Judah Benjamin

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Whilst thanking you for the honour of inviting me to address the Jewish Historical Society, I confess the difficulty I am faced with in endeavouring to  give some account of this extraordinary man's life and adventures in the time allotted to me. And the best I can do tonight is to indicate some of the salient features in his life in the hope of stimulating further research by those whose interest is aroused. The subject of Judah Benjamin is I think a most happy choice for a lecture before the Jewish Historical Society. Not only because he has created a niche in history, but because it is by virtue of certain qualities and characteristics which are generally attributed to Jews, that he is entitled to that niche. That this fact was recognised by contemporary opinion is indicated by the following passage from his Obituary Notice which filled two columns of The Times on May 9th, 1884.

His main quality superior even to the superiority of his intellect and capacity for labour was an elastic resistance to evil fortune which to a lesser or greater extent exists in every Jew and which has enabled the Jewish people to resist exile and plundering, adversity and depression.

It is not difficult to furnish a factual account of the main episodes in Benjamin's life; it is less easy to portray his character without which the facts are so much dry bones. He has been portrayed by sympathizers of the Northern States as a dark con? spirator, an evil genius and even in the South he was unpopular with the leading families. The reason for his unpopularity is not far to seek; he well deserved the title of the "Brains of the Confederacy" and naturally the hatred of the North was focussed on the man who was the most renowned exponent of the South's cause. On the other hand he aroused the animosity of the older southern families by the independence of his outlook and his refusal to accept as a matter of course their traditions and narrow outlook. All who knew Benjamin intimately, however, pay tribute to his sympathy and loyalty, to his generosity and his wit. He had a mellifluous voice which made people forget his somewhat undistinguished appearance for he was dark and squat and his kindness of heart and generosity disarmed any would-be hostility when he came to settle in England. He desired a happy family life and it was a great personal tragedy that his marriage was not a success. Neither his wife nor his only child, a daughter, was capable of reciprocating the wealth of offection displayed by him, but he was in? credibly generous to them throughout his life and in addition looked after a number of members of his brothers' and sisters' families.

Judah Benjamin was born in St. Croix, the largest of the Virgin Islands in the West Indies, on the 6th August, 1811. The island was in British occupation at that time and it has been suggested that

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