The Confederate Jurist

The Legal Life of Judah P. Benjamin

William C. Gilmore
Foreword by Stephen C. Neff

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A legal biography of Judah P. Benjamin (1811–1884): Jewish lawyer, US Senator, Confederate statesman, political exile, leader of the English Bar, inspiration for Benjamin’s Sale of Goods and distinguished jurist
  • Based on extensive research in the UK and USA, it draws on a broad range of primary source materials including British and American newspapers
  • Reflects on some of Benjamin’s most significant cases including McCargo v New Orleans Insurance Company (1845) and Regina v Keyn (1876)
  • Provides insights into the personal and professional qualities which permitted him to fashion two separate legal careers in different continents and in jurisdictions from different legal traditions
  • Clarifies how Benjamin’s two notable contributions to legal literature, first in Louisiana and then in England, provided a springboard for his rise as a practitioner in each jurisdiction
  • Outlines his high profile, controversial, political career in America which was bookended by his accomplishments in the law
  • Reflects upon Benjamin’s enduring legacy as a jurist in contrast to his diminishing visibility in American political history
  • Includes a foreword by Stephen C. Neff, Professor of War and Peace at the University of Edinburgh and author of Justice in Blue and Gray: A Legal History of the Civil War (Harvard University Press, 2010)

This is the first biography written from a legal perspective on the public life of Judah P. Benjamin (1811–1884); a prominent figure in the common law world in the second half of the 19th century. Drawing on a range of primary source materials including newspaper articles, case law and extensive archival research in the UK and USA, it charts his rise as a lawyer first in the mixed legal system of Louisiana and then nationally. In 1853 he was the first person of Jewish heritage to be offered nomination to the US Supreme Court – an honour he declined. Benjamin was also a member of the US Senate, a slave owner and a supporter of Southern secession. In the Civil War he served continuously in the Confederate Cabinet initially as Attorney General, then as Secretary of War and finally as Secretary of State. Following the victory of the Union he fled America, a fugitive. In political exile in England he requalified as a Barrister at Lincoln’s Inn. Within a decade he had written a scholarly and long-enduring treatise on commercial law and become the undisputed advocate of choice in appeals before the House of Lords and the Privy Council. This book considers the extraordinary career of this distinguished jurist and reflects upon his legal legacy.

List of FiguresTable of Cases

Foreword by Stephen C. Neff, Professor of War and Peace, University of Edinburgh

Preface and Acknowledgements


  1. Benjamin’s Emergence as an American Lawyer and Politician
  2. Slavery, Secession and Benjamin’s Confederate Years
  3. Benjamin’s Exile and Professional Rebirth
  4. The Rise and Rise of Benjamin the Barrister
  5. Concluding Reflection

Appendix 1 – The Great Escape: Benjamin’s Flight into Exile

Select BibliographyIndex

Bill Gilmore comments that [Judah P Benjamin]’s legacy is more as a distinguished jurist than as a somewhat flawed and controversial politician. That must be right; but, as told by Gilmore, Benjamin’s is an inspiring story of what can be achieved by a lad o’ pairts from humble beginnings. The book is short but engrossing, and comes highly recommended.
Sheriff Alastair N Brown, Journal of the Law Society of Scotland
William (Bill) Gilmore is Emeritus Professor of International Criminal Law in the University of Edinburgh and a former Dean and Head of its School of Law. In 2017 he was awarded the medal of honour of the Council of Europe for his contributions to European efforts to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Confederate Jurist: The Legal Life of Judah P. Benjamin (Edinburgh University Press, 2021) is his second book of legal history.

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