Secretary of the Navy Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate States of America


Judah P. Benjamin (1811−84) was a wealthy lawyer who served as attorney general, secretary of war, and secretary of state in the cabinet of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. (In this photograph he is misidentified as secretary of the navy). Born in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, he was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and attended law school at Yale. He practiced law in New Orleans and became a planter who at one point owned 140 slaves. Benjamin was elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana in 1852 and served until early 1861 when, with the secession of the southern states, Davis appointed him attorney general, making him the first Jew to hold a cabinet-level office in an American government. After the war, he fled to England, where he practiced law and wrote a book regarded as a legal classic, The Sale of Personal Property (1868). His face appeared on the Confederate two-dollar bill, although in a different image from the one shown here. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: March 22, 2016