to Cuba.[167]

On August 6, 1865, Benjamin was set on his way to Britain, but his ship went on fire at St. Thomas. On August 30, 1865, Benjamin finally reached Southampton, England. The London Times recounted after his death, “After many hairbreadths escapes he got in an open boat, old and leaky, from Florida to the Bahamas, where he landed. He was shipwrecked on his way to Nassau in a vessel laden with sponges. A British man-of-war rescued the unfortunate passengers and carried them to St. Thomas. The steamer in which he started from this island caught fire and had to be put back. At length, Mr. Benjamin reached England.”[168]

Benjamin never went back to the United States, remaining in England. When leaving the Confederacy, he took with one hundred bales of cotton, which he sold for $20,000, supporting himself, his sisters in America, and his wife and daughter until he practiced law again. However, Benjamin still needed money, turned to write, and contributed to The London Daily Telegraph. Benjamin faced more obstacles in Britain than ever in America; he had been the Confederate secessionist, an expert in civil law, and a Jew. In Britain, it was less welcoming to a Jew than in America. Although Jews were emancipated, there were prejudices; barristers were elite British and Protestant, Jewish barristers were almost non-existent. He was described as the “prince of the Secession,” “of decidedly Jewish descent,” “a little elderly man, snuffy and ill-shaven, with nothing to captivate men” who spoke, “with a strong American accent.” Benjamin admitted he was “a Political Exile, proscribed for my loyalty to my own State.” Benjamin maximized the connections he made as Confederate Secretary of State, and even Benjamin Disraeli asked to assist him. [169]

British Barrister on the Queen’s Council

To become a barrister in England, Benjamin had to learn English Common Law. On January 13, 1866, he began studies at the Lincoln’s Inn. As a fast learner, he was called to the bar on June 6, 1866. The London Times recounted that his connections to “Lords Justice Turner and Giffard, and Lord Hatherley and Sir Fitzroy Kelley” allowed Benjamin to bypass the three years of study required. [170] Historians believe his early call to the bar might have to do with Confederate sympathies. Benjamin used his Confederate connections, including former Confederate envoy James Mason to help him secure employment by barrister Charles Pollock. Benjamin began his British law career in Liverpool, where there had been mercantile ties to the antebellum South’s cotton industry. Benjamin became a barrister arguing cases in commercial law and represented businesses in the cotton trade.

As in New Orleans, Benjamin wrote a notable book on law, A Treatise on the Law of Sale of Personal Property in 1868, which is still published as Benjamin on Sales; the book was a success and hailed by the legal world helped propel his practice. Afterward, he was awarded the honor of Queen’s Counsel for Lancashire County. In 1872, Baron Hatherley granted Benjamin a patent of precedence for his work on the “marine insurance case Rankin v Potter.” Benjamin was quickly able to gain acceptance into the upper echelons of the “gentile” British society, which MacMillan believes “gives credence to the view that his acceptance was conditioned upon his assimilation, but without any insight into Benjamin’s own thoughts, it is impossible to prove that his assimilation occurred to gain acceptance.”[171]

In his later career, he mostly argued in appeal cases where he always excelled at either the House of Lords or the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, arguing 135 cases in mercantile and trade law, particularly shipping. In 1868, Davis visited Benjamin and five other times when he visited London, seeing him for the last time in 1883. Benjamin avoided everyone else he knew from the Confederacy cutting his ties from them. Benjamin’s drive to be successful and at the center of his American political career contrasted with the obscurity that he chose afterward. Benjamin avoided discussing his role in the Confederacy except for two short letters in newspapers. The first was published in the Times of London in 1865, which defended Davis against a prison term, in the second published in 1883, where Benjamin defended himself against charges that he hide three million dollars in Confederate funds in Europe. [172] Ever the chameleon, he adapted and assimilated to circumstances while in Britain. Benjamin delved into his life as a barrister and legal scholar shedding his American and Confederate past.

Benjamin continued to visit his estranged wife and daughter, and he fell from a streetcar in Paris in 1881 during one of those trips. His injuries began a string of health problems, including diabetes and in 1882, a heart attack. In 1883, Benjamin retired from the bar and announced he would move to Paris, returning $100,000 in retainers to clients while the Bar of England threw him a farewell banquet. For the last year of his life, Benjamin again lived with his wife Natalie, in a “three-story mansion” near the current Arc de Triomphe.”

Benjamin died on May 6, 1884; although he remained a non-observant Jew, Natalie Benjamin had a Catholic priest administer last rites on Benjamin before he died. Natalie also had his funeral services in a church and buried him at the St Martin family crypt at Père Lachaise Cemetery. In 1938, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Paris chapter added a plaque to his unmarked grave. The plaque read: “Judah Philip Benjamin Born St. Thomas West Indies August 6, 1811, Died in Paris May 6, 1884, United States Senator From Louisiana Attorney General, Secretary of War And Secretary of State of the Confederate States Of America, Queen’s Counsel, London.”[173]

Conclusion

Benjamin lived in obscurity after his death as he did in the historical record, never taking credit in death, as he did not in life for his significant role in the rise and fall of the Confederacy and the course of the American Civil War. Benjamin represents a symbol of both the religious tolerance in the antebellum South to Jews because they were white, especially those that were upper class, and the worse revival of the evil scrooge anti-Semitism at its worst in America. Early on, Benjamin learned what he had to do for his ticket to the success he craved; assimilate. Benjamin assimilated and adapted every facet of his life in a way that would help him succeed in keeping his real views secret and espousing those most advantageous in aiding him in his rise to prominence. As with other Southern Jews, he overdid everything to rise above the fact he was a Jew.

From his humble beginnings, Benjamin’s brains and determination to excel academically brought him to Yale, where he had a taste of the elite. Identifying his shortcomings in status and wealth, Benjamin married a woman whose family and religion would detract from his Jewishness and open doors to New Orleans society’s upper echelons. He associated and co-wrote his legal treatise with a man whose family had political and legal connections in the city. The connections Benjamin made and his brilliant legal mind helped propel him to career and financial success. He purchased a plantation making it the grandest in Louisiana. He excelled in his political defying American acceptance of Jews at the time to the heights of the Senate, a Supreme Court, and an ambassador nomination and the top of the Confederate cabinet as the right-hand of the president because of his overzealous support of slavery, states’ rights, and secession.

Benjamin worked harder for success in politics and his legal career to gain acceptance. Benjamin needed to go beyond what others did, and those attributes were noticed. When elected to the Senate, Benjamin was described as having a “fine imagination … exquisite taste, great power of discrimination, a keen, subtle logic, excellent memory” and “admirable talent of analysis.” [174] Later, Confederate First Lady Varina Davis would describe Benjamin saying he “seemed to have an electric sympathy with every mind with which he came into contact.” Despite the anti-Semitic attacks he encountered in his career Benjamin said he had “the most courteous manner”and that “I have endeavoured, upon all occasions, that my manner towards my brother Senators should be such that whilst we differ in opinion . . . there should be left no sting behind in the debates which might occur between us, that none but the kindliest and best feelings may exist.”[175]

Still, Benjamin remained an outsider as a Jew, who, like the rest of the Southern Jewish population, tried to be more devoted, loyal, and fervent in all the South’s institutions and social constructs to avoid anti-Jewish prejudice. Legal scholar Catharine MacMillan even concurs, “Benjamin’s life, it is also argued, demonstrates how some individuals can ‘overcome’ the initial marginalization which attends the circumstances of their birth to move within the mainstream of society.”[176] Historians agree that Benjamin’s ability to turn his “weakness into strength” led to his success and his “perseverance in the face of adversity.”[177] Although historians claim he was never fanatical his zeal was still there. Benjamin was willing to publicly go beyond the necessary support for the Confederacy and Southern institutions, if not privately, and that was his ticket to acceptance. He rose to the cabinet of the new Confederate States of America and as the president’s Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man.

As with other Southern Jews, they felt they had to be more loyal and go beyond their support of the Confederacy to prove to their Christian counterparts their fidelity to the cause. Benjamin’s whiteness helped contribute to his success, especially in the South. As MacMillan indicates, “Benjamin lived in an era when he had the basic attributes (he was male and white). He could participate in civic society in the United States and the United Kingdom. This was a necessary pre-condition for success, without which all personal attributes would be meaningless.”[178] Although Benjamin “was a nonpracticing Jew, he never attempted to deny his faith.” Evans argues, “Benjamin thus must stand as a symbol of American democracy and its openness to religious minorities…. Benjamin was the main beneficiary of that emancipation and its most visible symbol in America.”[179] Benjamin’s political career amounted to many historical firsts for American Jews which Evans called a “watershed” because he became the first Jew “to be projected into the national consciousness.” At the start of the Civil War Southern Jews “were especially proud of his achievements, because he validated their legitimacy as Southerners.”[180]

Benjamin’s success mirrored the acceptance of Southern Jewry. His failing in the Civil War as Secretary of War mirrored the rise of anti-Semitism in the South. As the Confederacy lost battles and the blockade forced the mostly Jewish merchants to increase the prices, Southerners blamed Benjamin, and he had their ire. Benjamin took responsibility for the fall of the Confederacy and the South losing the war; the country went as far as to blame Benjamin for conspiring and planning President Lincoln’s assassination. Benjamin always faced anti-Semitic attacks throughout his political career, but he became the ultimate scapegoat. As Evans recounts, “A nation of Christ-haunted people searched instinctively for the Jewish scapegoat, who would make the myth complete. The Easter sermons mourning Lincoln would define Benjamin in the legend, should he be captured. The phrase “Christ-killer” had to be lodged in Benjamin’s soul a latent childhood memory.” [181] Despite Benjamin’s treason to the Union, the characterization Americans had for Benjamin was a resurgence of European anti-Semitism, blaming the Jews for Christ’s Crucifixion and anything else that went wrong, the Civil War both in the North and later in the South.

Benjamin preferred historical obscurity rather than perpetuating the anti-Semitic attacks against him and in the larger context America’s Jews. For Christians and Jews alike, he represented American Jewish success. By burning all his papers and never writing a memoir, he also refused to defend himself; he denied American and Jewish history the ability to put his life and career, success, and failure into a historical perspective. Benjamin’s life was filled with contradictions, and the theories about Benjamin in the scant amount of literature published are just that theories and assertions. No historian will ever know the real Benjamin, what drove him, how he felt about slavery, the Confederacy, or Judaism; he will always remain an enigma.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brook, Daniel. “THE FORGOTTEN CONFEDERATE JEW How history lost Judah P. Benjamin, the most prominent American Jew of the 19th century.”Tablet Magazine, July 17, 2012. https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/106227/the-forgotten-confederate-jew

Butler, Pierce. Judah P. Benjamin. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Co., 1907.

Clark, James C. Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1999.

Cunningham, Geoffrey D. “‘The Ultimate Step:’ Judah P. Benjamin and Secession.” American Jewish History, vol. 97 no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–19. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ajh.2011.0020

Davis, Jefferson. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1881.

Davis, William C. “A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Davis, William C. An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government. San Diego, Calif: Harcourt, 2001.

Dinnerstein, Leonard and Mary Dale Palsson, eds. Jews of the South, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

Downey, Arthur T. The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. New York: Free Press, 1989.

Feldberg, Michael. Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House in association with the American Jewish Historical Society, 2002.

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. “Remarks for Jewish Council for Public Affairs in appreciation for the Albert D. Chernin Award. February 18, 2002. https://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/speeches/sp_02-18-02.html

KAHN, EVE M. “Letters Reveal Doubts of Senator Judah Benjamin. The New York Times, December 31, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/01/arts/design/01antiques.html

Kite-Powell, Rodney H. II (2018) “The Escape of Judah P. Benjamin,” Sunland Tribune: Vol. 22, Article 9. http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/sunlandtribune/vol22/iss1/9

Korn, Bertram W. American Jewry and the Civil War. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001.

Korn, Bertram W. “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.”Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, pp. 153–171. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

Korn, Bertram Wallace. The Early Jews of New Orleans. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1969.

Meade, Robert Douthat. Judah P. Benjamin: Confederate Statesman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1943.

MacMillan, Catharine. “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?”Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, pp. 150–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702.

Nadell, Pamela S. and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives. Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.

Rosen, Robert N. The Jewish Confederates. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Sarna, Jonathan D, and Adam Mendelsohn. Jews and the Civil War: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2010.

Silverman, Jason H. “‘The Law of the Land is the Law’Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South,” in Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, edited by Jack Salzman and Cornel West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Singer, Jane. The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005.

Stone, Kurt F. The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2011.

Lauren F. Winner, “Taking up the cross: conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” in Catherine Clinton, ed. Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South. Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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About the Author

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

[1] David Levy Yulee is often considered the first Jewish senator; a Whig representing Florida but Yulee had already converted to Christianity upon his election to the Senate.

[2] Jane Singer. The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union, (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005), 10.

[3] Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, (New York: Free Press, 1988), xi.

[4] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xiii.

[5] Abraham J. Peck, “That Other ‘Peculiar Institution’: Jews and Judaism in the Nineteenth-Century South,” Modern Judaism, Vol. 7, №1, Feb. 1987, 99–114, 100.

[6] Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Twayne Publishers, 1974), 61.

[7] Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, (Columbia S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 15–16

[8] Greenberg, Mark I. “Becoming Southern: the Jews of Savannah, Georgia, 1830–70.” American Jewish History. 86.1 (1998): 55–75.

[9] Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 241.

[10] Webb, Fight Against Fear, 7.

[11] Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds., Jews of the South, (New Orleans: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 25.

[12] Louis Schmier “Jews” in Celeste Ray, Charles R. Wilson, James G. Thomas, and Ann J. Abadie. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Vol. 6. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006, 176.

[13] Arthur W. Bergeron Jr., Lawrence Lee Hewitt, Louisianians in the Civil War, (Columbia, MO.: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 73.

[14] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 121.

[15] Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001), 158.

[16] Stone, Kurt F. The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, (Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2011), 37.

[17] Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn. Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 37

[18] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 85, Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1881), I, 242.

[19] Daniel Brook, “THE FORGOTTEN CONFEDERATE JEW How history lost Judah P. Benjamin, the most prominent American Jew of the 19th century.” Tablet Magazine, July 17, 2012. https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/106227/the-forgotten-confederate-jew

[20] https://forward.com/news/380453/why-are-there-no-statues-of-jewish-confederate-judah-benjamin-to-tear-down/

[21] Ibid., Brook, “THE FORGOTTEN CONFEDERATE JEW” https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/106227/the-forgotten-confederate-jew

[22] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xiv, xviii.

[23] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xvi.

[24] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 22, Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 138.

[25] Ibid., Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 22, Max Raisin, A History of the Jews in Modern Times, 279–281.

[26] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, pp. 153–171. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[27] Benjamin Kaplan, “Judah Phillip Benjamin” in Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds. Jews of the South, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 75.

[28] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 398.

[29] Catharine MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?” Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, pp. 150–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702, 2.

[30] EVE M. KAHN, “Letters Reveal Doubts of Senator Judah Benjamin. The New York Times, December 31, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/01/arts/design/01antiques.html

[31] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/judah-benjamin

[32] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 38.

[33] Eli Evans lists Benjamin’s birthday as August 11, 1811, most historians and sources, however, state he was born on August 6, 1811.

[34] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 4; Robert D. Meade, Judah P. Benjamin: Confederate Statesman, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1943), 5; Pierce Butler, Judah P. Benjamin, (Philadelphia: G.W. Jacobs & company, 1907), 22.

[35] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 4, 7.

[36] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 7–8; Pierce Butler, Judah P. Benjamin, 23.

[37] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 5.

[38] The dates have varied from 1813, 1816, or as late of 1825, which was impossible considering Benjamin went to school in America.

[39] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 6.

[40] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 5.

[41] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 5.

[42] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 6.

[43] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 10.

[44] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 11.

[45] Bertram Wallace Korn, The Early Jews of New Orleans, (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1969), 187.

[46] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 4. Korn, The Early Jews of New Orleans, 21, 223.

[47] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 4.

[48] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 7.

[49] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 40.

[50] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 8.

[51] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 9. J Whitaker, Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana (New Orleans: Ferguson & Crosby, 1847), 27.

[52] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 40.

[53] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 5.

[54] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 9.

[55] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 40–41.

[56] Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step”

[57] Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. “Remarks for Jewish Council for Public Affairs in appreciation for the Albert D. Chernin Award. February 18, 2002.

[58] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 41.

[59] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 103 (50)

[60] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 103 (50)

[61] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 103 (50)

[62] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 80.

[63] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 11.

[64] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 10–11.

[65] Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step”

[66] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 42.

[67] Ibid., Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 42. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 109; https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llcg&fileName=055/llcg055.db&recNum=722

[68] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, p. 17. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[69] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xvii.

[70] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 2.

[71] Arthur T. Downey, The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 160.

[72] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, 168. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[73] Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, (New York: Free Press, 1988), 97.

[74] Whitaker, Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, 28.

[75] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 11.

[76] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 156.

[77] Ibid., Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 157.

[78] Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, (Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001), 84.

[79] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 167.

[80] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 41.

[81] Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds. Jews of the South, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 27.

[82] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 84.

[83] Wiseman, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” 109.

[84] Jason H. Silverman, “‘The Law of the Land is the Law’ Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South,” in Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, edited by Jack Salzman and Cornel West, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 73.

[85] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 91

[86] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 35.

[87] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 35.

[88] Boyce Thompson, “Judah P. Benjamin’s Homes Largely Forgotten In New Orleans, Thomson Genealogy,” February 2010. http://hompsongenealogy.com/2010/02/judah-p-benjamins-homes-largely-forgotten-in-new-orleans/

[89] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 9. J Benjamin, “Louisiana Sugar” in (1847) vol II The Commercial Review 322, 331.

[90] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 40.

[91] Silverman, “”The Law of the Land is the Law:” Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South,” 73.

[92] Ibid., Silverman, “The Law of the Land is the Law,” 73.

[93] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 8.

[94] Wiseman, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” 110.

[95] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 38, 39.

[96] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 32.

[97] Wiseman, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” 113.

