Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Judah Benjamin becomes Confederate Secretary of State, 
March 18, 1862
Judah Benjamin
Confederate President Jefferson Davis appointed Judah Benjamin as Secretary of State on March 18, 1862.

Benjamin wanted to draw the United Kingdom into the war on the side of the Confederacy, but it had abolished slavery years before and public opinion was strongly divided on the war.

In 1864, as the South's military position became increasingly desperate, he publicly advocated a plan to emancipate and induct into the military any slave willing to bear arms for the Confederacy. Such a policy would have the dual results of removing slavery as the greatest obstacle in British public opinion to an alliance with the Confederacy, and easing the shortage of soldiers that was crippling the South's military efforts. With Davis' approval, Benjamin proclaimed, "Let us say to every Negro who wishes to go into the ranks, 'Go and fight—you are free." Robert E. Lee supported the scheme as well, but it faced stiff opposition from conservatives. When Benjamin repeated this proposal to an audience of 10,000 persons in Richmond in 1864, his remarks lit a firestorm. Georgian Howell Cobb observed, “If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” The Confederate Congress did not pass the measure until March 1865, by which time it was too late to salvage the Southern cause.
Confederate Two Dollar Bill with Portrait of Benjamin
Benjamin was pictured on the Confederate $2,00 bill.
After Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865,  Benjamin fled south with Jefferson Davis and the rest of his cabinet, but he left the group shortly before they reached Washington, Georgia, where they held their last meeting.  Fearing that he would not receive a fair trial, Benjamin burned his papers and is reported to have stayed in Ocala, Florida, with Solomon Benjamin, a relative, before continuing south to Gamble Mansion in Ellenton, on the southwest coast of Florida. From there, assisted by the blockade runner Captain Archibald McNeill, who owned the plantation, Benjamin traveled by sea to the Bahamas and then to England under a false name.  The small sponge-carrying vessel on which he left Bimini bound for Nassau exploded on the way, and he and the three crewmen had to be rescued by a British warship. His ship from the Bahamas to England caught fire, but managed to make it to port. 
In her autobiography, Jefferson Davis’s wife, Varina, wrote that Benjamin spent twelve hours each day at her husband’s side, tirelessly shaping every important Confederate strategy and tactic.   It was not unusual for him to remain at his desk from eight o’clock one morning until four the next. 

Yet, Benjamin never spoke publicly or wrote about his role and burned his personal papers before his death.

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