Judah P. Benjamin

Photo of Judah Benjamin
Judah Benjamin
Library of Congress

Quick Facts

Significance:
Confederate Secretary of State, Secretary of War and Attorney General
Place of Birth:
Saint Croix
Date of Birth
August 6, 1811
Place of Death:
Paris
Date of Death
May 6, 1884
Place of Burial:
Paris
Cemetery Name
Père Lachaise Cemetery

Born a British subject to a Sephardic Jewish couple in the West Indies, Judah Philip Benjamin immigrated to the United States at a young age where his father would becoming a founding member of the reform movement of Judaism in America.

After dropping out of Yale University, Benjamin moved to New Orleans in 1828 where he clerked at a law firm until he himself was admitted to the bar in 1833. The same year, Benjamin married the daughter of a prominent French-Creole family in a Catholic ceremony. In 1845, Benjamin was a part of the constitutional convention for Louisiana and in 1852 was elected to the U.S. Senate, making him only the second Jewish senator in the history of the country. President Millard Fillmore offered to nominate Benjamin to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could have made him the first Jewish-American justice, however Benjamin declined.

When Louisiana seceded from the Union, Benjamin resigned his Senate seat and was appointed Attorney General of the Confederacy by his close personal friend, Jefferson Davis. In September 1861 he was appointed Secretary of War, though ultimately had strong disagreements with President Davis over the conduct the war, and quarreled with generals P.G.T. Beauregard and "Stonewall" Jackson. In March 1862 Davis appointed Benjamin to Secretary of State, a post that he would hold for the remainder of the conflict.

Following the surrender of Lee's forces Benjamin fled the south and made his way to the Bahamas and then to England, where he resumed his successful legal career. He remained in exile for the remainder of his life, never returning to the United States.