[98] Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step”

[99] Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[100] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[101] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[102] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[103] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[104] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[105] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[106] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[107] Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. Lawrence Lee Hewitt, eds., Louisianians in the Civil War, (Columbia, MO.: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 75, 76.

[108] Adams and Bracey, eds., Strangers & Neighbors, 35.

[109] Webb, Fight Against Fear, 11.

[110] Robert Rosen, Confederate Jews, (Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 88.

[111] Jacob Rader Marcus, Memoirs of American Jews, 1775–1865, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955), 21.

[112] Webb, Fight Against Fear, 10.

[113] Lewis M. Killian, White Southerners, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985, 73.

[114] Ibid., Lewis M. Killian, White Southerners, 73.

[115] Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, 13.

[116] Forman, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Jewish: Desegregation in the South and the Crisis of Jewish Liberalism,” 121.

[117]William C. Davis, “A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy. New York: The Free Press, 1994, 185.

[118] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 42.

[119] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xviii.

[120] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 124.

[121] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 122.

[122] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 124.

[123] Marc Burofsky , “Judah Benjamin,” http://www.jewish-american-society-for-historic-preservation.org/images/Judah_Benjamin_Article_-.pdf

[124] Ibid., Dinerstein, Jews in the South, 136.

[125] Nadell and Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, 83.

[126] Ibid., Nadell and Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, 83.

[127] Evans, “Overview The War between Jewish Brothers in America,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 28.

[128] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 156.

[129] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 165.

[130] Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. New York: Free Press, 1988.

[131] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 168.

[132] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 168.

[133] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 169.

[134] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 166.

[135] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 167.

[136] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 167.

[137] Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2002), 93.

[138] Lauren F. Winner, “Taking up the cross: conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” in Catherine Clinton, ed. Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South, (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 196.

[139] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xii.

[140] Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America, 33.

[141] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky,

[142] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky,

[143] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky,

[144] Ibid., Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America, 33.

[145] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 38.

[146] Dinerstein, Jews in the South, 137.

[147] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 147–148.

[148] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 149.

[149] https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/judah-phillip-benjamin

[150] Singer. The Confederate Dirty War, 10–11.

[151] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 249.

[152] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 109.

[153] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 249.

[154] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 249.

[155] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[156] Michael. Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History, (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House in association with the American Jewish Historical Society, 2002), 53.

[157] William C. Davis, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, (San Diego, Calif: Harcourt, 2001), 244.

[158] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[159] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 12.

[160] Rodney H. Kite-Powell, II (2018) “The Escape of Judah P. Benjamin,” Sunland Tribune: Vol. 22, Article 9. http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/sunlandtribune/vol22/iss1/9

[161] James C. Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1999), 118.

[162] Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 118.

[163] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 119.

[164] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 119.

[165] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 120.

[166] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 120.

[167] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 120.

[168] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[169] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 13.

[170] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[171] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 13.

[172] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xii.

[173] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 44.

[174] Geoffrey D. Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step:” Judah P. Benjamin and Secession.” American Jewish History, vol. 97 no. 1, 2013.

[175] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[176] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[177] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[178] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 17.

[179] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xx.

[180] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xxi.

[181] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 317.

Preface

This essay started as a short “On this day in history,” November 21, 1861, marking Jefferson Davis appointing Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of War. I studied American Jewish history, particularly the Jewish experience in the antebellum and Civil War south, but only in passing did I know about Benjamin. I find Benjamin one of the most fascinating figures in American history and American Jewish history after a more thorough examination and reading. An often-overlooked historical figure, he achieved heights in the American Government that no Jew has yet achieved. Benjamin was the first Senator, who identified as a Jew, the first Jew nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court, he was nominated to be the Ambassador to Spain, an honor for a Jew, who came from a prominent Spanish Jewish family, and who traced their lineage to before the expulsion.[1]

Benjamin was a brilliant jurist, orator, plantation owner, sugar cane cultivator, and Confederate mastermind. The Confederacy had been welcoming to religious minorities. Benjamin, who was Jewish, married into a successful Louisiana Creole and Catholic family, excelled in an increasingly Protestant Christian evangelical majority. Benjamin long viewed secession as the inevitable solution to the North and South’s divisions over states’ rights and slavery. He served the Confederate cabinet from its inception as Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. He was longtime friend Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man and sometimes surrogate president. As historian Eli Evans indicates, Benjamin was “the brains of the Confederacy,” the Jew at “the very center of Southern history,” “in the eye of the storm that was the Civil War,” who remained in the “shadow” but took the fall as the Confederacy failed in the war. Benjamin was the leading cause of the rise of anti-Semitism in the South, the most welcoming place for Jews in America in the antebellum era.

Benjamin was also a chameleon rather than be captured by the Union Army and risk an Alfred Dreyfus (1894 France) like trial, and become the scapegoat of the North’s ire after the President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, he escaped through Florida to the Bahamas and then England. Benjamin had British citizenship from being born in the British Isle of St. Croix. Within months of his escape, Benjamin passed the British bar, and he became an equally successful barrister and eventually was chosen to be part of the Queen’s Privy Council. Through his success, Benjamin never renounced his Jewish faith despite marrying a Catholic and assimilating. Benjamin never discussed his Judaism, but it followed him, and he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from colleagues and political enemies alike. Benjamin was the consummate insider and outsider as a Jew at both times.

Benjamin never returned to the United States after the Civil War and burnt all his papers and letters. Near the end of his life in 1884, he declared in a letter, “I would much prefer that no ‘Life,’ not even a magazine article should ever be written about me…. I have never kept a diary, or retained a copy of a letter written by me…. I have read so many American biographies which reflected only the passions and prejudices of their writers that I do not want to leave behind me letters and documents to be used in such a work about myself.” Benjamin has remained a historical enigma. Very few books have been written about him, to his pleasure and the detriment to his historical legacy. No wonder Eli Evans’s 1988 book, the leading biography, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, took nine years to write.

With such thin historiography on Benjamin, his accomplishments in controversial circumstances at a critical moment in American history have been overlooked. The recent conflicts about the Confederacy’s place as part of the historical memory make biography and renewed discussion on Benjamin timely, especially since it is been thirty years since the last significant biography on his life was published. Despite reading the literature, there are still many unanswered questions on his life, his views on Judaism, and the inner working of the Confederacy, which were sometimes just Benjamin and Davis. If I would ever be asked if there is someone in history dead or alive I would like to meet, it would Benjamin to uncover the mystery of the prince of the Confederacy.

Bonnie K. Goodman

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

January 2019

Chapter 1 Introduction

Place in History

On November 21, 1861, former Senator Judah P. Benjamin took on the position which would define his place in American history, Secretary of War in the Confederate States of America. His position as Secretary of War determined the Civil War, the Southern rebel states and the Northern Union states, and the rise of anti-Semitism in America. Benjamin was one of the South’s loyal Jews, who took up preeminent positions in the new Confederate nation, reaching ranks in the government cabinet unheard of Jews anywhere even in the North, where anti-Jewish prejudice was more prevalent than in Benjamin’s South. Throughout the war as Attorney General, Benjamin in his cabinet positions, Secretary of War and Secretary of State essentially served in the most important one being Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man and acting president at times.

Historian Eli N. Evans authored Benjamin’s most prominent biography entitled Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. Evans indicates, “Benjamin served Davis as his Sephardic ancestors had served the kings of Europe for hundreds of years a kind of court Jew to the Confederacy. An insecure President [Davis] was able to trust him completely because, among other things, no Jew could ever challenge him for leadership of the Confederacy.”[2] However, as Evans indicates, “A man of his analytical skills and personal dynamism, acknowledged by scholars to have been one of America’s most brilliant legal minds and most arresting orators, could never have served merely as ‘Mr. Davis’clerk or administrative assistant.”[3] Benjamin was a great legal mind, orator. Historians long considered Benjamin “the brains of the Confederacy,” the Jew at “the very center of Southern history,” “in the eye of the storm that was the Civil War,” who remained in the “shadow” but took the fall as the Confederacy failed in the war. [4]

In the antebellum South, Southern Jews who adhered to the social norms were mostly spared anti-Semitism from their Christian neighbours. The South was an area where race was more important than religion. Jews being white led to increased social acceptance and minimal anti-Jewish prejudice. In America, with the promise of religious freedom, race as opposed to religion divided society, and nowhere was that truer in the South where slavery reigned, and even the poorest of whites saw their social status rise by their whiteness. Jews in the upper classes especially saw this as their ticket to freedom from persecution that haunted them in Europe.

Assimilation into Southern life was the best way for Jews to attain acceptance with their Southern Christian counterparts. In his article, “That Other ‘Peculiar Institution’: Jews and Judaism in the Nineteenth Century South,” Abraham J. Peck explains what assimilation meant. Peck writes, “Whereby a minority takes on many of the values and practices of the majority group.”Peck believes assimilation “was indeed possible for Southern Jewry, and may have been their only choice.”[5] Jewish support of slavery and then the Confederacy was the ticket to acceptance for Jews living in the South, and they took advantage of everything their whiteness could offer them in America.

Southern Jews had to show that they were more devoted and loyal to the south and Confederacy than their Christian counterparts to hold onto that acceptance. Jews participated in Southern practices because they wanted to feel they belonged to the chivalry and elite Southern society. Southern Jewry’s participation in the slave system was the primary method for them to belong to Southern white society and the southern political philosophy of the primacy of state’s rights over federal authority. They also partook in all Southern societal norms that would garner acceptance, including the South’s code of honor and duels.

As Henry Feingold claims in his book Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, “For their own part, Jews were anxious not to be set apart from other Southerners, owning slaves, if not for labor, then for status. They imbibed generously of its pervasive racist sentiment and participated in the ritualized violence formalized in its ‘code duello.’”[6] Historian “Mark I. Greenberg points out that Jews adopted the Southern way of life, including the code of honor, dueling, slavery and Southern notions about race and states’ rights.”[7] Greenberg also, however, notes in his article, Becoming Southern: The Jews of Savannah, Georgia, 1830–70, the devotion was more steadfast among Jews who were born in the South, writing, they “demonstrated stronger ideological dedication to and leadership in the fight for Southern rights.”[8]

For Southern Jewry adhering to the majority allowed them to be perceived by their Southern Christian neighbors as “white.” Southern Jews contrasted sharply with the slave population, move up in American society, and take part equally in the American democratic dream, a position of equality continually denied to Jews in their European countries of origin. Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer write in Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, “The views of southern Jews on race and slavery differed little from other white southerners who regarded slavery as the natural condition of blacks. An insecure minority eager to be accepted as equals by the society which they dwelled, southern Jews, like other southerners, did not challenge the slave system.” [9]

Many Jews were recent immigrants who did not want to instigate the segregationist anti-Semitism they experienced in Europe by opposing slavery. As Webb argues, “Confronted with such a hostile political climate, Jews had little choice but to accept slavery. Those who did harbor doubts about the ethics of the slave system kept such thoughts to themselves for fear of provoking an anti-Semitic backlash. Gary Zola has indeed suggested that at times this determination to avoid conflict caused southern Jews to support slavery even more aggressively than other whites.”[10] This privilege of whiteness allowed many Southern Jews to share similar experiences and beliefs about slavery as their Christian counterparts did, and Jews were devoted to the Southern cause. As Jacob Marcus writes, America’s Jews had “a readiness, if not an eagerness, to adapt themselves to the life and culture about them.”[11]

Southern Jewry’s participation in the South cultural and societal norms such as slavery and the honor code did serve as Jews’acceptance into the Christian society as white Southerners. As Lauren Winner, in her article, “Taking up the Cross: Conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” claims, “Recent scholarship has attempted to argue that Jews were accepted fully into the society of the Old South. One recent enterprising scholar claimed that Jews in antebellum South Carolina because they dueled, sported hoop skirts, and owned slaves were full participants in Southern society.”[12] Southern Jews did enjoy a relatively prejudice-free life in the antebellum South. In their book, Louisianians in the Civil War, Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. and Lawrence Lee Hewitt observe, “Nowhere else in the United States had Jews been as fully accepted into the mainstream of society. Nowhere else in the United States had Jews become as fully integrated into the political and economic fabric of everyday life.”[13] Southern Jews saw this lack of prejudice as a privilege that they held dear, and they supported the South’s peculiar institutions to hold on to this acceptance.

Benjamin adhered to Southern norms, including the support of slavery, being a plantation owner, slaveholder, and religiously assimilated. As Robert Rosen author of The Jewish Confederates, notes, “Judah Benjamin is a great example of how Southern Jews were assimilated into Southern Society. But of course, they accepted all the values of that society, including slavery.”Evans describes, “Benjamin as a Jew would have to be more loyal to the Cause than anyone else — more outspoken in the Cabinet, more courageous, and willing to wage war with the energy that total war demanded. And if he understood Jefferson Davis, loyalty to the President as the symbol to the Cause was the measure of a man’s worth to the Confederacy.”[14] Benjamin’s loyalty and adherence to Southern norms was the reason he was able to advance and in his political career despite his religion.

The acceptance Southern Jews experienced before the war allowed Benjamin to rise in the ranks of American politics and the Confederate cabinet disappeared as the situation became desperate in the Civil War. The situation was especially the case in the South, where Christian Fundamentalism took over, and anti-Semitism reared its head. Most of the anti-Semitism that spewed over to Southern Jewry during the war stemmed from Benjamin’s power and rank within the Confederacy and the missteps, blockades, and military defeats for which he took the blame. In the North, the attacks against Benjamin were commonplace even before the war. In his seminal book, American Jewry and the Civil War, American Jewish historian Bertram W. Korn recounts, “Almost every political opponent of Judah P. Benjamin referred to his name and faith. A typical case was that of Nicholas Davis of Alabama, who, in the heat of a political campaign, denounced the Louisiana Senator as that ‘infamous Jew… Judas P. Benjamin ….’” [15]

Benjamin was the most influential Jew in the American government up to that point. As Evans indicates, Benjamin “achieved greater political power than any other Jew in the nineteenth century — perhaps even in all American history.”According to Kurt F. Stone in his book, The Jews of Capitol Hill, A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, “Without question, Judah P. Benjamin is one of the most fascinating, accomplished, and talented individuals ever to grace the American political stage.”[16] Evans also points out, “Judah P. Benjamin was called ‘the dark prince of the Confederacy’ by poet Stephen Vincent Benet in John Brown’s Body.”[17] However, Benjamin faces obscurity in history because the very private Benjamin burnt all his papers but six pages, a “virtual incendiary,” leaving little record of his work for historians. Even Jefferson Davis scantily wrote about his “confident” in his 1500 page memoirs. One of the two comments Davis wrote about Benjamin was, “Mr. Benjamin, of Louisiana, 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.” [18]

In his article, “The Forgotten Confederate Jews How history lost Judah P. Benjamin, the most prominent American Jew of the 19th century,” Daniel Brook says it is the reason why “in every age, a heroic sage struggles to rescue Benjamin from obscurity — and invariably fails.”[19] There are no controversial monuments to Benjamin as there were for the other Confederate political and military heroes. [20]

During Benjamin’s lifetime, his likeness appeared on the Confederate two-dollar bill, the only Jew to have that honor in American history. Preeminent American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna explains in Brook’s article, “Non-Jews didn’t make statues of him because he was a Jew, and Jews didn’t make statues of him because he was intermarried and not really associated with the Jewish community. He kind of lost both sides.”[21]

The literature on Benjamin is very shallow. It includes Judah P. Benjamin by Pierce Butler first published in 1906, Rollin Osterweis’1933 volume Judah P. Benjamin: Statesman of the Lost Cause, Robert D. Meade’s 1944 biography, Judah P. Benjamin and the American Civil War, Martin Rywell’s Judah Benjamin: Unsung Rebel Prince from 1948, and Simon I. Nieman’s 1963 biography, Judah Benjamin: Mystery Man of the Confederacy. The complete biography is Southern historian Eli Evans’s 1988 book, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. In 2015, Don Lankiewicz wrote about Benjamin’s escape from America as the Confederacy surrendered and the Confederate Cabinet became fugitives accused of treason with the book Journey to Asylum: Judah Benjamin’s Great Escape.

In another recent study, John C. Fazio looked at conspiracy theories in his 2017 book Decapitating the Union: Jefferson Davis, Judah Benjamin, and the Plot to Assassinate Lincoln, examining how the highest levels of the Confederate government looked to assassinate Union officials for retribution, including President Abraham Lincoln. Two recent articles specifically examined Benjamin’s views and convictions on the two institutions he based his future on, slavery and secession. Maury Wiseman’s 2007 article “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery” and Geoffrey D. Cunningham’s 2013 article “‘The ultimate step:’Judah P. Benjamin and secession” attempt to determine his positions on slavery based primarily on public published addresses. Both historians determined that Benjamin’s devotion to slavery and secession was rooted in the law and predominantly the Constitution.

Evans finds that the Butler and Meade biographies are the “standard biographies of Benjamin.” Butler looked at Civil War orders and letters Benjamin sent that he could not destroy. Butler also interviewed those who knew Benjamin, including Varina Howell Davis, who knew him better than anybody else except for Jefferson Davis. Towards the end of her life, Varina Davis expressed, Benjamin’s “greatness was hard to measure… I loved him dearly.” While Meade also examined “diaries, memoirs, and papers,” including letters, he interviewed Benjamin’s family. Neither Butler nor Meade looked at his Jewish identity, gliding by his Jewishness. [22] Francis Lawley, who covered Washington and Richmond for The London Times during the Civil War, was fascinated with Benjamin and was researching to write a biography but never completed his attempt. Lawley’s letters to Varina Howell Davis provided insight into Benjamin’s views of Jefferson Davis.

