Benjamin Becomes First Jew in Cabinet

(1861)


Judah Benjamin was one of the most prominent American Jews of the mid-19th century. President Millard Fillmore offered him a seat on the Supreme Court and President Buchanan later wanted to make him the U.S. minister to Spain. Benjamin turned down both offers. Elected to the U.S. Senate from Louisiana in 1852, Benjamin resigned his seat when Louisiana seceded from the Union in February 1861. He then accepted Confederate President Jefferson Davis's offer to become attorney general of the Confederacy, making him the first Jew to hold a cabinet-level office in any American government. He later served as the Confederacy's secretary of war and secretary of state. It wasn't until 1906 that another Jew served in a cabinet. Oscar Straus, appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, was the first Jew in the cabinet other than the Confederacy.


Source: David G. Dalin, “At the Summit,” in L. Sandy Maisel and Ira Forman, Eds. Jews in American Politics. (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001), p. 31 and 33; American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS)