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Judah p. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate Paperback – 1 Sep 1989

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Product details

  • Paperback: 514 pages
  • Publisher: The Free Press (1 Sept. 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0029099110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0029099117
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,483,918 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Traces the life of Benjamin, the first Jewish U.S. Senator, and the Confederate Secretary of State, and describes his exile in England.

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First Sentence
Judah Philip Benjamin (1811-84) was descended from the Sephardics, Spanish Jews who flourished for three hundred years on the Iberian peninsula in the "Golden Age." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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By M. Chataway on 7 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback
If it was fiction, you wouldn't believe it. The first Jew to hold a position in an American cabinet becomes the most trusted aide to the President of the Confederacy. After the war, he flees and re-creates a life in Britain. The story is well told (although it does plod some of the time). I wish it said a bit more about the human relationship between Benjamin and the Confederate leaders but maybe we don't know more than this. I also wish it addressed Benjamin in the context of the other contradictions that were at the heart of the Confederacy. But overall, it was a very good read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Mr. Benjamin goes to Richmond. 22 Feb. 2004
By Dennis Phillips - Published on
Format: Paperback
Most every student of the Civil War has heard of Judah P. Benjamin but very few people know anything about him except that he served in three positions in the Confederate Cabinet. Most of these same people are also aware that Benjamin was Jewish and from Louisiana, but that is about it. This lack of knowledge about Benjamin may come from the fact that its generals often overshadow the Confederate government or it may come from Benjamin's own desire to sink into anonymity following the war. This desire on Benjamin's part has in great part made a study of him very difficult for he destroyed almost every document with his name on it, including personal correspondence. Eli Evans has taken on the difficult task though, and has turned out a fantastic biography of the elusive Benjamin.
Benjamin's early life is dealt with in some detail, especially after he arrives in New Orleans looking for a fresh start. Through skill and hard work Judah became one of the most successful lawyers in New Orleans. He married into the Creole ruling class and gained in stature but also gained a wife who would be an embarrassment to him for the rest of his life. During this time he built a plantation and became an agricultural innovator and was remembered by his former slaves long after the war for his kindness. Benjamin was very much a progressive and this would show up later in his plans for a Confederate Emancipation Proclamation.
Benjamin moved into politics and was in his second term in the U.S. Senate when Louisiana left the Union. He and Jefferson Davis had not gotten along very well in the Senate and Benjamin had once come to the point of challenging his Mississippi colleague to a duel. As the new Confederate President looked for a Cabinet however he wanted someone from each Confederate State and Benjamin was the obvious choice for Louisiana. From that point on a friendship blossomed that would end up making Benjamin Davis' closest advisor and confidant. This is the story Evans tells so well.
Benjamin, for his country and his President was willing to serve as a scapegoat on several occasions for unpopular decisions Davis had to make. He also took the blame a few times for not sending needed supplies to certain points rather than hurt Confederate moral by admitting that they simply didn't have the supplies in question. Evans does a superb job of relating Benjamin's hard work and also the never-ending venom that was directed at him, especially by opponents of President Davis.
The weak points of the book come when Evans leaves his subject and starts to write about things that he knows little about. He very quickly dispenses with battles but still often makes errors and naturally repeats the old fable about shoes at Gettysburg. He also has problems accepting that Tennessee did in fact leave the Union and while there were Tennessee men in the Union army there were many, many more in Confederate service. Tennessee was left out of Lincoln's proclamation simply because most of the state was under occupation and Andrew Johnson intervened for the rest of the state. Still, if one just sort of ignores some of his statements that do not involve Benjamin, Evans has written an excellent book.
The final chapters trace Benjamin as he escapes to England and rebuilds his life to become one of the top lawyers in London. He remains deeply concerned about his imprisoned President but is also afraid that if the anti-Semitic Andrew Johnson can catch him he will again be the scapegoat and face a rope. Fortunately, cooler heads finally prevail and Benjamin is left alone to wow the English legal world.
Benjamin obviously deserves more credit than he gets from Confederate historians but his destruction of most of his papers have made studying him a difficult task. Eli Evans has taken on this task and has done a masterful job. This book is an even more spectacular achievement when one considers that Benjamin took deliberate steps to avoid having his biography written. Any student of the Confederacy needs a copy of this book in their library. Also, anyone interested in Jewish-American history will find this book a must read despite Benjamin's tendency to not practice his religion by among other things, having a smokehouse full of delicious hams.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
A remarkable paradigm shift in hisorical conventional wisdom 15 Jan. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Without question, Benjamin was a man of keen intellect and an imposing presence on Jefferson Davis and confederate foreign policy. Very little has ever been written about him, and even less about his Jewish heritage, The common thread has been to note that he exhibited no external trappings of his religious roots, and therefore must have done what he could to divorce himself from his ancestry. The author takes a completely different turn by suggesting that his life, personality, and accomplishments were a result of his acceptance of who he was as a Jew, and that that acceptance strongly influenced his course in life. I for one, have been fascinated by Benjamin for years and was thrilled to find a well documented and researched book on this most intriguing character. And even more thrilling was having a new insight as the author presents his own dynamic as a Jewish attorney studying the life of a predecessor; A Jewish attorney who lived in an alien environment, isolated yet surviving, prospering yet an outcast. The author finally gives us a glimpse of his personal life and helps us see not just an historical figure, but a man with desires, frustrations, happiness and sadness. We are given a whole man to view. I for one believe it is one of the finest biographies I have ever read. Steve Reutter (, Carlisle, Pa
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Why was Benjamin excluded from the PBS Civil War program ? 9 Nov. 1997
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gripping biography of the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah P.Benjamin, whose Judiasm may have been the reason for his exclusion from the PBS Civil War documentary. This key Confederate not only was a brilliant strategist, but, after fleeing the Confederate States of America, left for England, where he wrote "Benjamin on Contracts"...the CURRENT text on Contract Law taught in every law school today ! The importance of this book is that Mr. Benjamin was extremely thorough to destroy every Confederate document which bore his name and position as Secretary of State of the Confederacy.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Judah P. Benjamin: Overcoming Adversity 13 Nov. 2006
By Grey Wolffe - Published on
Format: Paperback
Judah Phillip Benjamin was born in 1812; on the Virgin Island of St. John; whose jewish parents came to South Carolina when he was still a child. His mother was a costermonger and his father a 'neer-do-well' (or in reality do nothing well). But he had a thirst for knowledge that could not be surpressed even by the anti-semitism of southern nineteenth century america.