Very few of the books look at Benjamin as a Jew, how his Jewish identity affected his political career and his role in the Confederate cabinet. Non-Jewish biographers were mostly anti-Semitic and stayed away from discussing Benjamin’s religion. Additionally, for many years American Jewry distanced themselves from Benjamin and his participation in the South’s rebellion. However, there was a resurgence of interest in the Confederacy in the 1930s, and American Jews followed suit. Most Jewish historians stayed away from Benjamin because “he was incomprehensible as a Jewish figure.” Evans explains, “As a Confederate leader who once owned 140 slaves, he was to those historians part of a failed culture, not a Jew whom scholars of American Jewish history could explain, and therefore it was easier to dismiss him as Jewish than try to probe him and understand him as an integral figure in American Jewish history.”[23]

Early views of Benjamin’s Jewishness came from Max J. Kohler’s 1905 biography, Judah Benjamin: Statesman and Jurist, where he called Benjamin, “Hebrew in blood, English in Tenacity and grasp of purpose.”[24] In his 1923 book, A History of Jews in Modern Times, Max Raisin recounted Benjamin’s closeness to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Raisin wrote, At the “right hand of President Jefferson Davis, sat a Jew to whom was attributed the distinction of being the ‘brains of the Confederacy.’” Raisin described Benjamin as a man “almost fanatical in his Southern patriotism … who never for a moment lost the confidence of the President who, more than upon any other member of his official family, leaned upon him in all the weightiest of problems.”[25]

American Jewish historian Bertram W. Korn analyzed Benjamin in his 1949 journal article; “Judah P. Benjamin as a Jew,” examining Benjamin’s attachment to Judaism and the Southern Jewish community. Korn looked at “What kind of Jew Judah P. Benjamin actually was.”[26] In his essay entitled, “Judah Phillip Benjamin,” Kaplan touched on Benjamin’s connection to Judaism superficially but with an American Jewish historical context. Kaplan called Benjamin a “wandering Jew, an exotic and mysterious personality, is one of the contradictions, controversies, and legend.” Kaplan also notes Benjamin was “Hated by his opponents, adored by his friends, charming, aggressive, egotistical, and brilliant, one of the most powerful and enduring forces of the Confederacy,” and “he was a man acquainted with grief, tortured with doubt about his mission in life.”[27] More recently, surveys of American Jewish history and Southern Jewry mention Benjamin. However, the only full-length book to examine Benjamin in the context of his religion is Evans’Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate and Evans makes it part of his thesis.

Benjamin wanted historical obscurity; he destroyed all his letters and papers, some when he escaped Richmond in 1865, the remaining he destroyed before his death leaving just six pieces. Late in his life in 1884, when a biographer asked for his papers, Benjamin bluntly and defiantly replied in a letter:

“I have no materials available for your purpose… I would much prefer that no ‘Life,’ not even a magazine article should ever be written about me…. I have never kept a diary or retained a copy of a letter written by me … for I have read so many American biographies which reflected only the passions and prejudices of their writers, that I do not want to leave behind me letters and documents to be used in such a work about myself.”[28]

Benjamin spent too many years vilified that he did not want to give biographers and historians an easier opportunity to continue. In destroying his papers, Benjamin is left a mystery making it easier for history to do what Benjamin feared or forget him almost entirely. Without his papers and records, it becomes difficult to criticize Benjamin because there is not enough to work from to do so, only the public image he carefully constructed at the time.

The documents that remain are law reports, limited legal documents, published speeches, newspaper reports, proceedings from the Senate and Confederate Records, and correspondence giving Benjamin’s public picture but not his private thoughts and convictions. Some correspondence remains from those to whom he wrote and who saved the letters. Every nugget gives a bit of insight into Benjamin, the man versus the jurist and politician. As MacMillan notes, “While sources allow a reconstruction of Benjamin’s life and his enormous influences, they largely fail to provide insight into Benjamin’s thoughts, perceptions, and motivations.”[29] About 100 letters from the 1850s until 1861 from Benjamin to New York banker Peter Hargous were recently discovered. In 2009, the Hargous family donated them to the American Jewish Historical Society. The letters were from Benjamin’s times as a railroad prospector. The letters reveal inward concerns, and despite his outward confidence, Benjamin was conflicted about secession, civil war, and the Confederacy. The letters show a side of Benjamin historians have barely seen in his personality. Evans remarks, “It has a voice that I’d never heard from him before, very blunt and very down, talking about failure in unadorned, unflowery language.”[30]

For many years the South blamed Benjamin for the South’s fall. As the “Brains of the Confederacy,” the North considered him the South’s “evil genius,” and the “Sphinx of the South.” While Jewish historians early on refused to acknowledge the traitor in American history and still consider him “One of the most misunderstood figures in American Jewish history.”[31] Part of the reason early American Jewish historians avoided Benjamin was his support for slavery. Evans points out, “Benjamin was fascinating because of the extraordinary role he played in Southern history and the ways in which Jews and non-Jews reacted to him. He was the prototype of the contradictions in the Jewish Southerner and the stranger in the Confederate story, the Jew at the eye of the storm that was the Civil War. Objectively, with so few Jews in the South at the time, it is astonishing that one should appear at the very center of Southern history.”[32]

Chapter 2 Benjamin Becomes New Orleans’Foremost Jurist

Benjamin’s Early Life

Benjamin was born in the West Indies on August 6, 1811, as Judah Phillip Benjamin. [33] His Sephardic observant parents moved from London to the Danish Island of St. Croix or St. Thomas, under British occupation, and then after to Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1821 to Charleston, South Carolina, looking for better opportunities. His mother, Rebecca Mendes, came from the Netherlands from the prominent Mendes family, whose origins were from pre-expulsion Spain. Rebecca Mendes was one of three daughters; her family moved to Britain and settled in wealthy Finsbury. Rebecca’s sisters married well and settled in the West Indies. In 1807 or 1808, eighteen-year-old Rebecca married fellow Sephardic Philip Benjamin, a merchant born in Nevis in his mid-twenties. Some historians claim they lived at first in London and operated a fruit store where Rebecca also worked, then moved to the West Indies. Others believe the Benjamins moved to West Indies directly after their marriage. [34]

The family’s meager existence would continue throughout Judah’s childhood and made Rebecca bitter, and she considered herself an “impoverished aristocrat.”[35] In his 1907 biography Judah P. Benjamin, Pierce Butler writes about Rebecca’s granddaughters remembering their grandmother’s pride. Butler noted, “Her granddaughter remembers even now the stern and severe rule of the old lady, resolved to hold her head high in spite of poverty. On one occasion, the prosperous sisters in the West Indies, probably suspecting the true state of affairs, sent generous chests of linen and other luxuries. Mrs. Benjamin never opened them but returned them with thanks, and the assurance that her needs were provided for.”[36]

Benjamin had British citizenship from his place of birth but also American citizenship from his naturalized father. When Judah Benjamin was born, the West Indies was under British control, allowing Benjamin to retain British citizenship his whole life, and this saved him when he escaped the Confederacy. According to Evans, that same lifeline to America’s “Revolutionary enemy” and being born in “enemy territory” on the eve of the War of 1812 made Benjamin an “outsider” his whole life. Although his father and the family became naturalized American citizens, Benjamin tried but never had those roots in America that gave him a sense of belonging to himself, the public and political colleagues and opponents. Benjamin was both religiously and by birth and an outsider to Christian and nativist America.[37]

In 1813 or as late as 1816, the Benjamins moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, because Rebecca had a brother, Jacob living there; he was her only family in America. [38] His father, Phillip Benjamin, came from Britain and then worked as a storekeeper selling fruit, and the family with seven children remained poor. Judah was the Benjamins’ second son, another son named Judah died as an infant. According to Sephardic tradition, the “oldest son was named after his paternal grandfather.”[39] Judah also had an older sister, Rebecca, called Penny. However, as Evan points out, Benjamin was “burdened” as the “oldest son,” “with all the family ambition attaching to his favored position.”[40] Benjamin’s younger siblings included two brothers Solomon and Joseph, two younger sisters Hannah, called Harriet or Hatty, Judith, and then Jacob, the youngest of the Benjamin family.[41] Pierce Butler claims the youngest of the Benjamins’ children was a daughter named Penina.

Charleston at the time was the Jewish center of America. Benjamin remained in Fayetteville with his siblings for schooling at Fayetteville Academy, while in 1812, his parents settled in Charleston. Charleston’s port offered more opportunities for the Benjamins. Still, Phillip Benjamin failed to succeed in business. South Carolina offered Southern Jews more rights than anywhere else in the South or the North. Jews had the right to vote, “worship freely, trade openly, own land, and leave property in wills.” Charleston boasted the largest Jewish population in the early part of the nineteenth century, with 500 of America’s 2,500 Jews in 1800. In 1695, Jews started settling in colonial Charles Town and established the first congregation in 1749, Beth Elohim Unveh Shallom, adhering to the Sephardic Orthodox tradition.

The Benjamin family was not Orthodox and kept their store open on the Sabbath. They did adhere to daily religious rituals. Judah’s father, Phillip Benjamin, “was an intellectual” and “well versed in Jewish law.”After failing in business, Philip Benjamin became a Talmud scholar, despite Rebecca still keeping the store open on the Sabbath. In his The Jews of South Carolina From the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Barnett Elzas recalled the Benjamin family’s lack of observance. Elzas wrote, “As a matter of fact, the Benjamins were not strict Jews. The mother kept her little shop open on the Sabbath and that at a time when strict Sabbath observance was general in Charleston. This was told to me by the late Sally Lopez, who died here in 1902 at the age of ninety-six… This trading on the Sabbath on the part of Mrs. Benjamin was much resented by the old-time Jews of Charleston.”[42]

Phillip was one of the founders of Charleston’s first Reform synagogue, the Reform Society of Israelites. Phillip Benjamin and 46 other members of Congregation Beth Elohim petitioned the synagogue for reforms, including modernize prayers using English, shorten the prayers, and include an English sermon in the service. The petitioners looked to anglicize Judaism in Protestant Charleston. Evans indicates, “As a son of one of the leaders of the society, Judah understandably would have been deeply affected by the religious divisions. The reform movement was not just for adults; it sought to influence history through the children of its members and the generations to come.”[43] When Judah turned thirteen in 1824, he participated in a confirmation ceremony rather than a bar mitzvah. Phillip Benjamin served on the committee of correspondence of the new congregation. The family’s religious observance was lax, primarily because of financial needs. Phillip kept his store open on the Sabbath. In 1827, the new reformed congregation “ousted” the Benjamins from the synagogue for not observing the Sabbath.[44]

Benjamin was a brilliant student, and with the help of Jewish merchant Moses Lopez, in 1825, Benjamin entered Yale College at age 14-years-old. Benjamin was the first Jewish student to attend Yale in 14 years and ranked atop of his class the two years he attended, where he honed his oration skills as part of the elite “Brothers in Unity” debating society. After his second year, Yale ousted Benjamin because of “a violation of the laws of the college” or “ungentlemanly conduct.” Benjamin always maintained it was because his father could not afford the tuition. Some historians claim he might have stolen money, gambled, or anti-Semitism may have been involved. Brooks went as far as to consider that maybe “homosexual” behavior caused his expulsion.

In 1827, Benjamin briefly returned to Charleston, but his expulsion or leaving Yale caused a rift with his father. According to MacMillan, that was when Benjamin broke from Judaism. Benjamin tried to seek readmission from Yale’s President Jeremiah Day but was unsuccessful. Afterward, Benjamin moved to New Orleans in 1828 there he read and practiced law before entering politics. Korn recounts, Benjamin “arrived in New Orleans in 1828, with no visible assets other than the wit, charm, omnivorous mind and boundless energy with which he would find his place in the sun.” [45] The city was also welcoming to Jews because, as Korn points out, “anti-Jewish prejudice was notable for its absence.”[46]

While a law clerk “for the notary Greenbury Stringer and banker Samuel Hermann, and reading the law, Benjamin earned money teaching the wealthy Creoles English. One of his students was the Catholic Natalie Bauché de St. Martin, a teenager with a “scandalous” reputation. In turn, Natalie taught Benjamin, whom she called “Philipe” the French he needed for Louisiana’s French civil law. Benjamin also learned Spanish to serve the large French and Spanish communities. The St. Martins came from Saint Domingue after the slave revolt, and August St. Martin would become the president of the Orleans Navigation Insurance Company. [47] The St-Martins were “Creole Aristocracy” and could give Benjamin the connections he needed to succeed and to assimilate in a city that still had a large French Catholic community.

In 1832, at 21, Benjamin was admitted to Louisiana’s bar, and he would marry Natalie St. Martin, 16. Natalie’s father, August St. Martin, wanted Benjamin to convert to Catholicism; he refused, but he agreed to a Catholic wedding and to raise their children as Catholics. Historians have looked at the union as advantageous for Benjamin with her $3,000 dowry and two female slaves and entrance into upper society and business connections. McMillan explains, “In short, Benjamin’s unusual marriage was one which gave him the advantage as an attorney and served to broaden his connections and horizons later in life.”[48] Both kept their religions, but Natalie was not satisfied, and she was rumored to be unfaithful. Their personalities were very different aside from religion; Natalie enjoyed parties and drinking, while Benjamin preferred to work and never drank. Natalie was a Creole beauty, while Benjamin was little over five feet, he was “short and stocky with dark curly hair and an olive complexion” he had a short beard and always had a “perpetual smile.”[49] Benjamin’s marriage permanently cut his ties with the Jewish community, except his colleague John Slidell, who married into “Jewish financier August (Schonberg) Belmont’s”family.

During the first three years of their marriage, they lived with Natalie’s parents while Benjamin wrote a legal summary of Louisiana law, “Digest of the Reported Decisions of the Superior Court of the Late Territory of Orleans and of the Supreme Court of Louisiana” published in 1834. Benjamin co-authored the book with Thomas Slidell, who would become the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. His brother John would become Benjamin’s mentor, Senate colleague, and Confederate Ambassador to Britain and France. The book was a success opening up opportunities for Benjamin’s legal career, where he focused on commercial law, land disputes, and international law, and by 1851, Benjamin made $50,000 a year. Benjamin’s commercial law cases utilized both Louisiana’s civil code and common law and dealt with “real property (including slaves), personal property, mortgages, probate and inheritance, negotiable notes, insolvency, insurance, shipping. “Benjamin excelled as a legal scholar and his oratory skills in court.” [50] In 184, Benjamin was so successful John Smith Whitaker referred to him as “emphatically the Commercial Lawyer of our city, and one of the most successful advocates at our bar … and holds a deservedly high place among the members of his profession.” [51]

By the early 1840s, Benjamin constantly worked while Natalie became restless. Her affairs concerned Benjamin, who worried about how the gossip would affect his career. In 1844, Benjamin purchased a grand plantation Bellechasse, which Stone called “one of the grandest, most architecturally significant mansions in the entire South.”[52] Benjamin hoped becoming a plantation owner would help his political future in the South and his marriage. However, Natalie found the planter’s life isolating without her family. In 1843, their first daughter, Ninette, was born, but Benjamin’s excitement at fatherhood would not last long. After over ten years of marriage, in 1845, Natalie moved to Paris with the couple’s only daughter Ninette, who was raised as a Catholic. Afterward, Benjamin brought his mother and his sisters to live at his plantation; however, his mother died of yellow fever in 1847.

Benjamin visited Natalie and his daughter each year. When he became a Senator, he bought and furnished a house in Washington. In 1858, Benjamin enticed Natalie to return, but she found Washington too dull than Paris, left by early 1859, and never returned to America. However, Benjamin remained close to the St. Martins, including Natalie’s younger brother, Jules, who lived with him for a while. MacMillan does not believe Natalie moved to Paris and left Benjamin because she was bored or having an affair but that it was the custom for Caribbean French to educate their children in France. New Orleans was also an ethically unsavory city and an unhealthy one, prone to yellow fever epidemics. It is possible Ninette suffered from a “lifelong disorder” and would receive better medical care in France. [53] In contrast, historians also wonder if the five-foot Benjamin was a “homosexual” and if that was why Natalie left him and his insistence on his privacy in burning all his private papers.

Political Career

Benjamin began his political career in 1842 when he was elected as a Whig to the Louisiana House of Representatives. MacMillan notes, “Louisiana had particularly restrictive suffrage and office holding requirements which meant that election was dependent upon the backing of the powerful and in New Orleans, this came from the French community.”[54] Benjamin had the support and votes from the city’s elite because of his familial and business connections. As a Louisiana constitutional convention delegate in 1845, Benjamin impressed the party leaders. Evans explains Benjamin’s “tact, courtesy, and ability to find compromises impressed the political elders in all corners of the state.” [55] The convention looked to “amend voting and office-holding restrictions” in the state and revise their 1812 constitution. Benjamin spoke out about the expansion of slavery if Texas were annexed and the threat of slavery would not be allowed to expand. Benjamin urged the convention against reform and adopting opposed counting slaves as three-fifths of a human for population by representation purposes. Benjamin retreated from politics in the mid-1840s focusing on his plantation and successful law practice. Benjamin returned to politics in 1846, when he was appointed a land commissioner for California settling land disputes after the Mexican-American War.

In 1848, he served as a Louisiana Delegate to the Electoral College that voted General Zachary Taylor, the Whig candidate, president, and he went to President Taylor’s inauguration. Taylor wanted Benjamin his cabinet but was reluctant about Natalie’s “scandalous” reputation. Benjamin again served as Whig delegate to the 1852 constitutional convention, where “Whigs won loosened state regulations on commerce, banks, railroads, and government investment in the economy after giving way on the office-holding restrictions and vote apportionment for slaves.”[56] Benjamin’s work at the convention garnered him a Senate nomination. In 1852, Benjamin became the first Jew elected in the United States Senate representing Louisiana as Whig.

In 1853, President Millard Fillmore appointed Benjamin to the United States Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, and the Senate confirmed him. However, Benjamin refused because he wanted to remain in politics. [57] Later on, in August 1858, President James Buchanan offered Benjamin to be the Ambassador to Spain, which also declined. When the Whigs went into decline as a party, Benjamin joined the Democrats in 1856. While in the Senate, he defended slavery and supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and Kansas’ 1857 pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. Instead of sitting as a justice on the Supreme Court, Benjamin had a prolific career arguing cases in front of it.

Benjamin’s Senate colleagues considered him one of its “truly great minds” and a “most powerful orator.”[58] At the time, John Smith Whitaker,‎ a member of the New Orleans bar, recalled Benjamin, “As a speaker, he was calm, collected, forcible, though sometimes a little too rapid in his elocution. His voice has a silvery, mellifluous sweetness and seldom jars upon the ear by degenerating into a shrill or harsh tone while his manner and gestures are graceful and finished.”

