War Between the States Sesquicentennial–Judah Benjamin
From: bernhard1848@att.net
Northern sentiment against those of the Jewish faith was evident prior to 1861 though the South demonstrated a more liberal and tolerant society; two Southern Jews had risen to the US Senate: Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana and David Yulee of Florida. Discrimination against Jews in the North continued after war began as Lincoln’s army chaplains were required to be “regularly ordained ministers of some Christian denomination. In contrast, the Southern military had no denominational requirement and merely specified that “clergymen” serve the regiments.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
The War Between the States Sesquicentennial:
Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana
“Historians consider Benjamin’s farewell address to the U.S. Senate on New Year’s Eve, 1860, one of the great speeches in American history. The gallery was packed to hear the most eloquent voice of the south. It was a moment both of tragedy and triumph as he pleaded with his colleagues against the war of brothers to come:
“And now Senators…indulge in no vain delusion that duty or conscience, interest or honor, imposes upon you the necessity of invading our States or shedding the blood of our people. You have not possible justification for it.”
Varina [Howell Davis] wrote that “his voice rose over the vast audience distinct and clear…he held his audience spellbound for over an hour and so still were they that a whisper could be heard…”
“[Benjamin continued] What may be the fate of this horrible contest, no man can tell…but this much, I will say: the fortunes of war may be adverse to our arms, you may desolate into our peaceful land, and with torch and fire you may set our cities in flame…you may, under the protection of your advancing armies, give shelter to the furious fanatics who desire, and profess to desire, nothing more than to add all the horrors of a servile insurrection to the calamities of civil war…but you can never subjugate us, you never can convert the free sons of the soil into vassals, paying tribute to your power; and you never, never can degrade them to the level of an inferior and servile race. Never! Never!”
There was an immediate rush of reaction to the speech from the Southern contingent and tumultuous applause from the galleries. Varina reported that “many ladies were in tears. The Vice President tried in vain to prevent the applause but could not control the multitude who were wild with enthusiasm. There were even grudging compliments from the Northern press and a quote from a London correspondent that “it was better than our Benjamin [Disraeli] could have done.”
The enthusiasm in the South was matched by the venom in the North. The Boston Transcript of January 5, 1861, published an editorial under the heading “The Children of Israel” in which it attacked the support Benjamin and other Southern Jews gave to secession as indicative of the disloyalty of all American Jews. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, who would be elected Vice President of the United States in 1872, condemned Benjamin because “his bearing, his tone of voice, his words, all gave evidence…that his heart was in this foul and wicked plot to dismember the Union, to overthrow the government of his adopted country which gives equality of rights even to that race that stoned prophets and crucified the Redeemer of the world.”
[Northern leader] Andrew Johnson [of Tennessee] told Charles Francis Adams of the distinguished Boston family, “There’s another Jew – that miserable Benjamin! He looks on a country and a government as he would a suit of old clothes. He sold out the old one; and he would sell out the new if he could in doing so make two or three millions.”
(Judah P. Benjamin, The Jewish Confederate, Eli N. Evans, The Free Press, 1988, pp. 109-110)