Judah P. Benjamin Collection
Scope and Content Note
The Collection of Judah P. Benjamin reflects the experience of Southern Jews before and during the Civil War in Louisiana and Washington D.C., as well as Benjamin's personal legacy in the American South.
The collection is valuable to researchers studying the activities and experiences of Jews in the antebellum South, and under the brief reign of the Confederate States of America. Serving as a U.S. Senator, and in three Confederate cabinet posts, Benjamin had exclusive, first-hand experiences by being an active member in both governments during times of great struggle and change. The collection also provides a look at the continued glorification of Confederate heroes in the South long into the twentieth century.
This collection contains correspondence, letters, newspaper clippings, Confederate bank notes and bonds, Civil War memorabilia, pamphlets, and a bound copy of Benjamin's diary from 1862-1864. The documents are entirely in English, and include many original copies of letters and printed material dating from the era surrounding the Civil War.
The Leys Donation of Box 2 material comprises 106 items (letters, notes, telegrams and miscellaneous documents) about the formation of the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company in 1857 until Benjamin resigned from the Senate in February 1861 upon Louisiana's secession from the Union. The business venture aimed to provide a cheap and fast alternative to sailing around South America. They hoped to provide mail service and railroad transportation across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. The bulk of the correspondence is from Judah P. Benjamin to Peter Hargous. Peter A. Hargous (1800?- 1884), a businessman and banker in New York City, founded Hargous Brothers, a banking and shipping concern, with his brother Eugene. The correspondence focuses on the efforts to secure financing, negotiate with the U.S. and Mexican governments, and the logistical difficulties encountered. Benjamin's letters to Hargous underscore the difficulties with shipping and local conditions.
- Creation: undated, 1838, 1854-1884, 1893, 1925, 1930, 1942, 1948
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1854-1884
Language of Materials
The collection is in English.
The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.
No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at email@example.com.
For reference questions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Judah P. Benjamin, called the "brains of the Confederacy" and the "man behind the throne" of the Confederate aristocracy, was an unparalleled statesman and jurist in the United States, the Confederate States, and Great Britain. A man of multiple talents, Benjamin achieved high-ranking titles wherever he served, leaving an indelible mark in the South where he held more official positions than any other man during the Civil War.
On August 6, 1811, Judah Philip Benjamin was born to Jewish parents of English nationality in the British West Indies. In 1816, the Benjamin family immigrated to the United States, taking up residence in the Carolinas. In 1825, Benjamin attended Yale, but never completed his studies.
In December 1832, Benjamin was admitted to the Louisiana bar and began a successful practice in that newly ratified state. In 1853, Benjamin was elected to the United States Senate representing Louisiana, and was reelected in 1859. As slavery became the heated issue of the day, Benjamin sided with the South giving many speeches on the Senate floor in support of slavery.
In February of 1861, after the first battles of the Civil War, Benjamin resigned from his Senate post and was quickly appointed first Attorney General of the Confederate States of America. He was promoted to Confederate Secretary of War in August 1861, and was then personally chosen by Confederate President Jefferson Davis in February 1862 to serve as the Confederacy's third Secretary of State. He remained in this post until the Confederacy's defeat at the end of the war.
After the capture of Jefferson Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials in 1865, Benjamin fled to England, where he was well-received due to connections through American friends, and a friendship with British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. In 1866, Benjamin was admitted to the English bar, and in 1868 he wrote "A Treatise on Law of Sale of Personal Property." He was an excellent practitioner of jurisprudence amassing a great fortune from his practice and quickly assumed a position as a barrister, and later in 1872 he was appointed the highest ranking of Queen's counselor. Benjamin died on May 8, 1884 in Paris after a long period of declining health after falling when descending a tramcar.
Benjamin's legacy continued long after his death, being one of the legendary heroes of the Old South. In 1925, the Judah P. Benjamin Commission was established in Florida to preserve and restore the Gamble plantation where Benjamin hid from Union soldiers. In 1930, 1942, and 1948, monuments to Benjamin were erected in Richmond, Va., Sarasota, Fl., and Charlotte, N.C. with the cooperation of local Jewish organizations, and groups concerned with preserving the history of the Confederacy.