Representative J.L.M. Curry recalled, “Benjamin was collected and self-possessed in debate… did not use notes…and had a memory like Macauley’s.”[59] Maryland lawyer and colleague Reverdy Johnson remembered, “Benjamin had a power of argument rarely if ever surpassed.”[60] Later, Senator George Vest asked longtime official Senate reporter, Dennis Murphy, who served forty years, who “was the ablest and best-equipped Senator he had known during his service as a reporter. Murphy replied without hesitation ‘Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana.’” [61]

[62] According to Stone, “he has been ranked by some historians as one of the five greatest orators in Senate history, the equal of Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun.” Despite his colleagues’ respect for his skills, there were still passive-aggressive attacks on Benjamin because of his religion. His political opponents routinely referred to Benjamin as “Hebrew” or “Israelite” in addition to more anti-Semitic attacks. MacMillan called Benjamin’s “brother Senators’”actions an “insidious anti-Jewish sentiment.”[63]

Benjamin would meet Secretary of War Jefferson Davis at a state dinner hosted by President Franklin Pierce. Jefferson’s wife Varina described him as having “rather the air of a witty bon vivant than of a great senator.” At first, the two quarreled when Benjamin questioned Davis over a military bill and firearms, with Davis insulting Benjamin insinuating that he “advancing the mercantile interests of a client” and was acting as a “paid attorney.” Benjamin privately called for a duel; however, Davis apologized, ending the duel and starting their next phase. Davis never publicly apologized, Senator Pearce made a “statement of fact” noting Davis’ error, and Davis explained but did not apologize. [64] When Davis became a Senator from Mississippi, the two formed a cautious alliance. Both opposed Stephen Douglas’nomination for president from the Democratic Party and his hypocrisy regarding popular sovereignty on slavery. In November 1860, after Lincoln’s presidential election, Benjamin believed secession and confederation were the south’s best advantages in negotiating with the Union.

In 1856, Benjamin became a Democrat abandoning the Whig Party, which no longer had a national party. Benjamin joined the Democrats to fuel his ambition and to save the Union with the South maintaining slavery. The Louisiana Democratic Party and the press welcomed his change of party affiliation. Benjamin supported James Buchanan’s presidential nomination and campaigned for him in 1856. The same cannot be said of Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois; Benjamin spoke out against him at length in the Senate during their vote on the Kansas Bill to support Kansas’pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. In the 1860 campaign, Benjamin’s attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Douglas were reprinted in a pamphlet for the Southern Democratic presidential nominee John Breckinridge, who was nominated at the Charleston Convention. Benjamin declared, “The Senator from Illinois faltered. He got the prize for which he faltered; but lo! the grand prize of his ambition to-day slips from his grasp because of his faltering in his former contest, and his success in the canvass for the Senate, purchased for an ignoble price, has cost him the loss of the Presidency of the United States.”[65]

Benjamin faced a problematic reelection bid in 1858. The state legislature was concerned that Benjamin, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Private Land Claims, misused his position to help fellow Senator Slidell profit from a land deal. The speculation of abuse of power and that Northern Louisiana wanted a senator from their region resulted in forty-two ballots until Benjamin won reelection to his seat. He would remain in the senator only another year before becoming the last senator from the South to resign two weeks after Louisiana became the fourth state to secede from the Union. According to Stone, “Until virtually the eleventh hour, [Benjamin] sought to bring about a rapprochement between North and South.”[66] However, Cunningham finds that Benjamin’s Senate speeches starting in 1855 spoke of the secession and civil war as inevitable if the North continued to trample on the South’s Constitutional rights regarding the expansion of slavery.

Benjamin delivered a farewell address to the Senate, warning of an upcoming civil war. Evans notes, “Historians consider Benjamin’s farewell … one of the great speeches in American history.” Benjamin warned in his speech:

“And now, Senators, within a few weeks we part to meet as Senators in one common council chamber of the nation no more, forever. We desire, we beseech you, let this parting be in peace . . . indulge in no veiled delusion that duty or conscience, interest or honor imposes upon you the necessity of invading our States or shedding the blood of our people. We have not possible justification for it . . . what may be the fate of this horrible contest no man can tell . . . but this much, I will say: the fortunes of war may be adverse to our arms, you may carry despoliation into our peaceful land, and with torch and fire you may set our cities in flame . . . you may, under the protection of your advancing armies give shelter to the furious fanatics who desire, and profess to desire, nothing more than to add all the horrors of a servile insurrection to the calamities of civil war; you may do all this — and more too, if more there be — but you never can subjugate us; you never can convert the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; and you never, never can degrade them to the level of an inferior and servile race. Never! Never!”[67]

Louisiana succeeded from the Union on January 26, 1861, becoming the fourth state to do so, and Benjamin resigned from the Senate days later on February 4, 1861.

Chapter 3 Benjamin on Judaism, Slavery, and Secession

Benjamin and Judaism

Despite his non-observance, Benjamin remained a Jew his whole life. However, he had never attended or was a synagogue member or involved in the Jewish community of any city he lived throughout his adult life in America or Britain. According to Korn in his article, “Judah P. Benjamin as a Jew,” “Altogether it would appear that Benjamin had no positive or active interest in Jews or Judaism. The only known facts are that he was born into a Jewish family… that he never denied being Jewish or sought to escape his background through conversion to the Catholic faith of his wife and daughter.”[68] More recently, Evans claims, “To presume Benjamin a nonbeliever by his public acts represents a fundamental error in Southern history.” Evans believes Benjamin could not cut ties completely with his Judaism after his religious upbringing, arguing, “No Jew can make the leap from a childhood with religious immigrant parents to an assimilated Southern leader in twenty years, without retaining psychological ties to his Jewish past.”[69]

The lack of private sources about Benjamin makes it even more difficult to analyze his personal feelings about his Jewish identity instead of the public reticence available from the scarce sources. To MacMillan, “This failure is significant not only in the understanding of Benjamin’s life but also in a greater understanding of one of the most prominent Jewish figures in the nineteenth-century English speaking world. This prevents a greater understanding of the acceptance of Jewish people in America and the United Kingdom.”[70] Benjamin’s success was due to his passionate loyalty to Southern issues and his ability to downplay his religion. Despite Benjamin assimilating to Southern white Christian society, the anti-Semitic attacks towards Benjamin both before and especially during the Civil War gave rise to widespread anti-Jewish prejudice in the South. Historians will never know how he felt about the personal attacks or how he felt about his actions in the Confederate cabinet were affecting the broader Jewish community in the South.

Judah Benjamin supposedly only once declared his Jewishness in his political career on the Senate floor; however, historians dispute the occurrences since it was out of caricature for Benjamin. Benjamin chose not to discuss his Judaism, but it followed him, and he was the target of anti-Semitic attacks from colleagues and political enemies alike. Benjamin was the consummate insider and outsider as a Jew at both times.

In March 1858, while Benjamin delivered a speech supporting Kansas being admitted to the Union as a slave state, supposedly, Republican Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio “denounced” Benjamin on the Senate floor. Wade called Benjamin “an Israelite with Egyptian principle.” Wade stated, “Why sir, when old Moses, under immediate inspiration of God Almighty, enticed a whole nation of slaves, and ran away, not to Canada to old Canaan, I suppose Pharaoh and all the chivalry of old Egypt denounced him as a most furious abolitionist… there were not those who loved Egypt better than they loved liberty… They were not exactly Northern men with Southern principles, but they were Israelites with Egyptian principles.”

Benjamin supposedly responded, “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 lightning of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain.”[71] Although attributed to Benjamin, Benjamin never acknowledged his Jewishness in the Senate’s issues that affected American Jews. Historian Bertram W. Korn does not believe that Benjamin delivered this remark. According to Korn, “The fact that Benjamin did not feel obliged, in either of these cases, to register himself as a Jew would appear to be much more significant than any of the questionable traditions and legends concerning allegedly defiant answers to which he is purported to have made to any anti-Jewish attacks upon himself.”[72] Evans also questions Benjamin’s declaration, since historians have told “four different versions”of the anecdote and “the quote cannot be verified.” Still, Evans notes, “the statement remains a part of the legend of Judah P. Benjamin, even though it indicates an uncharacteristic acknowledgment in public of his Jewishness.”[73]

The minimal record does not indicate if he had any pride in being Jewish or was involved after childhood. In his Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, The Portraits Selected Principally from the Bench and Bar, John Smith Whitaker noted in 1847 that the public was aware that Benjamin was Jewish. Whittaker wrote, “Mr. Benjamin is by birth, and as his names imports, an Israelite. Yet how far he still adheres to the religion of his fathers, I cannot tell, though I should doubt whether the matter troubled him much.”[74] One incident indicates that Benjamin took an interest in the community; he purchased a subscription to the Philadelphia Rabbi Isaac Leeser’s newspaper The Occident and American Jewish Advocate. On March 20, 1848, Gershom Kursheedt, the New Orleans Jewish community leader, notified Leeser in a letter that “Before I forget it let me state on Friday last Mr. J.P. Benjamin handed me $5.50 for you.” In 1843, Leeser sent free copies to influential Jews to purchase a subscription to his magazine. Benjamin was not as distanced to know the community leader and his connection to Leeser and to want to be current on Jewish issues.

Jewish leaders looked to claim Benjamin as a member of the Jewish community more than Benjamin wished to identify publicly with his religion. Two stories circulated that embellished his involvement. The first attributed to Isaac Mayer Wise, who claimed in the fall of 1850 he had two discussions with Benjamin, Secretary of State Daniel Webster, and Lieutenant Matthew F. Maury. In 1874, Wise recounts in his memoir, Reminisces he discussed religion and Judaism with Benjamin in the two meetings, the first in Webster’s office then later at dinner. Korn believes the discussions did not occur because Benjamin became a Senator in 1853, while Webster died in 1852, and Benjamin did not visit Washington in the fall of 1850 but July 1851. Wise contradicted his story in response to a Boston Transcript editorial from January 5, 1861, which criticized Jews, Benjamin, Senator David (Levy) Yulee, and Benjamin Mordecai of Charleston for contributing to the secession crisis. Benjamin and Yulee, through their Senate actions, and Mordecai with a monetary contribution. Wise responded Jews were divided politically and that he had only met Mordecai. Neither did Wise mention meeting Benjamin in his obituary for Benjamin in the Israelite.

Years later, Herbert Ezekiel, author of the book The History of the Jews of Richmond from 1769 to 1917 (1917) claimed in 1860 that while Benjamin was in San Francisco arguing the mining case United States V. Castillero, he delivered a sermon at a San Francisco synagogue for Yom Kippur, on September 26. The United States V. Castillero was one of Benjamin’s most important cases in front of the Supreme Court concerned with “the ownership of the New Almaden quicksilver mine in California.”[75] Ezekiel quoted Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati. Wise had not been San Francisco that year. Neither did the only Jewish paper The Weekly Gleaner claim Benjamin was anywhere near a synagogue, let alone deliver a Yom Kippur sermon.

Two days earlier Rev, Julius Eckman of The Weekly Gleaner reported Benjamin delivered a lecture on politics and government at Tucker’s Academy for an Episcopal Church. However, the speech mentioned American Jewry; Eckman reported that Benjamin made rare comments against political discrimination. Gleaner wrote, “He next referred in a very happy manner to the injustice in the distribution of offices and asked why the citizens of his religious tenets were not favored by those who have it in their power to bestow offices of emolument and trust. In a very pathetic manner, he asked ‘Would the great Washington have excluded a citizen from holding federal appointment because of his religion.’” [76]

Ezekiel believed Benjamin’s speech was delivered as a Yom Kippur sermon, Korn, however, indicates the speech must have been one Benjamin delivered to the Church of Advent. Korn claims the official printed version of the speech referred to “the spoils system and political prejudice, not religious prejudice.” Korn argues, “Eckman was either drowsy that evening and did not hear Benjamin right, or he was so eager to identify Benjamin as a positive Jew that he misinterpreted what the Louisiana Senator did say.”[77] Korn based his analysis on Benjamin never spoke about himself in his address or anything related to Judaism in his addresses, quoting Jefferson Davis, who claimed, “No more reticent man ever lived where it was possible to be silent.”

Without many records, it is difficult to say for sure. Despite Korn debunking the Benjamin quote, Eckman’s paraphrasing of Benjamin speaks volumes on why he, for the most part, stayed away from Judaism in his public life, his fear his religion would hold his ambition back from political advancement. Historian Diane Ashton explains the situation for Southern Jews during the Civil War in her essay “Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics, and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War.”Ashton writes, “When the determination of friend or foe was the degree to which an individual displayed shared values and commitments, and when religion was made to serve political causes, Jewish identity could be a liability or an asset.”[78] With the array of anti-Semitic attacks on Benjamin from his political foes, he long learned that assimilation and keeping his religious difference private was best for his political advancement.

However, while Benjamin served in the Senate, two later incidents demonstrated just how publicly distanced he was from his religion. In 1850, the “American Minster to Switzerland” A. Dudley Moore negotiated a commercial treaty with the Swiss Confederation. An article in the treaty allowed Swiss cantons to refuse Jews’ entry and not benefit from the treaty, only Christians. It included the ability to expel any Jew conducting business in their canton. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Senator Henry Clay opposed the clause, and President Millard Fillmore wanted the clause removed from the treaty.

The controversy became known as L’Affaire Swiss. Rabbinical leaders in both North and South opposed the anti-Semitic clause and lobbied the government to advocate religious tolerance abroad. Among those leading the movement were “Rabbis Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, David Einhorn of Baltimore, J. M. Cardozo of Charleston, and Capt. Jonas Phillips Levy of New York.” Former Representative Phillip Phillips of Alabama and Jonas Levy advocated the government on behalf of American Jews. In the Senate, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan led a movement opposed to ratifying the treaty. Cass would later become Secretary of State and notably delivered a speech on the Senate floor on April 19, 1854, placing his support in America’s Jewish population.

However, Benjamin refused to be involved in the Senate floor debate; instead, he did not identify himself as a Jew that would have been subjected to the treaty’s exemption. Benjamin presented the petition on May 10, 1854, on the Senate floor; he advocated for equality in the treaty. However, Benjamin chose not to include that he too was a Jew, excluding himself from his coreligionists. According to the Congressional Globe from the day, “Mr. Benjamin resented… a petition of citizens of the United States, professing the Jewish religion, praying that measures be taken to secure to American citizens of every religious creed, residing or traveling abroad, their civil and religious rights; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.”[79] The clause was rewritten, but it still allowed the Swiss to discriminate against Jews. What had been an objection became a protest movement by American Jews; the situation only grew when an American citizen and Jew, A. H. Gootman, who conducted commercial business for five years, was forced to leave La Chaux-de-Fonds, in Neuchâtel in 1856.

Except for presenting the petition, Benjamin chose not to take on a leadership role; historians suggest he felt it better for non-Jewish Senate members to take on that position. However, it was often the practice of some Jews in the South to “veil,” as historian Diane Ashton called it, their religion in front of their Christian neighbors. If he had taken on a leadership role, he would have been known as the “Jewish Senator,” and he worked his whole career not to be defined or hindered by his Judaism. [80] In 1860, Benjamin remained detached when China and Japan put similar clauses in their treaties with America, only allowing Christians to worship freely. Again, Jewish leaders objected to the included clauses and lobbied that any American of any faith should have their right. Rabbi Max Lilienthal wrote to Benjamin to advocate in the Senate on American Jewry’s behalf. Benjamin replied:

Washington, March 24, 1860

My dear Sir:

I have received your favor of the 21st inst., and shall be watchful of the China treaty, in order to take care that by no omission shall the Israelites of the United States be debarred the privilege secured by the treaty to their Christian fellow citizens.

Thank you for your complimentary expression toward myself, I remain,

Yours with great respect,

J.P. Benjamin.

Rev. Dr. Lilienthal.

Benjamin’s reply was detached from the situation; although he agreed to advocate, he did not include himself as one of the aggrieved Jews.

Views on Slavery

In the antebellum South, Southern Jews who adhered to the social norms were mostly spared anti-Jewish prejudice. Race was more important than religion; Jews being white led to increased social acceptance and minimal anti-Semitism. Benjamin adhered to all the Southern norms, including supporting states’ rights and slavery. As Bertram Korn, the authority on Southern Jewry and Jewry during the Civil War years, writes, “No Jewish political figure of the Old South ever expressed reservations about the justice of slavery or the rightness of the Southern position.” [81] Kaplan finds Benjamin’s position on slavery a contradiction considering the religious home he was brought up in. As Kaplan notes, “Benjamin’s dedication to slavery seems a contradiction in one who came from a home where Judaism and its traditions held freedom as an inherent right of every person.”[82]

Most of Benjamin’s biographers concur that although he supported slavery, it was not with other Southern politicians’ fanaticism. While Rosen claims Benjamin was not a “proslavery ideologue.” In his biography Meade found that Benjamin “viewed Africans as human beings not resigned to their lot as commonly perceived in the South.” While Evans claims Benjamin’s support of slavery was never a “fist-pounding, red-faced, blowhard defense of it.”[83] Benjamin’s support of slavery rested on political, legal, commercial, and social reasoning. However, Benjamin believed in emancipation both before the war with financial compensation and African colonization. During the war, Benjamin believed emancipation could be a mean to save the Confederacy at any cost.

