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07.01.23 Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Statesman, a biography by Robert Douthat Meade, published in 1943.

Notes Concerning the Author

Robert Douthat Meade (1903-1974) was professor of history at Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg Virginia from 1939 to 1971.  Besides his biography of Judah P. Benjamin, he wrote a very important biography of Patrick Henry, titled, Patrick Henry, Patriot in the Making.


Judah Philip Benjamin, (1811 – 1884) was a Southern lawyer and Louisiana political leader who held several Cabinet positions under Jefferson Davis during the entirity of the existence of The Confederate States of America. After the conquest of the Confederacy, Benjamin moved to England, where he established a second legal career. In 1883 he retired and moved permanently to Paris, where his wife and daughter had lived for many years. He died the following year.

Benjamin was a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives prior to being elected, in 1852 to the United States Senate, where he served until the secession of his state.  Of Jewish ancestry, Benjamin was the second Senator of his faith to be elected to the United States Senate, the first being his contemporary, David Levy Yulee of Florida.

During the entire existence of The Confederate States of America, Benjamin served under Jefferson Davis in three Cabinet positions: first, as Attorney General; second, as Secretary of War and third, as Secretary of State.

Born in St. Croix, in what is now the U. S. Virgin Islands, Judah grew up in Charleston, South Carolina and moved to New Orleans as a young man.  There he became a lawyer and important political leader.  For a while he also, with a partner, owned and operated a large sugar plantation on the west side of the Mississippi River, across from the city.  During those years he was noted for improvements in sugar cane processing technology, producing sugar of superior quality through new methods.

Jefferson Davis had considerable confidence in  Benjamin’s ability.  But, as Attorney General his broad talents were underutilized.  Then, as Secretary of War, his lack of military experience and Davis’ broad experience resulted in Davis controlling that department closely, which made sense.  As Secretary of State, Benjamin came to that job too late to be as effective as he would have been if placed in that position at the beginning of the government’s existence.

It can be argued that, in the 1850’s and early 1860’s, the South was more willing to give political power to men of the Jewish faith than was the North.  It would be several years later that a Jewish man would be appointed to the Cabinet of a United States president.

Benjamin fled to the United Kingdom during the days immediately following the conquest of the Confederacy.  There he became a distinguished lawyer and, in 1872, was appointed to Queen’s Counsel.

At the age of 22 years, in 1833, Judah had married Natalie Bauché de St. Martin, the 16-year-old daughter of a prominent and wealthy New Orleans French Creole family.  The couple’s only child, Ninette, had been born in 1842, and was raised as a Catholic.  Five years later Natalie had moved to Paris with daughter Ninette and remained there for most of the rest of her life.  Except for the years of the Confederacy, Benjamin traveled each summer to France to see his wife and daughter.

Three biographies of Judah P. Benjamin are worthy of mention, but our recommendation is the work of Professor Meade.  Pierce Butler wrote a complete biography in 1907, but his is not as thorough and well researched as is the work of Meade.  Eli N. Evans wrote a more recent biography, published in 1988, but this author is overly preoccupied with the Jewish faith of his subject and Jewish culture in the Southern states.  Although Judah’s father was a devout Sephardics, Spanish Jew, who spent considerable effort in the faith while living in Charleston, Judah focused on his career, both legal and political, with only modest attention to the faith.

Availability of this Book

We suggest  The least expensive approach is to find a used paperback book published in 2001 with an introduction by William C. Davis.  This was published by Louisiana State University Press.