Being a remarkable student he earns a scholarship to Yale at sixteen. But he leaves school after two years under a cloud of accusations that are never delineated. But Benjamin is determined to be some one and sets off for a new start in New Orleans where he trains as a lawyer. After becoming successful enough to marry into one of the upper-crust Creole (c atholic) families, he embarks on a career as a mercantile lawyer. He does well enough to build himself a plantation with 140 slaves. But after a finacial misstep looses everything and goes back to the practice of law.

Making the 'right' connections he first enters the Louisiana legislature and then is elected a US Senator. (All this time he is away from his wife who is known to be unfaithful.) When he tries to bring his wife and daughter to Washington, it turns into a fiasco, and she goes off to Paris never to return. He develops into one of the finest orators in the Senate but cannot escape the anti-semitism of his day.

When his home state secedes from the Union he leaves the Senate and goes to Montgomery (Confederacy's first capital) where because of his well known knowledge of Law, Jefferson Davis makes him his Attorney General.

As part of Davis' cabinet he excells in administrative logistics, which leads to his being named Secretary of War. What! A Jew as SofW for the Confederacy? He becomes the whipping boy of every anti-semite both North and South. Undetered, Davis then makes him Secretary of State (because of his knowledge of international law and French) which he remains for the last three years of the War. During the War he does his best to entice both France (under Napoleon III) and Britain to recognize the South but to no avail. At the end of the war he makes a harrowing escape through the Bahamas and Havana to England.

He arrives in England without the ability to practice law and with the US government on his tail (he is tangentially and circumstantially tied to the plot to kill Lincoln) as a Confederate Cabinet Minister. But the luck of his birth on an English possession, and his naturalization through his father, allow him to claim English citizenship and protection. After a short time (and with the help of sympathizers to the southern cause) he is admitted to the English Bar.

He develops a mastery of english mercantile law, and with his background of French and American law from practicing in Louisiana, he develops one of the premier practices in his field in England. His book on mercantile law- Benjamin on Sales- becomes the standard in the field. In the end he passes his last few years in Paris with his wife and married daughter and is buried in Pere Lechaise.

Evans does a masterful job of using the two other detailed biographies of Benjamin (written in 1905 and 1943) which included interviews with people who knew him in Louisiana, during the Civil War and in England. Benjamin though remains an enigma in that he burned all of his papers before he left Richmond at the end of the war; and kept few if any not related to business in London. Much of the detail for the Civil War comes from his correspondence afterwards with Varina Davis and others. It would seem that his only hold on 'being' jewish was one of 'culture' and a thirst for knowledge (but not necessarily accolades).
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Judah Who? 23 Mar. 2008
By Giordano Bruno - Published on
Format: Paperback
One of the previous reviews of this book begins with the statement that anyone familiar with the Civil War will know the name Judah Benjamin. Frankly, I doubt it. I'll wager that very few Northerners recognize the name. The eight reviews of this book are fascinating to read, and far shorter than the book itself. Note where the reviewers live; it's significant.

Judah P. Benjamin had a fascinating "teflon" life - as a wealthy lawyer and a "macher" in very early Reformed Judaism, as a social climber in Louisiana creole circles, as a Senator and then as Jefferson Davis's one efficient and effective cabinet member, as a fugitive from the righteous victory of the North, and last as a supremely successful banker in England.

Eli Evans has written a solid old-fashioned sympathetic biography of this brilliant man, whose contibution to the cause of secession was more significant than that of most Southron generals. It's not a deep biography, however, neither in its analysis of Benjamin's character nor its account of the Civil War. It will have, I think, great interest for two kinds of readers: serious Civil War buffs and serious students of the history of Jewish Americans.
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