Benjamin was also the most prominent Jewish plantation owner. Although he owned a large plantation only briefly, he represents the Jewish version of the traditional Southern gentleman and planter embodied on the screen by the character Ashley Wilkes in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. As Jason Silverman recounts, “If there was a Jewish Ashley Wilkes in the Old South surely it would have been Judah P. Benjamin. Master of the New Orleans plantation, Bellechase, and its around one hundred and forty slaves, Benjamin was in many ways an icon of the southern planter and gentleman. And, while no one would doubt that Benjamin was a true, bona fide antebellum southern slaveowner, his quiet attitude toward the ‘peculiar institution’ perhaps reflects the deep and contradictory feelings shared by some of his fellow southern Jews seeking acceptance and assimilation.”[84]

Before purchasing his large plantation Bellechase situated near New Orleans, Benjamin was a lawyer, merchant, broker, and railroad speculator. Benjamin’s career allowed him to gain the fortune needed to purchase and rebuild the plantation into mythic Old South splendor. Benjamin bought the plantation in 1844 with planter Theodore Packwood. On the property was a small house that did not fit Benjamin’s view of a prosperous planter’s mansion, so he rebuilt it after Natalie left. Korn described Bellechase as “an elegant example of ante-bellum grace,” with “great, double-leveled porches, almost fifteen feet across, a parade of massive, rectangular pillars and everything else in proportion; curving stairways of mahogany, massive carved decorations, silver-plated doorknobs, extensive rose gardens between the house and the levee, and an enormous bell into which Benjamin was said to have dropped five hundred silver dollars during the melting, to ‘sweeten the tone.’” [85]

Meanwhile, Eli Evans, in his biography Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate gives a more complete picture of how Belle Chasse looked in its glory days. Evans recounts, Benjamin “tore down the old house on the plantation and built an even more splendid new one, a square mansion surrounded by double balconies supported by twenty-eight square cypress columns. There were twenty rooms, with hallways 16 feet wide running through the house, crystal chandeliers, a marble fireplace, some statues he had purchased in Florence, a spiral mahogany staircase that ran up the middle of the structure, and a veranda around the entire house, so he could look out at his land in any direction and catch the air and a view of the flowing Mississippi River. No detail was overlooked: silver-plated doorknobs, great escutcheons, the finest furnishings.”[86] To Benjamin, owning a plantation was about more than belonging, but excelling. As Evans notes, “Bellechasse would be a Louisiana showplace and would add to the Judah P. Benjamin legend. He would be as successful a planter as he had been a lawyer.”[87]

Benjamin owned the plantation for only a few years; he was forced to sell it after losing money when a friend went bankrupt after endorsing a $60,000 loan for them. He also owned 140 slaves more than any other Southern Jew, while only 80 of them worked in the fields, the rest worked as servants. During the Civil War, Union forces raided and pillaged the plantation and its decorations. After the war, the plantation house went into disrepair; the Judah P. Benjamin Memorial Foundation purchased the plantation in 1924, hoping to revive it to its formal glory as a museum-like George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. In 1934, they moved the home further back; although it was built 1,000 feet from the levee, water was creeping up to the home. Without any government funding, the foundation could never rebuild the plantation, and it was razed in March 1960 for the construction of government buildings.[88]

In the short period he owned it, he earned a reputation as an expert in growing sugar crops, writing some articles on the burgeoning sugar cane extraction in De Bow’s Review, which earned him a first prize from the Louisiana Agriculture Society. In an 1847 article, Benjamin called the sugar cane planter a “manufacturer as well as an agriculturist.”[89] Benjamin introduced modern methods to sugar cane production. According to Stone Benjamin, “all but single-handedly introduced sugarcane to the South, and successfully ushered in new, more efficient techniques of drainage, fertilization, and extracting sugar from molasses.”[90] Benjamin also owned 140 slaves more than any other Southern Jew, while only 80 of them worked in the fields, the rest worked as servants. Benjamin biographers believe Benjamin treated his slaves well, but the sugar cane crop is labor-intensive, and for most slaves, the treatment and conditions were terrible and decreased the slave population.

Since Benjamin came to slaveholding plantation lifestyle later in life after living an urban lifestyle, he was not ingrained in the opinions that older planters held for generations. Although Judah Benjamin did full-heartedly support slavery, he did not support the violence towards slaves. Evans explains, “Consequently, he was not steeped in its traditional philosophy. He would acquire an articulated point of view, but without the Biblical justifications that sustained its most extreme advocates. Though he entered the ranks of the planter class that ruled Louisiana [the Old South],” he never felt that slavery reflected the divine order of things. He was not taken in by distorted theories of the Bible; he never argued that Blacks were of a lower order, and he hated the cruelty of the overseers he heard about.” [91] Benjamin was the most prominent political Jew in the South, holding many positions in the Confederate cabinet. However, as Silverman writes, “Yet this undeniable symbol of what the Old South represented was vehemently critical of the most inhuman aspects of slavery and eloquently denounced its cruelties, though he stopped short of actually opposing the “peculiar institution” itself.” [92]

As a lawyer in New Orleans, Benjamin specialized in commercial law, and the slave trade came under the banner of that area of law. Benjamin based his views of slavery on the law of the country and location at the time, and he supported slavery based on those confines. In an 1845 court case McCargo v New Orleans Ins. Co, Benjamin defended insurance companies after a slave revolt on the ship the Creole in 1841, where the slave owners were looking for compensation. On the Creole, the slaves mutinied; they killed the slave-owners agent and forced the ship to sail to the Bahamas, where the British arrested only the leaders of the revolt and gave the rest of the slaves on the ship freedom. Benjamin argued Britain could emancipate the slaves because “slavery was against the law of nature but was allowed by the law of nations.”[93] In court, Benjamin made his point, saying, “the force and effect of the law of nature and of nations on the relations of the parties against which no insurance was or could be legally made…. [S]lavery is against the law of nature, and although sanctioned by the law of nations it is so sanctioned as a local or municipal institution of binding force within the limits of the nation that chooses to establish it and on the vessels of such nation on the high seas but as having no force or binding effect beyond the jurisdiction of such nation.”[94]

Benjamin also argued about the humanity of the slave within the confines of the slave’s societal position claiming the slave owners caused the revolt with the ship’s tightly confined conditions:

“What is a slave? He is a human being. He has feeling and passion, and intellect. His heart, like the heart of the white man, swells with love, burns with jealousy, aches with sorrow, pines under restraint and discomfort, boils with revenge, and ever cherishes the desire for liberty. His passions and feelings in some respects may not be as fervid and as delicate as those of the white, nor his intellect as acute; but passions and feelings he has, and in some respects, they are more violent and consequently more dangerous, from the very circumstances that his mind is comparatively weak and unenlightened. Considering the character of the slave, and the peculiar passions which, generated by nature, are strengthened and stimulated by his condition, he is prone to revolt in the near future of things and ever ready to conquer the liberty where a probable chance presents itself.” [95]

Benjamin won the case; Evans, however, does not think that represented Benjamin’s personal views, which would have hindered his political ambitions. Although he supported slavery throughout his career, Benjamin defended free “persons of color” in two known cases early on in his law practice. In one case, Boisdere v Citizens’Bank of Louisiana, Benjamin defended free blacks’ interest when the bank denied allowing them to own stocks in the bank. In the second case, Robert v Allier’s Agent and Succession of Robert in 1841 and 1842, a free black woman Genevieve Robert was trying to claim a part of her daughter’s estate.

Benjamin, however, took his words seriously about the slaves’ humanity and treated his slaves kindly. As Evans writes, “Benjamin took care to have a plantation noted for its humanness and sought to be known across Louisiana as a gentleman who treated his slaves well. According to early Benjamin biographer Pierce Butler, former Bellechasse slaves who were still living in the early twentieth century reported “none but kindly memories and romantic legends of the days of glory on the old place.”[96] Despite varying opinions about the treatment of slaves and the institution, Benjamin, as most Southern Jews, still unified supporting the beloved and necessary peculiar institution even if fighting a war with their Northern brothers was necessary.

In the first session of the Senate session in 1855, Free Soil Party Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts introduced a resolution to create a Pennsylvania Abolition Society memorial. Benjamin turned the issue into a debate on the Fugitive Slave Act. Benjamin’s argument focused on legal and constitutional elements. In badgering Sumner, Benjamin expressed, “the Senator on several occasions … has denied the obligation, as I understand him, under the Constitution of the United States, to deliver up the fugitive slaves from the free States to the owners in the slave States …” When Sumner pushed the issue of liberty laws for free Northern blacks in the slave South Benjamin ridiculed Sumner over his evasion on the Fugitive Slave Act. Benjamin’s argument in favor of slavery earned him goodwill with Southern senators and defeating Sumner’s resolution. Benjamin’s arguments for slavery emphasized “legal obligations,” legal precedent, and the constitution, which was his prime way to show support of slavery.

On March 11, 1858, Benjamin’s political views of slavery were on full display as he defended the Kansas Bill on legal grounds in the Senate in an impassioned speech, “Slavery Protected by the Common Law of the World.”Since 1854, Kansas was at the center of the slavery debate. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act voided the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and gave territories the choice to determine if they will enter the union as free or slave states. Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas’popular sovereignty was pulling Kansas apart as it became Bleeding Kansas with violence that erupted between slave and free soilers. Both the proslavery and antislavery factions created competing governments and constitutions. The proslavery faction set up a government in Lecompton, Kansas, and wrote their constitution, looking for Congress to admit Kansas into the union as a slave state. President James Buchanan supported the Kansas Bill admitting it as a slave state, and wanted Congress to pass the bill. However, a champion of popular sovereignty, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, opposed the Lecompton Constitution.

Benjamin’s argument was in defense of the laws of both popular sovereignty and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857 declaring that slavery legal in the country and not just the South, and that Congress and state legislatures could not enact legislatures to the contrary. Benjamin argued that the slaves are private property and the laws need to be respected, “As long as the constitution of my country endures,” it is his “constitutional duty to perform the most sacred of all obligations.”Benjamin supported the Dred Scott decision on legal grounds. Despite believing the Democratic Party could spare the Union, he openly attacked Douglas, stating, “The Senator from Illinois would have us believe that this is an abandonment of the principle of popular sovereignty… [It] is its very essence.” To Benjamin, Lecompton was “the legitimate fruit of the Kansas bill,” and declared his intention, “For that act, I will vote.” His speech indicated a rift in the Democratic Party over Kansas. The bill passed in the Senate but failed in the House. Maury Wiseman, in his article, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” argued, “While Benjamin was never wed to the peculiar institution, an analysis of his speech on the Kansas Bill depicts an individual firmly bound to its legal sanctity. Benjamin’s views on slavery resonated with the Talmudic expression, ‘the law of the land is the Law,’ and they corresponded to those of many white southerners, including southern Jews.” [97]

Views on Secession

While it is challenging to determine Benjamin’s personal opinions on any relevant issue, including Judaism, slavery, and secession, a picture emerged from Benjamin’s published speeches on his public views. Although he rose to the top of the Confederate ranks, Benjamin never had a fanatic loyalty to either slavery or secession. Benjamin’s opinions were pragmatically rooted in the laws and the Constitution. Most of the historians who have written about Benjamin do not believe he thought of secession before Lincoln’s election, mostly since he was the last to resign from the Senate. Historians find that Benjamin was conflicted, not an agitator but resolved to secession and therefore not responsible for pushing the South towards it. Before his death, Benjamin wrote to Francis Lawley about secession’s inevitability, “Such mighty convulsions which amount indeed to revolutions, are never the work of individuals, but of divided nations.” According to Meade, “The aggressive stand Benjamin advocated was to be made within the Union. There is no indication that he ever advocated secession before December 1860… apparently against his better judgment.” Evans, however, puts Benjamin further from the forefront of the secession movement. Evans claims Benjamin was “part of the small band of moderates who had tried to hold the union together but were not able to compromise on slavery.” [98]

In contrast, Geoffrey D. Cunningham, in his article “‘The ultimate step:’ Judah P. Benjamin and secession,” finds that by examining Benjamin’s speeches, it is clear that Benjamin saw this as a solution for the South early on. Cunningham explains, “Benjamin’s speeches, which comprise the largest extant body of sources, reveal Benjamin to have embraced the logic of secession early in his career. While never a fire-eater or an extremist, Benjamin publicly embraced secession’s logic with remarkable rapidity.”[99] To Cunningham, Benjamin was “Neither a closeted secessionist nor conflicted about the South’s right of revolution; Benjamin emerges as a stalwart adherent of secession’s logic and political power. No doubt wary of secession’s consequences, Benjamin nevertheless employs the South’s chief political weapon regularly and confidently in his debates with adversaries.”[100]

Benjamin became resigned to the probable inevitability of secession by 1855, whereas Davis was far more conflicted even by 1860. In 1855, Benjamin expressed in the Senate, “Every day I am more and more persuaded [conflict] is becoming inevitable.” Later he argued more forcefully, “When those guarantees shall fail, and not till then, will the injured, outraged South throw her sword into the scale of her rights, and appeal to the God of battles to do her justice.” Davis was more conflicted about secession, according to poet Robert Penn Warren “Even … as a leading exponent of Southern rights, [Davis] found it hard to face the logically ultimate step of secession.” [101]

On February 23, 1855, during the Senate session, Benjamin made his first reference to secession going beyond defending slavery in a heated exchange with Free Soil Party Senator Salmon P. Chase of Ohio over the Fugitive Slave Act, liberty laws, and nullification. Benjamin accused the North of corrupting the constitution and accused them of being aggressors towards the South, stating, “I am not going too far in stating that the whole course of northern legislation upon this subject … has been a course of direct war upon the South.” In his address made his first allusion to secession and civil war to defend Southern rights. Benjamin declared:

“If the time must come when southern men shall be driven into their last entrenchments before the superior power of a numerical majority that listens to no reason, that admits of no discussion, that uses for its rule nothing but brute power … I believe the South will, with one voice say … if you believe yourselves degraded by being members of the same Government with us, let us part in peace.” He scaled back on saying he would “assist in averting that last, lamentable catastrophe to the remotest possible time” but Benjamin lamented, “Every day I am more and more persuaded [conflict] is becoming inevitable.”[102]

Cunningham argues that on May 2, 1856, Benjamin’s most notable Senate speech on the Senate floor, first denoted the South as a single unit, when he demanded the outright acceptance of the Southern interpretation of the Constitution. “In the later part of the speech, Benjamin announced that he would be joining the Democratic Party seeing as the only means to save the union. In the first part of his address, Benjamin declared a threat of secession if the North does not respect the South’s constitutional rights. Benjamin expressed, the South “has no longer any compromises to offer or accept. She looks to those contained in the Constitution itself. By them she will live; to them, she will adhere…. then she will calmly and resolutely withdraw.” Benjamin calls it the “ultimate step” and puts it on par with the reasons the colonies declared independence. Benjamin explained, “The principle that underlies” the American government is “the equality of the free and independent States which that instrument links together in a common bond of union… Take away this league of love; convert it into a bond of distrust, of suspicion, or of hate; and the entire fabric which is held together by that cement will crumble to the earth.”[103]

Benjamin’s speech was the first time he openly declared that civil war would be inevitable if the South would not extend slavery in the Western territories. Benjamin expressed, “When those guarantees shall fail, and not till then, will the injured, outraged South throw her sword into the scale of her rights, and appeal to the God of battles to do her justice…. I say her sword because I am not one of those who believe in the possibility of a peaceful disruption of the Union. It cannot come until every possible means of conciliation has been exhausted… It cannot come until every angry passion shall have been roused… until brotherly feeling shall have been converted into deadly hate.” “[T]hen, sir, with feelings embittered by the consciousness of injustice, or passions high wrought and inflamed, dreadful will be the internecine war that must ensue.” The South “be compelled in self-defense to wage a continual, unremitting war in which no sacrifice would be too costly …”[104]

In his conclusion, Benjamin used Biblical imagery to infer a potential civil war. Benjamin stated, “As the designs of the enemy become more and more developed, the patriot band will be augmented with fresh recruits. Yes, sir; let the note of alarm be sounded through the land; let the people only be informed; let them be told of the momentous crisis which is at hand; they will rise in their might, placing their heel on the head of the serpent that has glided into their Eden, they will crush it to the earth, once and forever.” [105]

By 1860, The Democratic Party split into North and South factions with two different nominees; Benjamin again ranked up his secessionist rhetoric. Then after Lincoln was elected president, secession became an all-out conclusion to all proslavery southerners. On December 9, 1860, Benjamin wrote to Samuel Barlow, and described secession as a “wild torrent of passion which is carrying everything before it … It is a revolution … of the most intense character … and it can no more be checked by human effort … than a prairie fire by a gardener’s watering pot.” In his farewell address to the Senate, Benjamin again revived his view that secession and civil war was the only answer for the South. Davis called the day he resigned from the Senate “the saddest day of my life.” However, Benjamin looked forward to the prospects of the new southern confederacy. As with most Southern Jews, he was more ardent in his public views supporting both slavery and then secession than his Christian counterparts and colleagues. Cunningham finds that Benjamin was a “redoubtable defender of slavery and an unyielding sentinel for secession’s logic years before an imminent crisis demanded action”still, he “had never championed disunion, and he had turned to the Democratic Party in the hope that such an event might be forestalled or avoided.”[106]

Benjamin’s ardent secessionist views were in keeping with the views of Southern Jews. Jews in the South were loyal to slavery, the Southern way of life, and the Confederate cause. As Abolitionist Rabbi Bernhard Felsenthal observed, “Israelites residing in New Orleans are man by man — with very few exceptions — ardently in favor of secession, and many among them are intense fanatics.”[107] Most Southern Jews supported the South’s secession from the Union and the newly established Confederacy, whether they were citizens of the South for many years or recently arrived immigrants. The South had been beneficial to its Jewish population; they flourished economically, politically, and socially in a Christian society, virtually without anti-Semitism.

