JUDAH P. BENJAMIN: The Jewish Confederate by Eli N. Evans

JUDAH P. BENJAMIN: The Jewish Confederate

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Evans, president of the Revson Foundation and author of The Provincials: A Personal History of the Jews in the South, here hammers together a biography of one of American history's most interesting and elusive individuals, Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin. Born in the Virgin Islands in 1811, Benjamin attended Yale briefly, then learned the legal profession in New Orleans, became, active in politics, married a Catholic ""Creole princess,"" fathered a daughter, suffered the infidelities of his wife and a permanent estrangement from her, and at age 41 became a US Senator representing Louisiana--the first practicing Jew ever elected to that office. A friend of future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he embraced secession and in 1861 was appointed, first, Confederate Attorney General, then Secretary of War. That he was a Jew, and thus suffered alienation, humiliation, and the suspicion and hatred of others, is Evans' theme. The story of his long service to the Confederacy as Secretary of State (he earned that appointment in 1862), his worth as Davis' speechwriter and de facto second-in-command, his hair-raising escape to Britain over the open ocean at the end of the Civil War, and his illustrious career as a British legal scholar until his death in 1884, is subordinated to Evans' ruminations on how anti-Semiticism effected Benjamin's life and relegated him to ""outsider"" status in almost every situation. The author supports his discussions of Benjamin's unhappy social and political positions with ample comment by the man's Christian contemporaries--some bigoted, some bemused. Because Benjamin destroyed most of his personal records during his 1865 flight from America, Evans' account lacks some depth. It also fails to evoke Benjamin's urbanity, so well captured in other Benjamin bios. In part this is due to Evans' sparse prose style, which tends to leach the color out of his subject's robust life.

Pub Date: Jan. 23rd, 1987
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan