Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Confederate History Moment

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a nice article today about Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), our antebellum New Orleanian U.S. senator from Louisiana. He actually lived just outside of the Crescent City, on the West Bank (in Belle Chasse), not far from where I live. He was the first Jew to hold a cabinet level office in any American national government (which happened to be the CSA).

The 19th century South was by far more tolerant of Jews than their northern counterparts, and the largest Jewish community in the United States was in Charleston, South Carolina. Bernard Baruch (1870-1965), native of the Palmetto State who went on to become a famous 20th century financier (whose father was a surgeon in the Confederate States Army) wrote that his first exposure to antisemitism was when the family moved up north after the war.

After secession, Judah P. Benjamin resigned from the U.S. senate, and after confederation, he served as the first attorney general of the Confederate States of America, later being appointed secretary of war, and then secretary of state, a post he held until the overthrow of the government.

He was present at the last cabinet meeting of the CSA in Washington, Georgia. After the dissolution of the confederate government, having discharged all of his duties and rather than to face "victor's justice," Benjamin engaged in a harrowing high-stakes adventure, making his way to Florida, the Bahamas, and finally England. There, he obtained asylum and became a noted jurist and legal scholar. Born in the West Indies, he was quite a remarkable American and (later) Englishman, who lived the final years of his life in Paris - where he is buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

As the "brains of the Confederacy," Judah Benjamin was a true man of mystery and citizen of the world - often photographed with a slight smile on his face (smiling was not the norm in portrait photography in the 19th century). One of the legal textbooks he authored remains to this very day a current reference work used by jurists in Great Britain.

1 comment:

Rev. Jack A. Kozak said...

I have 2 questions for you on this interesting article.

1. He is called "The statesman of the Lost Cause." When I used that phrase, Lost Cause, you took exception to it. Why?

2. Review that last paragraph. Does it seem as disparaging of Benjaman to you as it does to me?