Most Jews, however, believed their support for the Confederacy; states’ rights and slavery were the keys to maintaining acceptance as a part of the white majority. As Williams writes, “During the Civil War, Jews defended the system which ensured them acceptance and success in the South,” [108] While Clive Webb indicates, “Through their loyal support for secession, Southern Jews, therefore, hoped to reinforce their social acceptance.” [109] Rosen also recounts, “The Charleston Jewish community gave its enthusiastic support to the Confederacy. Having found in South Carolina from colonial times a haven from religious persecution, a freedom to practice their religion, and the freedom to engage in all forms of commerce, the Jews of Charleston showed great devotion to the Confederate cause.” [110]

They supported slavery and states’ rights that were the prime motivators for secession and the Civil War. As Jacob Rader Marcus explains, “Some Southern Jews, as we have already noted, were particularly fervent in their advocacy of slavery and of the rights of the South. In defense of a cause that was holy to them, they were willing to sacrifice their lives, and they did.”[111] Webb concludes it best, claiming, “Nothing better defines the depth of Jewish support for the South and the institution of slavery than the Civil War. Southern Jews were staunch supporters of secession and war.” [112] Lewis M. Killian explains, “What ever their status may have been in the South, Jewish southerners were loyal to the Confederacy and supported slavery with greater unity than their northern co-religionists opposed it. One historian has observed: ‘If the rabbis of the North were in…through disagreement about the Jewish approach to slavery and abolitionism, it is not surprising to that their Southern colleagues gave complete support to the slave system.’” [113] Slavery’s economic benefits helped in Southern Jews’ support for the Confederacy. Killian indicates, “With ties to the plantation economy and subject to the passions of the times, the majority of Southern Jews were for the continuation of the slavery system.” [114]

State Rights were directly related to the expansion of slavery a central issue of contention between the North and South. Solomon Cohen wrote to his aunt, “Now we of the South, seeing that public opinion, the law of the land in the North, is against all that we hold valuable … and that the government is about to pass into the hands of those who hate us and our institutions, feel that prudence and self-defense demand that we should protect ourselves.” [115] Although Southern Jews would not admit that they fought to uphold the institution of slavery after the war, they openly expressed that states’ rights were their prime concern.

Southern Jews may have been more loyal to the South and Confederacy when war broke out, but it was not only because they fervently agreed with the South’s cause; they feared anti-Semitic repercussions could occur if they did not lend their full support. Webb argues, “Spread thinly throughout the vast region, the Jews in the South tended to avoid taking public stands on controversial issues. When the issue of slavery tore the country in two during the Civil War, for example, Southern Jews largely accepted slavery and supported the South.” [116] They may have feared the possibility of anti-Semitism in the South; they knew anti-Semitic occurrences in the North, which increased throughout the war. With the frequent anti-Semitic attacks against him, as with the remaining community of Southern Jews, Benjamin needed to more fervent in support for not only slavery but also secession.

Chapter 4 Confederate Cabinet Secretary 1861–63

Confederate Attorney General

After a provisional Confederate Congress elected Davis president, on February 25, 1861, Davis appointed Benjamin as the Confederacy’s first Attorney General. Benjamin served as Davis’ right-hand man, working on setting up the government. Historian William C. Davis indicated in his book, A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy, “For some, there was next to nothing to do, none more so than Benjamin.” [117] Many of Benjamin’s suggestions, which might have helped the Confederacy, were also ignored, including selling stored cotton to Britain or European countries in exchange for arms and supplies, but the Cabinet dismissed that the war would last that long. Secretary of War Leroy P. Walker, however, remarked, “There was only one man there who had any sense, and that man was Benjamin.”[118] Benjamin also hosted dignitaries and gave some legal opinions as no Justice Department was established so early on. As a war hero and former Secretary of War, Davis often overrode Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Walker of Alabama. When the press criticized the Walker for not winning any more battles after the First Battle of Manassas, he resigned in September and joined the Confederate army as a Brigadier General, leaving Davis decided to appoint Benjamin as Secretary of War.

Confederate Secretary of War

Davis chose Benjamin because he wanted a trusted friend who would allow him to control the military decisions in the Civil War without question and take the blame just as easily. During that time, Benjamin proved loyal to Davis as they embarked on a defensive military strategy. Evans points out how vital Varina Davis was to forging the working relationship between two untrusting people, Davis and Benjamin. Evans explains, “Varina Howell Davis was the crucial element that fostered the growth of trust between the two men and made it sustain itself.”[119] Varina Davis observed, “It was to me a curious spectacle, the steady approximation to a thorough friendliness of the President and his War Minister. It was a very gradual rapprochement, but all the more solid for that reason.” [120] Benjamin utilized Jewish stereotypes to his advantage, as Evans describes, “He would turn prejudice to his favor and play on the Southerner’s instinctive respect for the Jewish mind with a brilliant performance.” [121] Despite his loyalty and brains, Benjamin had no military experience and could not deal with the Confederate army’s ongoing problems, including lack of soldiers, officers, arms, and ships.

Benjamin had problems throughout his tenure, especially with the generals, including General P.G.T. Beauregard and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Benjamin chastised Beauregard, who has just won the Battle of Bull Run. When General Beauregard decided “to recruit volunteers for adding a rocket battery to his command,” calling it a “defect of judgment.”[122] Jefferson refused to placate Beauregard because he feared Beauregard wanted the Confederate presidency. In 1862, Jackson wanted to resign over Benjamin, recalling his troops left in West Virginia under William W. Loring, without supplies. Lorring wanted the troops recalled by the War Department. However, when Benjamin complied with Davis’ approval, Jackson wanted to quit but was convinced otherwise. Benjamin’s most significant problem was with the state governments’ conflicting demands, who requested troops returned home for defense.

The loss at the Battle of Roanoke became part of Benjamin’s near downfall. Roanoke was in danger after Cape Hatteras in North Carolina fell to the Union forces and with it some ports in the vicinity while Norfolk, Virginia, would be at risk by land. General Henry A. Wise demanded more troops and supplies to defend Roanoke. Benjamin and the War Department could not send any help because of the blockade, and Benjamin and Davis thought the troops Wise had could off the Union Army. Neither Benjamin nor Davis would let Wise know they had no arms to send. Only Benjamin, Davis, and his wife Varina knew the truth about the lack of supplies. Benjamin and Davis underestimated the number of Union forces that attacked Roanoke in February 1862. Union General Ulysses S. Grant took Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee, and the Confederates faced their most significant strategic losses in the war. Wise put the blame entirely on Benjamin, something Benjamin agreed to do for Davis. General Wise’s family blamed Benjamin personally because one of the general’s sons, Captain Jennings Wise, died at Roanoke. The Confederate Congress wanted to censure Davis for Roanoke instead of blaming Davis; Benjamin took the fall and resigned as Secretary of War. A letter from Benjamin explained why he took the fall for Davis:

I consulted the President whether it was best for the country that I should submit to unmerited censure or reveal to a congressional Committee our poverty and my utter inability to supply the requisitions of General Wise, and thus run the risk that the fact should become known to some of the spies of the enemy, of whose activity we were well assured. It was thought best for the public service that I should suffer the blame in silence, and a report of censure on me was accordingly made by the Committee of Congress.[123]

Benjamin and the Rise of Anti-Semitism in the South

As the situation in the Civil War was becoming increasingly worse for the Confederacy, Southerners’anti-Semitism arose. Before the war, Southerners kept these sentiments publicly to a minimum, and Jews were, for the most part, tolerated in Southern society. As Korn writes, “Granted an original suspicion and dislike of the Jew before the War, the four-year-long travail of the Confederacy was certain to emphasize it.”[124] The rise in anti-Semitism commenced as the war turned towards the worse for the South, defeat was imminent, and the economy worsened with food and supplies challenging to acquire as the war raged on. Jews were blamed because their religion differed, clashing with the Christian Fundamentalism of the Confederate South, Jews’roles as merchants, and Benjamin’s prominent political role in the Confederate government as Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. Anti-Jewish sentiment magnified after the South lost the war; the blame shifted over to the Southern population, even though very few Jews had political or economic power.

The religious fervor in the South translated from the Confederacy as a chosen nation, in defeat that God punished them for sinning; they looked at Jews’economic and political involvement as part of that sinfulness. Southern Christians began to blame the Jewish leaders of the Confederacy for the South’s loss. Historian Diane Ashton recounts, “Denunciations of Jews became more commonplace during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Southerners explained their defeat as God’s chastisement for widespread sinfulness.”[125] The Confederate anti-Jewish feelings, however, were mostly reserved for Judah Benjamin and Jewish merchants. Southern newspapers and magazines attacked Jews emphasizing their otherness, calling them “Yankees among us.” These newspapers also invoked the common anti-Semitic call from Europe, referring to them as “Shylocks, because Jews often worked as merchants.”[126]

The Northern press had a special hatred for Benjamin. Although Benjamin did not practice Judaism and married a Catholic, he still identified as Jewish. The Northern press did not mention Benjamin often, but when they did, they made sure to reference he was Jewish as a derogatory note to prove Jews were traitors as Benjamin. Benjamin’s actions as Secretary of War also were a catalyst that led to the rise of anti-Semitism in the South. [127]

Union general anti-Jewish sentiment served as the primary example of the anti-Semitism Jews experienced from the press and the public. As Korn indicates, “Some of the most prominent persons in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews.”[128] One of the worst offenders was Major General Benjamin F. Butler of Massachusetts, whom the Confederacy named the “Beast.” According to Korn, Butler considered Jews “a tightly-knit and highly-organized nation who set themselves apart and defended themselves against others even when one of their group was wrong.” Butler considered them all “traders, merchants, and bankers.” Butler found the only Jews he came across had “been principally engaged in the occupations [i.e., smuggling] which caused the capture which has occasioned this correspondence.” He accused all Jews of being disloyal and “supporting the Confederacy with whole heart” pointing out, “two of them certainly are in the Confederate Cabinet,” although only Judah Benjamin was Jewish. [129]

Evans notes, “Butler had a special penchant for attacking Jews.” Butler had said of Jews, “The most active agents and the most effective supporters [of the Confederacy] have been the same quasi-foreign houses, mostly Jews… who all deserve at the hands of the Government what is due to the Jew Benjamin, Slidell, Mallory, and Floyd.” Butler verbally attacked Benjamin’s family, he “called” Benjamin’s brother-in-law “a Jew famed for a bargain.” Butler stereotyped Jews as dealing with money and working as money brokers, claiming, Money brokers “were principally Jews. Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of State was a Jew, and his brother-in-law was a broker. I suppose there were some of the Jew who get true intelligence from Richmond.” Butler’s anti-prejudice derived mostly for his hatred of Benjamin and wrote, “Progenitor of the tribe of Benjamin, the Jewish Secretary of State.”[130]

Butler also made sure to make miserable the lives of Benjamin’s family in New Orleans. An English acquaintance of Benjamin recounted, “Mr. Benjamin told me that his property had lately been confiscated in New Orleans and that his two sisters had been turned, neck, and crop, into the streets there with only one trunk, which they had been forced to carry themselves. Everyone was afraid to give them shelter, except an Englishwoman, who protected them until they got out of the city.”[131]

After Butler issued his infamous women’s order-making war with the women of New Orleans, Benjamin sent a letter to Slidell, giving perspective at his outrage over Butler’s actions.

The press of the civilized world has already informed you of the nature of tyranny exercised over the unfortunate city by the brutal commander who temporarily rules over it. The order inviting his beastly soldiery to treat the ladies of New Orleans “as women of the town pursuing their avocation”is not only authentic but has been tacitly approved by his government… His thousand similar acts of atrocities…. All combine in stamping upon him and upon the Government which sustains and supports him indelible infamy. [132]

Future Vice President and President Andrew Johnson was also imbued with anti-Jewish prejudice. In a February 28, 1861, interview the then-Senator from Tennessee spoke to Charles Francis Adams, and Johnson unleashed on Senate colleagues David Levy Yulee and Judah Benjamin. Johnson said of Yulee, “There’s that Yulee, miserable little cuss! I remember him in the House — the contemptible little Jew-standing there and begging us-yes! begging us to let Florida in as a State. Well! we let her in, and took care of her, and fought her Indians, and now that despicable little beggar stands up in the Senate and talks about her rights.” Johnson also went on about Benjamin, “There’s another Jew-that miserable Benjamin! He looks on a country and a government as he would on a suit of old clothes. He sold out the old one, and he would sell out the new if he could in so doing make two or three million!” [133]

“Parson” William Ganaway Brownlow of eastern Tennessee demonstrated one of the worst anti-Jewish prejudices of all newspaper editors in the Union and supported Grant’s expulsion order against the Jews. Brownlow was a Methodist “circuit-rider” who became a partisan press publisher, whom Korn describes as a “vociferous propagandist for causes all his life.”[134] In 1856, Brownlow advocated for the nativist Know-Nothing Party with anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. At the time, Brownlow wrote a book of editorials and speeches, Americanism Contrasted with Foreignism, Romanism, and Bogus Democracy, in the Light of Reason, History, and Scriptures; in which Certain Demagogues in Tennessee and elsewhere, are Shown up in their true Colors. Korn explains, “It was a revelation of a man goaded to hatred. Less a religious zealot than a fanatic who latched his neurosis on to a religious vehicle, more a demagogue than an orator, more a propagandist than a journalist, Brownlow was a dangerous enemy for anyone to make.”[135]

Brownlow’s hatred reached new heights after Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin imprisoned him and banned him to the North. Brownlow was part of the “anti-Confederate forces in the Tennessee highlands.”Benjamin had him captured but chose to send him to Union territory, not to make Brownlow a martyr. Instead, Brownlow attacked Benjamin in his book, Sketches of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Secession; with a Narrative of Personal Adventures among the Rebels. In another book, he called Benjamin and all other Jews “Christ-killers,”writing, “no more mercy from [ Benjamin ] than was shown by his illustrious predecessors towards Jesus Christ.” In a speech Brownlow wrote, Benjamin “threatened to hang [me] with or without evidence. My only wonder was that he did not threaten to crucify me.” [136]

Historian Henry L. Feingold, in his book Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, also reiterates that Benjamin was blamed for war losses because of his religion instead of his actual policies and military decisions. The Confederate Congress wanted to censure Benjamin for not sending troops and supplies to Roanoke. They created a committee to investigate the reasons behind Benjamin’s decision for which he testified. Feingold recounts, “In 1862 Judah Benjamin, who had suffered much calumny because of his being Jewish, was censured by the Confederate Congress for failing to send war supplies to Roanoke and thus causing its loss to the Union Army. He did not reveal that if he had complied with Roanoke’s request, Norfolk would have been left vulnerable.”[137]

After Benjamin’s turn as Secretary of War, anti-Semitism exploded in a desperate South, with Benjamin the pride target. Lauren Winner, in her article “Taking up the cross: conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” states, “Benjamin was only one of the many Confederate Jews whom Confederate Christians plugged into age-old stereotypes of the Jew qua extortionist, thief, shylock, of Jews driven by, in the words of historian John Higham, “cunning” and “avarice.” [138] Benjamin was the scapegoat that represented the cause for most of the anti-Semitism in the South during the war. As Evans explains, “The virulence of the times, which saw an outpouring of anti-Semitism such as no previous period in American history, required a symbolic figure as a catalyst for an ancient hostility.”[139] According to historian Leonard Dinnerstein in his book Anti-Semitism in America, Benjamin was “the archetypal perfidious Jew and while “Southern antisemites resented him… he suffered no undue attacks while an attorney in Louisiana, or as a United States Senator representing the state from 1853 through 1861, many confederates attributed military losses and diplomatic failures to his being Jewish.”[140]

Actions as Secretary of War

The Confederate side also found Kentuckians to have divided loyalties. On September 10, 1861, “General Albert Sidney Johnston was placed in command of Confederate Department №2, a military monstrosity that stretched all the way from the Appalachian Mountains in the east to the Indian Territory in the west.”[141]Johnson was a native Kentuckian, and he appointed Buckner his brigadier general ordering him to occupy Bowling Green, Kentucky, in the south of the state. When Johnston arrived in late October, he also found Kentuckians less than excited to join the Confederate army, the same enthusiasm gap as with the Union army. Johnston complained to Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin, “There are thousands of ardent friends to the South in the state, but there is apparently among them no concert of action.”[142] In the last months of 1861, there was military action in Kentucky with both the Union and Confederacy clashing. As Harrison observes, “More than a score of other Kentucky communities also experienced their first taste of the war during the closing months of 1861.”[143]

The Confederate Kentucky shadow government represented a minority of Kentuckians. As Rawley notes, it “never amounted to more than a rump of the people.” Soon, however, Confederate Kentucky leaders were forced to leave their capital of Bowling Green. They could not raise taxes but raised volunteers for twenty companies for the Confederate army as prescribed in a December 23, 1861, Confederate law. When the Confederacy required Kentucky to raise 46,000 soldiers for the army, Secretary of War Judah Benjamin knew Kentucky could not do it. In a February 3, 1862, letter to Governor Johnson, Benjamin wrote, “under the peculiar circumstances in which Kentucky is placed and the difficulties which embarrass her authorities, I cannot hope that you will be able at present to meet this call.…” The Confederate Treasury kept the Kentucky government alive.

Judah Benjamin, as the Secretary of War and then State for the Confederate government, took the blame for many of the South’s defeats and problems. Anti-Semitism fueled the outcry against Benjamin, and he could not escape the rise of anti-Semitism in the South and the increase in the North. The press in both North and South villainized Benjamin with anti-Semitic overtones. In her diary, southern patriot Mary Chestnut recalled, “the mob calls him Mr. Davis’s pet Jew.” The Richmond Examiner thought it was “blasphemous” that a Jew held such a high post in the Confederate government. The anti-Semitic attacks used age-old stereotypes on Jews that Jews thought they escape in America, especially in the South. The press thought Benjamin was not sending arms and supplies to make a profit. A Methodist minister in Nashville called Benjamin “a little pilfering Jew . . . one of the tribes that murdered the Savior.”[144] At the same time, Christian ministers thought that with the Jewish Benjamin serving in the Confederate cabinet, God was not listening to the Confederacy’s prayers.

