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. After dropping out of Yale University, Benjamin moved to New Orleans in 1828 where he clerked at a law firm until he was admitted to the bar in 1833. In 1852 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, making him only the second Jewish-American 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, but Benjamin declined.
When Louisiana seceded from the Union, Benjamin resigned his Senate seat and was appointed as the first Attorney General of the Confederacy by his close personal friend, Jefferson Davis. In September 1861 he was appointed Secretary of War. In this position he 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 the position of Secretary of State, a post that he would hold for the remainder of the conflict.
Following the surrender of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, Benjamin fled the country, making his way to the Bahamas and then to England, where he resumed his successful legal career. He lived in exile for the remainder of his life, never returning to the United States.