Chronology of the Life of Judah P. Benjamin, 1811-1884
- August 6, 1811
- Born in the British West Indies
- Benjamin family immigrates to the United States
- Attends Yale College, but does not graduate
- Admitted to the Louisiana bar
- Elected U.S. Senator representing Louisiana
- Reelected to the U.S. Senate
- February 1861
- Resigns from U.S. Senate; appointed first Attorney General of the Confederate States of America (CSA)
- August 1861 - February 1862
- Appointed second CSA Secretary of War
- February 1862 - 1865
- Appointed third CSA Secretary of State until end of Civil War; flees to the Bahamas and then to England
- Admitted to the English bar; practices law in Liverpool, England
- Publishes A Treatise on Law of Sale of Personal Property
- Appointed to the Queen's Counsel, highest rank for jurists in England
- Publicly declares retirement in consideration of his declining health
- May 8, 1884
- Dies in Paris, France
0.75 Linear Feet (1 manuscript box, 1 ½ manuscript box, 2 oversized folders)
Judah P. Benjamin, called the "brains of the Confederacy", was a statesman and jurist in the United States, the Confederate States, and Great Britain. Benjamin achieved high-ranking titles wherever he served, and left an indelible mark in the South where he held more official positions than any other man during the Civil War. After the fall of the Confederacy, Benjamin fled to England, where he was admitted to the English bar, and later assumed a judgeship. In 1872, he was appointed the highest ranking of Queen's counselor.
This collection contains correspondence; letters; newspaper clippings; Confederate bank notes and bonds; Civil War memorabilia; pamphlets; and a bound copy of Benjamin's diary, kept from 1862-1864. These materials are of particular interest to researchers studying the activities and experiences of Jews in the antebellum South and under the brief reign of the Confederate States of America. Additionally, through the material relating to memorials and preservation endeavors for Benjamin, the collection also provides a look at the continued glorification of Confederate heroes in the South long into the twentieth century. The collection also contains pre-Civil War correspondence between Benjamin and Peter A. Hargous regarding the creation of a railroad line on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico and the Tehuantepec Railroad Company of New Orleans.
The collection consists of a single series arranged by topic:
Located in AJHS New York, NY
Various individuals donated material, including David Sulzberger (1904), Albert E. Henschel (1913), Louis Sampter Levy (1926), Emanuel Hertz (1927), Alexander W. Oppenheim (1935, 1937) and Mrs. Morton L. Adler (1937). Additional material was purchased by the American Jewish Historical Society in 1912, 1914 and 1926. William H. Leys (2009) donated all of the pre-Civil war correspondence of his great-great-grandfather, Peter A. Hargous from Judah P. Benjamin that had been in his family.
With the exception of preservation photocopies created for use, the collection was digitized in its entirety by Adam Matthew Digital in 2010 and the digitized material has been made available for research by the American Jewish Historical Society, on the folder level, in 2019. The Judah P. Benjamin Autographed Lithograph from a Daguerreotype after Brady was not digitized along with the rest of the material.
- Adams, Daniel, 1820-1872 (Person)
- Beauregard, G. T. (Gustave Toutant), 1818-1893 (Person)
- Benjamin, J. P. (Judah Philip), 1811-1884 (Person)
- Bragg, Braxton, 1817-1876 (Person)
- Hargous, P. A. (Peter A.) (Person)
- Hébert, Paul Octave, 1818-1880 (Person)
- Johnston, Joseph E. (Joseph Eggleston), 1807-1891 (Person)
- Randolph, George Wythe, 1818-1867 (Person)
- Smith, Gustavus Woodson, 1822-1896 (Person)
- Thompson, Jacob, 1810-1885 (Person)
- Tehuantepec Railroad Company of New Orleans (Organization)
Genre / Form
- clippings (information artifacts)
- Currency notes and bonds
- Letters (correspondence)
- Confederate States of America -- Politics and government
- Great Britain
- Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial at Gamble Plantation Historic State Park (Ellenton, Fla.)
- New Orleans (La.)
- Tehuantepec, Isthmus of (Mexico)
- United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865
- Guide to the Collection of Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884), undated, 1838, 1854-1884, 1893, 1925, 1930, 1942, 1948 (bulk 1854-1884) *P-45
- Processed by Jason Schechter (December 27, 2001) and Susan Malbin (September 1, 2009)
- © 2009
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- December 2017: dao links added by Leanora Lange.
- March, June 2020: EHyman-post-ASpace migration cleanup