Benjamin’s fellow Confederates also abhorred him mostly for his Jewishness. Thomas R. R. Cobb, “a brigadier general and member of the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy,” referred to Benjamin as “a grander rascal than this Jew Benjamin does not exist in the Confederacy, and I am not particular in concealing my opinion of him.” Confederate Congressman Henry S. Foote of Tennessee referred to Benjamin as Judas Iscariot Benjamin. Foote made it known he “would never consent to the establishment of a supreme court of the Confederate States as long as Judah P. Benjamin shall continue to pollute the ears of majesty Davis with his insidious counsels.”[145] The fact that Benjamin was a Jew led a citizen of North Carolina and Confederate clerk, John Beauchamp Jones, to swear, “All the distresses of the people were owing to a Nero-like despotism, originating in the brain of Benjamin, the Jew.”[146] Beauchamp’s Civil war diary, “A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital,” was filled with anti-Semitism much directed at Benjamin. Years later, in 1936, Wise’s grandson called Benjamin “the fat Jew sitting at his desk,” while Wise’s other grandson went on an anti-Semitic diatribe in his 1899 book The End of an Era blaming Benjamin for the entire fall of the Confederacy. [147]

Chapter 5 Confederate Secretary of State 1863–65

Confederate Secretary of State

Despite Confederate military failures, in March 1862, Davis appointed Benjamin to a third cabinet post as Secretary of State. He was responsible for getting Britain and the European nations to recognize the Confederate States of America and aid them in the war. Despite his loyalty to Davis and the Confederacy, Southerners, especially in Virginia, never forgave him for Roanoke. Varina Davis in her memoirs acknowledged, “While many of their constituents objected to Mr. Benjamin retaining the portfolio of War, because of reverses which no one could have averted, the President promoted him to the State Department with a personal and aggrieved sense of injustice done to the man who had now become his friend and right hand.” [148] Benjamin was indispensable to Davis, working ten to twelve hours a day by his side, serving as a speechwriter and trusted confident.

The Confederacy’s Secretary of State Robert M. T. Hunter resigned in March 1862 after disagreeing with Davis. The Confederate president chose to save his friend Benjamin and appointed him to the post on March 17, 1862, and despite objections, the Senate confirmed Benjamin quickly. Benjamin had two jobs as Secretary of State “to gain support from England and France and gain recognition as an independent nation.”[149] The Confederacy needed England and France to support them before the rest of Europe would recognize them as a country. England most objected to the Confederacy because of their continuing slavery. Davis refused to abolish slavery even when Benjamin suggested it as a last-ditch effort before surrender.

Both Britain and France were more interested in negotiating when the Confederacy would win in battles, but it became more difficult in defeat, especially after Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863. The Confederacy’s best opportunity for recognition was in June 1862, after General Robert E. Lee’s victory at the Seven Days Battle. There Lee successfully defended the Confederate capital of Richmond against Union General George B. McClellan. France’s Napoleon III was receptive to the Confederacy and Benjamin’s overtures. Confederate diplomat John Slidell offered to France 100,000 bales of cotton in exchange for France’s intervention. Referred to as Cotton Diplomacy, the Confederacy was able to acquire a 15 million dollar loan from France to be paid with seven percent interest. The Confederacy could not unload cotton they had stored, which Davis refused to import to countries that would not recognize the Confederacy. The struggling South received money for arms they desperately needed.

The Confederate loss at Antietam only increased the British interest in intervening; they viewed the bloody loss as a stalemate. Britain considered President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Confederate territories as a farce. They wanted to end the interruption of imports from America that were affecting their citizens from the blockade. Benjamin made headway in October 1862, when the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, remarked that the Confederacy “have made a nation.” France suggested that Britain, France, and Russia interfere, forcing a six-month armistice to the fighting and blockade for negotiations between the North and South. The British Government was not as enthusiastic, and with War Secretary George Cornewall Lewis’recommendation, in November 1862, they decided to wait until the Confederates won the war to recognize them as a country. Britain wanted an end to slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation and Union victory would ensure it, and Davis would not allow Benjamin to use freeing the slaves to entice British recognition.

Benjamin negotiated one other successful loan from the banker Baron Frederic Emile d’Erlanger and his firm Erlanger et Cie, which provided a commission to Erlanger and allowed the bondholder to buy cotton at a reduced price when “the South won the war.” Although, under the Treasury Department, Benjamin negotiated terms favorable to the Confederacy that allowed them to keep up their payments. In October 1863, after losses in Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the British consul in Savannah went as far as barring their citizens from fighting for the Confederacy. In turn, with Davis out of Richmond, Benjamin convened a cabinet meeting and expelled the British consuls.

Evans finds that Benjamin was serving as an acting president of the Confederacy, and therefore the first Jewish president. Jane Singer indicates in her book The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union notes, “In the last year of the war when Benjamin with autonomy often making decisions on his own, the Confederate president was forever grateful.”[150] Benjamin was also responsible for the Confederate Secret Service who conducted covert attacks in the North aimed at crippling Lincoln politically and boosting the Peace Democrats; it included the St. Albans Raid and an attempt at burning down New York City. The actions led to suspicions that Benjamin and Davis planned Lincoln’s assassination.

Emancipating the slaves and using them as soldiers might have saved the Confederacy. In 1863, the concept of using slaves in the Confederate army was suggested to Benjamin; he refused because Davis objected to the idea. James Spence, a British financial agent through emancipation, would gain British recognition. Benjamin let him remain in the government before dismissing him in late 1863. In early 1864, Confederate General Patrick Cleburne of the Army of Tennessee suggested emancipating the slaves and having them serve in the Confederate army, but Davis refused the idea. Evan recounts, “Benjamin had been thinking in similar terms for much longer, and perhaps the recommendation of so respected an officer was just the impetus he needed.”[151]

Benjamin had considered the idea ever since Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation; he thought the idea of a Confederate Emancipation Proclamation would be beneficial to the war and save the south. The concept would be an exchange; the slaves who served in the army would gain freedom when the Union captured a town or city or location they did the same. Benjamin stated, “The true issue is it better for the Negro to fight for us or against us?”[152] Benjamin also believed “the action of our people on this point will be of more value to us abroad than any diplomacy or treaty-making.” Evans explains, the problem was “The whole Southern “way of life” rested upon slavery. To abandon it precipitously might create social chaos that would plunge the nation into anarchy.”[153]

The Confederacy was already on the brink. According to Evans, “For all the risks, there was no doubt in Benjamin’s mind that Emancipation could be the one stroke to save the South from defeat.”[154] Benjamin tried to convince Lee and Confederate military aides about the concept in 1864. He met with resistance when he mentioned Richmond’s idea, because to Southerners, it reflected the antithesis to slavery. In 1864, the Union victories included the capture and burning of Atlanta, Georgia, and General William T. Sherman’s march to the sea. Benjamin urged Davis to reconsider freeing the slaves for British and France support. Davis would only offer gradual emancipation ending any chance of British and French help. In 1864, Benjamin delivered his first speech in four years, speaking to 100,000 about emancipating the slaves willing to fight for the Confederacy. As late as February 1865, Benjamin pushed the idea of freeing and arming the slaves. Governor of Georgia and Secretary of Treasury, Howell Cobb, commented on the irony, “If slaves will make good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”[155] The Confederate Congress passed a bill with many restrictions in March, but it was too late to help the Confederacy. In the end, Evans notes, “The South chose [instead] to go down in defeat with the institution of slavery intact.”[156]

Chapter 6 Confederate Escape and Later Life in Britain

Escaping the Confederacy

By March 1865, the Confederate government had to consider an escape. On April 2, Lee notified the cabinet that he could not hold off the Richmond-Danville railroad much longer and urged the Confederate Cabinet to leave, which they did late at night. The cabinet made Danville the capital while Lee negotiated the surrender at Appomattox, and they held their last Confederate cabinet meeting in Danville. Davis and the Confederate cabinet became fugitives looking to evade capture by the Union forces moving to Greensboro, North Carolina, and Charlotte. On May 2, in Abbeville, South Carolina, while Davis and the cabinet were heading to Texas, Benjamin broke off saying he would be going to the Bahamas to get instructions to Confederate foreign agents. Supposedly, Abbeville was the site of the last Confederate cabinet meeting.

On May 3, Benjamin left the Confederate party, including Davis, at the South Carolina, Georgia, border, where Benjamin sought to go south through Florida and freedom. Union Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton would capture Davis, infamously disguised as a woman. Secretary of the Treasury George Trenholm, Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory, and Postmaster General John Reagan, while like Benjamin, and Confederate Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge was also able to escape capture by leaving for Cuba. When separating, Reagan asked Benjamin where he was going, to which Benjamin responded, “To the farthest place from the United States, if it takes me to the middle of China.” Historian William C. Davis did not believe Benjamin had any plans of meeting up again with Davis, the evening before he burnt “some of his most sensitive papers.” Davis indicated in his memoir, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, “The pragmatic secretary of state almost certainly never had any intention of returning to the South once gone.”[157]

Both Benjamin and Davis were at risk of being charged as traitors and in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. According to Stone, “The New York Times called for Jefferson P. Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and John C. Breckinridge to die. The Times wrote, “the leading traitors should die the most disgraceful death known to our civilization –death on the gallows.’The price on Benjamin’s head was $40,000, dead or alive.”[158] Davis ended up spending two years in prison while fleeing Benjamin evaded any imprisonment. Benjamin knew with all the vitriolic anti-Semitism against him “they probably would have put him to death”[159]

After Lincoln’s death, the Northern press referred to Lincoln as the martyred Christ and Benjamin as Judas. Historians believe that Benjamin did not intend to return to America and certain capture. Evans believed if captured, America would have a trial like the later Alfred Dreyfus trial in France. Secretary of War Edward Stanton would have made Benjamin the scapegoat. Evans also believes Benjamin’s creation of a Confederate spy ring in Canada and their possible link afterward with Lincoln’s assassination was why Benjamin fled to Britain and remained silent about his time in the Confederate cabinet.

Benjamin’s escape through Florida out of the country is considered the stuff of legends. The New York Times reported on August 3, 1865, called it “a mythical escap[e] from Florida,” however, the paper had no idea how he succeeded to evade capture and simply wrote, “The truth is he got out of Dixie somehow.” Benjamin used two disguises to escape, one through Georgia and the second traveling through Florida. In Georgia, Benjamin dressed up as a Frenchman, wearing a “hat, goggles, cloak, and full beard,” complete with a Confederate passport, which claimed he was from France, going by the name M.M. Bonfals, Monsieur Bonfals, or Bonfals, which means “good disguise” in French Cajun. Benjamin also spoke in a broken French accent to complete his disguise. Benjamin might have traveled with Colonel H. J. Leovy, but historians differ on the fact. [160]

In Florida, Benjamin traveled disguised as a farmer. In July 1865, while already safe in the Bahamas, Benjamin recounted to his sister in a letter his escape. Benjamin wrote, “I found my successful disguise to be that of a farmer. I professed to be traveling in Florida in search of land on which to settle, with some friends who desired to move from South Carolina. I got a kind farmer’s wife to make me some homespun clothes just like her husband’s. I got for my horse the commonest and roughest equipment that I could find.”[161] Benjamin made better time than Breckinridge made and hoped to follow his route to the South of Florida, but his inability to secure a boat altered his course and instead traveled to Florida’s Gulf Coast. On the coast, loyal Confederates aided Benjamin in hiding him at a plantation on the Manatee River. While there, federal troops searched for “Confederate officials,” forcing Benjamin to hide in the woods. [162]

Benjamin again changed his disguise name, going by Mr. Howard. In Manatee’s village, former blockade-runner Captain Frederick Tresca helped Benjamin. He would serve as his guide to the coast in the high-risk seventeen-day journey, where they evaded federal forces and survived a harrowing boat trip. Benjamin worried about thieves stealing his gold as much as he did federal forces and potential capture. Mrs. Tresca sewed Benjamin gold in his waistcoat, and he parted from Tresca. From Manatee, Reverend Ezchiel Glazier helped Benjamin travel to Sarasota Bay. At the bay Benjamin again met up with Tresca and Confederate sailor H.A. McLeod.

They left Sarasota on June 23, and when they reached Gasparilla, they again were forced to hide from Federal patrols. McLeod recounted:

“We put in at Gasparilla Pass, and there was no wind; we lowered mast as soon as we got behind the island, pulled our boat under the mangrove bushes until completely hidden, lay down, and waited. The pursuing boat came on, searching diligently, and once came so near that we could hear them talking, but we kept quiet, so quiet indeed, that the above voices of our enemies, and the taunting song of the mosquitoes, against who attacks we were quite helpless, rose the hollow sound of our beating hearts.” [163]

After, they set up camp on Gasparilla Island for two days, surviving on fish and bananas but “did not light a fire for fear of being spotted.”[164]

When they reached, Knights Key Fresca secured a larger boat for their sea journey to Bimini in the Bahamas. The rough journey lasted four days. McLeod recounted the harrowing journey, writing, “Squalls and water spouts and tropical storms came near finishing us. The water came down in sheets. I took a tin pan and bailed, and Mr. Benjamin used his hat and, turning to me, said with a smile, ‘McLeod this is not like being Secretary of State.’”[165] Benjamin made the journey lively with jokes and stories, and after they reached Bimini, Benjamin paid Treca “$1,500 in gold.”

Then Benjamin was on to Nassau, booking a spot on a “small sloop.”On the way to Nassau, the ship exploded. Benjamin recounted to his sister:

“We had barely time to jump into a small skiff that the sloop had in tow before she went to the bottom. In the skiff, leaky with but a single oar, we had no provisions save a pot of rice that had just been cooked for breakfast, and a small keg of water; I found myself at eight o’clock in the morning with three negroes for my companions in disaster, only five inches of boat out of water, on the broad ocean, with the certainty that we could not survive five minutes if the sea became the least rough.” [166]

Benjamin and the sloop crew were lucky the sea was calm by the afternoon they “were rescued by a passing ship.”The ship dropped Benjamin back in Bimini, where he again “chartered” a boat. This time, the sea was calm, and after six days, Benjamin reached Nassau. After reaching Nassau, Benjamin went to Havana, Cuba. There Benjamin met up with Confederate General Kirby Smith, who escaped from Texas through Mexico then going on to Cuba.[167]

On August 6, 1865, Benjamin was set on his way to Britain, but his ship went on fire at St. Thomas. On August 30, 1865, Benjamin finally reached Southampton, England. The London Times recounted after his death, “After many hairbreadths escapes he got in an open boat, old and leaky, from Florida to the Bahamas, where he landed. He was shipwrecked on his way to Nassau in a vessel laden with sponges. A British man-of-war rescued the unfortunate passengers and carried them to St. Thomas. The steamer in which he started from this island caught fire and had to be put back. At length, Mr. Benjamin reached England.”[168]

Benjamin never went back to the United States, remaining in England. When leaving the Confederacy, he took with one hundred bales of cotton, which he sold for $20,000, supporting himself, his sisters in America, and his wife and daughter until he practiced law again. However, Benjamin still needed money, turned to write, and contributed to The London Daily Telegraph. Benjamin faced more obstacles in Britain than ever in America; he had been the Confederate secessionist, an expert in civil law, and a Jew. In Britain, it was less welcoming to a Jew than in America. Although Jews were emancipated, there were prejudices; barristers were elite British and Protestant, Jewish barristers were almost non-existent. He was described as the “prince of the Secession,” “of decidedly Jewish descent,” “a little elderly man, snuffy and ill-shaven, with nothing to captivate men” who spoke, “with a strong American accent.” Benjamin admitted he was “a Political Exile, proscribed for my loyalty to my own State.” Benjamin maximized the connections he made as Confederate Secretary of State, and even Benjamin Disraeli asked to assist him. [169]

British Barrister on the Queen’s Council

To become a barrister in England, Benjamin had to learn English Common Law. On January 13, 1866, he began studies at the Lincoln’s Inn. As a fast learner, he was called to the bar on June 6, 1866. The London Times recounted that his connections to “Lords Justice Turner and Giffard, and Lord Hatherley and Sir Fitzroy Kelley” allowed Benjamin to bypass the three years of study required. [170] Historians believe his early call to the bar might have to do with Confederate sympathies. Benjamin used his Confederate connections, including former Confederate envoy James Mason to help him secure employment by barrister Charles Pollock. Benjamin began his British law career in Liverpool, where there had been mercantile ties to the antebellum South’s cotton industry. Benjamin became a barrister arguing cases in commercial law and represented businesses in the cotton trade.

As in New Orleans, Benjamin wrote a notable book on law, A Treatise on the Law of Sale of Personal Property in 1868, which is still published as Benjamin on Sales; the book was a success and hailed by the legal world helped propel his practice. Afterward, he was awarded the honor of Queen’s Counsel for Lancashire County. In 1872, Baron Hatherley granted Benjamin a patent of precedence for his work on the “marine insurance case Rankin v Potter.” Benjamin was quickly able to gain acceptance into the upper echelons of the “gentile” British society, which MacMillan believes “gives credence to the view that his acceptance was conditioned upon his assimilation, but without any insight into Benjamin’s own thoughts, it is impossible to prove that his assimilation occurred to gain acceptance.”[171]

In his later career, he mostly argued in appeal cases where he always excelled at either the House of Lords or the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, arguing 135 cases in mercantile and trade law, particularly shipping. In 1868, Davis visited Benjamin and five other times when he visited London, seeing him for the last time in 1883. Benjamin avoided everyone else he knew from the Confederacy cutting his ties from them. Benjamin’s drive to be successful and at the center of his American political career contrasted with the obscurity that he chose afterward. Benjamin avoided discussing his role in the Confederacy except for two short letters in newspapers. The first was published in the Times of London in 1865, which defended Davis against a prison term, in the second published in 1883, where Benjamin defended himself against charges that he hide three million dollars in Confederate funds in Europe. [172] Ever the chameleon, he adapted and assimilated to circumstances while in Britain. Benjamin delved into his life as a barrister and legal scholar shedding his American and Confederate past.

Benjamin continued to visit his estranged wife and daughter, and he fell from a streetcar in Paris in 1881 during one of those trips. His injuries began a string of health problems, including diabetes and in 1882, a heart attack. In 1883, Benjamin retired from the bar and announced he would move to Paris, returning $100,000 in retainers to clients while the Bar of England threw him a farewell banquet. For the last year of his life, Benjamin again lived with his wife Natalie, in a “three-story mansion” near the current Arc de Triomphe.”

