Courtesy of Library of Congress

Judah Benjamin 1811-1884

Judah Benjamin was an American politician, lawyer, and Confederate strategist and leader. As a young boy, Benjamin emigrated with his family from the West Indies to the United States, where he later attended Yale and then trained to be a lawyer. In 1842, Benjamin was elected to the Louisiana legislature and ten years later, he became the first Jew elected to the U.S. Senate. Benjamin married into a prominent Creole family and became the owner of a sugar plantation with slaves, which he sold in 1850. He helped found the Illinois Central Railroad and twice declined a nomination to the Supreme Court. After Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861, Benjamin resigned his Senate seat. Three weeks later, Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Benjamin Attorney General, making him the first Jew to hold a cabinet-level office in an American government. When the South fell to the Union, Benjamin feared he would be tried for plotting Lincoln's assassination, and escaped to England.