Benjamin died on May 6, 1884; although he remained a non-observant Jew, Natalie Benjamin had a Catholic priest administer last rites on Benjamin before he died. Natalie also had his funeral services in a church and buried him at the St Martin family crypt at Père Lachaise Cemetery. In 1938, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Paris chapter added a plaque to his unmarked grave. The plaque read: “Judah Philip Benjamin Born St. Thomas West Indies August 6, 1811, Died in Paris May 6, 1884, United States Senator From Louisiana Attorney General, Secretary of War And Secretary of State of the Confederate States Of America, Queen’s Counsel, London.”[173]

Conclusion

Benjamin lived in obscurity after his death as he did in the historical record, never taking credit in death, as he did not in life for his significant role in the rise and fall of the Confederacy and the course of the American Civil War. Benjamin represents a symbol of both the religious tolerance in the antebellum South to Jews because they were white, especially those that were upper class, and the worse revival of the evil scrooge anti-Semitism at its worst in America. Early on, Benjamin learned what he had to do for his ticket to the success he craved; assimilate. Benjamin assimilated and adapted every facet of his life in a way that would help him succeed in keeping his real views secret and espousing those most advantageous in aiding him in his rise to prominence. As with other Southern Jews, he overdid everything to rise above the fact he was a Jew.

From his humble beginnings, Benjamin’s brains and determination to excel academically brought him to Yale, where he had a taste of the elite. Identifying his shortcomings in status and wealth, Benjamin married a woman whose family and religion would detract from his Jewishness and open doors to New Orleans society’s upper echelons. He associated and co-wrote his legal treatise with a man whose family had political and legal connections in the city. The connections Benjamin made and his brilliant legal mind helped propel him to career and financial success. He purchased a plantation making it the grandest in Louisiana. He excelled in his political defying American acceptance of Jews at the time to the heights of the Senate, a Supreme Court, and an ambassador nomination and the top of the Confederate cabinet as the right-hand of the president because of his overzealous support of slavery, states’ rights, and secession.

Benjamin worked harder for success in politics and his legal career to gain acceptance. Benjamin needed to go beyond what others did, and those attributes were noticed. When elected to the Senate, Benjamin was described as having a “fine imagination … exquisite taste, great power of discrimination, a keen, subtle logic, excellent memory” and “admirable talent of analysis.” [174] Later, Confederate First Lady Varina Davis would describe Benjamin saying he “seemed to have an electric sympathy with every mind with which he came into contact.” Despite the anti-Semitic attacks he encountered in his career Benjamin said he had “the most courteous manner”and that “I have endeavoured, upon all occasions, that my manner towards my brother Senators should be such that whilst we differ in opinion . . . there should be left no sting behind in the debates which might occur between us, that none but the kindliest and best feelings may exist.”[175]

Still, Benjamin remained an outsider as a Jew, who, like the rest of the Southern Jewish population, tried to be more devoted, loyal, and fervent in all the South’s institutions and social constructs to avoid anti-Jewish prejudice. Legal scholar Catharine MacMillan even concurs, “Benjamin’s life, it is also argued, demonstrates how some individuals can ‘overcome’ the initial marginalization which attends the circumstances of their birth to move within the mainstream of society.”[176] Historians agree that Benjamin’s ability to turn his “weakness into strength” led to his success and his “perseverance in the face of adversity.”[177] Although historians claim he was never fanatical his zeal was still there. Benjamin was willing to publicly go beyond the necessary support for the Confederacy and Southern institutions, if not privately, and that was his ticket to acceptance. He rose to the cabinet of the new Confederate States of America and as the president’s Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man.

As with other Southern Jews, they felt they had to be more loyal and go beyond their support of the Confederacy to prove to their Christian counterparts their fidelity to the cause. Benjamin’s whiteness helped contribute to his success, especially in the South. As MacMillan indicates, “Benjamin lived in an era when he had the basic attributes (he was male and white). He could participate in civic society in the United States and the United Kingdom. This was a necessary pre-condition for success, without which all personal attributes would be meaningless.”[178] Although Benjamin “was a nonpracticing Jew, he never attempted to deny his faith.” Evans argues, “Benjamin thus must stand as a symbol of American democracy and its openness to religious minorities…. Benjamin was the main beneficiary of that emancipation and its most visible symbol in America.”[179] Benjamin’s political career amounted to many historical firsts for American Jews which Evans called a “watershed” because he became the first Jew “to be projected into the national consciousness.” At the start of the Civil War Southern Jews “were especially proud of his achievements, because he validated their legitimacy as Southerners.”[180]

Benjamin’s success mirrored the acceptance of Southern Jewry. His failing in the Civil War as Secretary of War mirrored the rise of anti-Semitism in the South. As the Confederacy lost battles and the blockade forced the mostly Jewish merchants to increase the prices, Southerners blamed Benjamin, and he had their ire. Benjamin took responsibility for the fall of the Confederacy and the South losing the war; the country went as far as to blame Benjamin for conspiring and planning President Lincoln’s assassination. Benjamin always faced anti-Semitic attacks throughout his political career, but he became the ultimate scapegoat. As Evans recounts, “A nation of Christ-haunted people searched instinctively for the Jewish scapegoat, who would make the myth complete. The Easter sermons mourning Lincoln would define Benjamin in the legend, should he be captured. The phrase “Christ-killer” had to be lodged in Benjamin’s soul a latent childhood memory.” [181] Despite Benjamin’s treason to the Union, the characterization Americans had for Benjamin was a resurgence of European anti-Semitism, blaming the Jews for Christ’s Crucifixion and anything else that went wrong, the Civil War both in the North and later in the South.

Benjamin preferred historical obscurity rather than perpetuating the anti-Semitic attacks against him and in the larger context America’s Jews. For Christians and Jews alike, he represented American Jewish success. By burning all his papers and never writing a memoir, he also refused to defend himself; he denied American and Jewish history the ability to put his life and career, success, and failure into a historical perspective. Benjamin’s life was filled with contradictions, and the theories about Benjamin in the scant amount of literature published are just that theories and assertions. No historian will ever know the real Benjamin, what drove him, how he felt about slavery, the Confederacy, or Judaism; he will always remain an enigma.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brook, Daniel. “THE FORGOTTEN CONFEDERATE JEW How history lost Judah P. Benjamin, the most prominent American Jew of the 19th century.”Tablet Magazine, July 17, 2012. https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/106227/the-forgotten-confederate-jew

Butler, Pierce. Judah P. Benjamin. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Co., 1907.

Clark, James C. Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1999.

Cunningham, Geoffrey D. “‘The Ultimate Step:’ Judah P. Benjamin and Secession.” American Jewish History, vol. 97 no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–19. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/ajh.2011.0020

Davis, Jefferson. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1881.

Davis, William C. “A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Davis, William C. An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government. San Diego, Calif: Harcourt, 2001.

Dinnerstein, Leonard and Mary Dale Palsson, eds. Jews of the South, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

Downey, Arthur T. The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. New York: Free Press, 1989.

Feldberg, Michael. Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House in association with the American Jewish Historical Society, 2002.

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. “Remarks for Jewish Council for Public Affairs in appreciation for the Albert D. Chernin Award. February 18, 2002. https://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/speeches/sp_02-18-02.html

KAHN, EVE M. “Letters Reveal Doubts of Senator Judah Benjamin. The New York Times, December 31, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/01/arts/design/01antiques.html

Kite-Powell, Rodney H. II (2018) “The Escape of Judah P. Benjamin,” Sunland Tribune: Vol. 22, Article 9. http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/sunlandtribune/vol22/iss1/9

Korn, Bertram W. American Jewry and the Civil War. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001.

Korn, Bertram W. “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.”Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, pp. 153–171. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

Korn, Bertram Wallace. The Early Jews of New Orleans. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1969.

Meade, Robert Douthat. Judah P. Benjamin: Confederate Statesman. New York: Oxford University Press, 1943.

MacMillan, Catharine. “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?”Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, pp. 150–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702.

Nadell, Pamela S. and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives. Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001.

Rosen, Robert N. The Jewish Confederates. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Sarna, Jonathan D, and Adam Mendelsohn. Jews and the Civil War: A Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2010.

Silverman, Jason H. “‘The Law of the Land is the Law’Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South,” in Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, edited by Jack Salzman and Cornel West. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Singer, Jane. The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005.

Stone, Kurt F. The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2011.

Lauren F. Winner, “Taking up the cross: conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” in Catherine Clinton, ed. Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South. Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Wikipedia. “Judah P. Benjamin.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judah_P._Benjamin

Wiseman, Maury. “Judah P. Benjamin and slavery.”American Jewish Archives Journal, 59, 1–2, 2007, 107–114.

[1] David Levy Yulee is often considered the first Jewish senator; a Whig representing Florida but Yulee had already converted to Christianity upon his election to the Senate.

[2] Jane Singer. The Confederate Dirty War: Arson, Bombings, Assassination, and Plots for Chemical and Germ Attacks on the Union, (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co, 2005), 10.

[3] Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, (New York: Free Press, 1988), xi.

[4] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xiii.

[5] Abraham J. Peck, “That Other ‘Peculiar Institution’: Jews and Judaism in the Nineteenth-Century South,” Modern Judaism, Vol. 7, №1, Feb. 1987, 99–114, 100.

[6] Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Twayne Publishers, 1974), 61.

[7] Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, (Columbia S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 15–16

[8] Greenberg, Mark I. “Becoming Southern: the Jews of Savannah, Georgia, 1830–70.” American Jewish History. 86.1 (1998): 55–75.

[9] Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 241.

[10] Webb, Fight Against Fear, 7.

[11] Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds., Jews of the South, (New Orleans: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 25.

[12] Louis Schmier “Jews” in Celeste Ray, Charles R. Wilson, James G. Thomas, and Ann J. Abadie. The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Vol. 6. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006, 176.

[13] Arthur W. Bergeron Jr., Lawrence Lee Hewitt, Louisianians in the Civil War, (Columbia, MO.: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 73.

[14] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 121.

[15] Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001), 158.

[16] Stone, Kurt F. The Jews of Capitol Hill: A Compendium of Jewish Congressional Members, (Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2011), 37.

[17] Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn. Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 37

[18] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 85, Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1881), I, 242.

[19] Daniel Brook, “THE FORGOTTEN CONFEDERATE JEW How history lost Judah P. Benjamin, the most prominent American Jew of the 19th century.” Tablet Magazine, July 17, 2012. https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/106227/the-forgotten-confederate-jew

[20] https://forward.com/news/380453/why-are-there-no-statues-of-jewish-confederate-judah-benjamin-to-tear-down/

[21] Ibid., Brook, “THE FORGOTTEN CONFEDERATE JEW” https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/106227/the-forgotten-confederate-jew

[22] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xiv, xviii.

[23] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xvi.

[24] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 22, Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 138.

[25] Ibid., Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 22, Max Raisin, A History of the Jews in Modern Times, 279–281.

[26] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, pp. 153–171. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[27] Benjamin Kaplan, “Judah Phillip Benjamin” in Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds. Jews of the South, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 75.

[28] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 398.

[29] Catharine MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?” Journal of Law and Society, 42 (1), 2015, pp. 150–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.14676478.2015.00702, 2.

[30] EVE M. KAHN, “Letters Reveal Doubts of Senator Judah Benjamin. The New York Times, December 31, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/01/arts/design/01antiques.html

[31] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/judah-benjamin

[32] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 38.

[33] Eli Evans lists Benjamin’s birthday as August 11, 1811, most historians and sources, however, state he was born on August 6, 1811.

[34] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 4; Robert D. Meade, Judah P. Benjamin: Confederate Statesman, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1943), 5; Pierce Butler, Judah P. Benjamin, (Philadelphia: G.W. Jacobs & company, 1907), 22.

[35] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 4, 7.

[36] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 7–8; Pierce Butler, Judah P. Benjamin, 23.

[37] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 5.

[38] The dates have varied from 1813, 1816, or as late of 1825, which was impossible considering Benjamin went to school in America.

[39] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 6.

[40] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 5.

[41] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 5.

[42] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 6.

[43] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 10.

[44] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 11.

[45] Bertram Wallace Korn, The Early Jews of New Orleans, (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1969), 187.

[46] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 4. Korn, The Early Jews of New Orleans, 21, 223.

[47] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 4.

[48] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 7.

[49] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 40.

[50] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 8.

[51] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 9. J Whitaker, Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana (New Orleans: Ferguson & Crosby, 1847), 27.

[52] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 40.

[53] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 5.

[54] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 9.

[55] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 40–41.

[56] Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step”

[57] Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. “Remarks for Jewish Council for Public Affairs in appreciation for the Albert D. Chernin Award. February 18, 2002.

[58] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 41.

[59] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 103 (50)

[60] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 103 (50)

[61] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 103 (50)

[62] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 80.

[63] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 11.

[64] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 10–11.

[65] Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step”

[66] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 42.

[67] Ibid., Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 42. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 109; https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llcg&fileName=055/llcg055.db&recNum=722

[68] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, p. 17. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[69] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xvii.

[70] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 2.

[71] Arthur T. Downey, The Creole Affair: The Slave Rebellion That Led the U.S. and Great Britain to the Brink of War, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 160.

[72] Bertram W. Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 38, no. 3, 1949, 168. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43059749.

[73] Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate, (New York: Free Press, 1988), 97.

[74] Whitaker, Sketches of Life and Character in Louisiana, 28.

[75] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 11.

[76] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 156.

[77] Ibid., Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 157.

[78] Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, (Hanover N.H.: University Press of New England, 2001), 84.

[79] Korn, “JUDAH P. BENJAMIN AS A JEW.” 167.

[80] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 41.

[81] Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds. Jews of the South, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 27.

[82] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 84.

[83] Wiseman, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” 109.

[84] Jason H. Silverman, “‘The Law of the Land is the Law’ Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South,” in Struggles in the Promised Land: Toward a History of Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, edited by Jack Salzman and Cornel West, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 73.

[85] Dinnerstein, Jews of the South, 91

[86] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 35.

[87] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 35.

[88] Boyce Thompson, “Judah P. Benjamin’s Homes Largely Forgotten In New Orleans, Thomson Genealogy,” February 2010. http://hompsongenealogy.com/2010/02/judah-p-benjamins-homes-largely-forgotten-in-new-orleans/

[89] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 9. J Benjamin, “Louisiana Sugar” in (1847) vol II The Commercial Review 322, 331.

[90] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 40.

[91] Silverman, “”The Law of the Land is the Law:” Antebellum Jews, Slavery, and the Old South,” 73.

[92] Ibid., Silverman, “The Law of the Land is the Law,” 73.

[93] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 8.

[94] Wiseman, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” 110.

[95] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 38, 39.

[96] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 32.

[97] Wiseman, “Judah P. Benjamin and Slavery,” 113.

[98] Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step”

[99] Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[100] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[101] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[102] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[103] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[104] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[105] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[106] Ibid., Cunningham, “The Ultimate Step”

[107] Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. Lawrence Lee Hewitt, eds., Louisianians in the Civil War, (Columbia, MO.: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 75, 76.

[108] Adams and Bracey, eds., Strangers & Neighbors, 35.

[109] Webb, Fight Against Fear, 11.

[110] Robert Rosen, Confederate Jews, (Charleston: University of South Carolina Press, 2000), 88.

[111] Jacob Rader Marcus, Memoirs of American Jews, 1775–1865, (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955), 21.

[112] Webb, Fight Against Fear, 10.

[113] Lewis M. Killian, White Southerners, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1985, 73.

[114] Ibid., Lewis M. Killian, White Southerners, 73.

[115] Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, 13.

[116] Forman, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Jewish: Desegregation in the South and the Crisis of Jewish Liberalism,” 121.

[117]William C. Davis, “A Government of Our Own”: The Making of the Confederacy. New York: The Free Press, 1994, 185.

[118] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 42.

[119] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xviii.

[120] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 124.

[121] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 122.

[122] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 124.

[123] Marc Burofsky , “Judah Benjamin,” http://www.jewish-american-society-for-historic-preservation.org/images/Judah_Benjamin_Article_-.pdf

[124] Ibid., Dinerstein, Jews in the South, 136.

[125] Nadell and Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, 83.

[126] Ibid., Nadell and Sarna, eds. Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, 83.

[127] Evans, “Overview The War between Jewish Brothers in America,” in Sarna and Mendelsohn, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 28.

[128] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 156.

[129] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 165.

[130] Evans, Eli N. Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate. New York: Free Press, 1988.

[131] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 168.

[132] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, the Jewish Confederate, 168.

[133] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 169.

[134] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 166.

[135] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 167.

[136] Korn American Jewry and the Civil War, 167.

[137] Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2002), 93.

[138] Lauren F. Winner, “Taking up the cross: conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” in Catherine Clinton, ed. Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South, (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 196.

[139] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xii.

[140] Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America, 33.

[141] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky,

[142] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky,

[143] Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky,

[144] Ibid., Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America, 33.

[145] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 38.

[146] Dinerstein, Jews in the South, 137.

[147] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 147–148.

[148] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 149.

[149] https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/judah-phillip-benjamin

[150] Singer. The Confederate Dirty War, 10–11.

[151] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 249.

[152] Sarna, Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, 109.

[153] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 249.

[154] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 249.

[155] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[156] Michael. Feldberg, Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History, (Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House in association with the American Jewish Historical Society, 2002), 53.

[157] William C. Davis, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government, (San Diego, Calif: Harcourt, 2001), 244.

[158] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[159] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 12.

[160] Rodney H. Kite-Powell, II (2018) “The Escape of Judah P. Benjamin,” Sunland Tribune: Vol. 22, Article 9. http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/sunlandtribune/vol22/iss1/9

[161] James C. Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1999), 118.

[162] Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 118.

[163] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 119.

[164] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 119.

[165] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 120.

[166] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 120.

[167] Ibid., Clark, Last Train South: The Flight of the Confederate Government from Richmond, 120.

[168] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[169] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 13.

[170] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 43.

[171] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 13.

[172] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xii.

[173] Stone, The Jews of Capitol Hill, 44.

[174] Geoffrey D. Cunningham, ““The Ultimate Step:” Judah P. Benjamin and Secession.” American Jewish History, vol. 97 no. 1, 2013.

[175] MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[176] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[177] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 18–19.

[178] Ibid., MacMillan, “Judah Benjamin: marginalized outsider or admitted insider?,” 17.

[179] Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xx.

[180] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, xxi.

[181] Ibid., Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, 317.

About the Author

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”

Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”

Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.

Written by

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University) is a Professional Librarian (CBPQ) & historian. Former editor @ History News Network & reporter @ Examiner.com.

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