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Judah Benjamin

Rowland Landman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Judah Benjamin1 By Rowland H. Landman, M.A. HILST 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 this factor was of great importance in Benjamin's life, as it enabled him to claim British citizenship some fifty years later when he sought admission to the English Bar. In fact, however, he was a British subject by reason of the circumstance that his father was a British subject by birth. His father, Philip Benjamin, was born on the British island of Nevis about the year 1781. Philip Benjamin married in London, about the year 1807, Rebecca de Mendes. Both families were members of the Sephardi Community. The marriage records of this Community for 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England 25th April, 1950. p* 161</page><page sequence="2">162 JUT)AH BENJAMIN the first decade of the nineteenth century are, however, incomplete, and the marriage cannot be traced in them. Philip and Rebecca Benjamin lived for a time in London ; according to tradition they had a small dried fruit business near Bow Church in Cheapside. This, however, was not for long, for the record of taxpayers of Saint Croix, then a Dutch West Indian island, for 1810, gives Philip Benjamin, his wife and daughter, as living at Christiansted in that island, Two years later a similar record gives the family increased by two boys, the younger of whom was Judah, who had been born on the 6th August, 1811 (16th Ab, 5571, according to the records of the St. Thomas Hebrew Congregation, the nearest Jewish congregation.) Judah's mother, Rebecca de Mendes, was a daughter of Solomon de Mendes, "merchant", who seems to have come to England from Holland about the time of Rebecca's birth. According to the contemporary London directories, the family lived in 1790 in Goodman's Fields, later in Bishopsgate Within, and still later in Finsbury which was then almost a suburb.1 Benjamin as indicated in the books of Lincoln's Inn, never ceased to be a British subject. Conditions were hard and unsettled in the Virgin Islands in the second decade of the century and this prompted Philip, when Judah was about two or three years of age to emigrate to Wilmington, North Carolina where Mrs. Benjamin had an uncle. It is worthy of comment that in the nineteenth century, a century of emancipation and progressive radicalism, two of the greatest Jews of the century were pre-eminentiy Conservative; Judah Benjamin and Benjamin Disraeli. It is interesting to speculate on the influences that contributed to produce Benjamin's Conservative outlook. He was educated at Fayettesville Academy a centre of transplanted Highlanders of crofter origin and they perhaps influenced Judah in this direction ; and, again at a very impress? ionable age when the Benjamins had settled in Charleston, where his father carried on business albeit unsuccessfully, as a dry goods merchant, he witnessed the uncovering of a great plot by coloured conspirators, worked out over a great number of years to kill all the white people and seize control, and it has been suggested that this excitement during his formative years influenced his future philosophy. Perhaps these factors did influence his development but it is probable that he was Conservatively inclined by virtue of the various environmental and economic factors which were to weigh heavily with him and to which I shall refer later. Perhaps I should now say something about his relations to Judaism. Charleston at this period had the largest Jewish population in the United States and was the most influential. Benjamin's father, after worshipping at the Sephardi Synagogue at Charleston ultimately became a member of a Reform movement known as the Reform Society of Israelites, and Judah followed his father in divorcing himself from Orthodox Jewry. He never sought to deny his religion however; he took considerable pride in the fact that ten thousand Jews fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and during the War from time to time he was called to the Law in the Richmond Synagogue. Although taking no part in communal affairs, he did however as a Senator present to the Senate on behalf of American Jewish citizens, in 1854, a petition calling for governmental action against Swiss anti-sernitic discrimination. Benjamin, at the age of twenty-two, married Nathalie St. Martin, of French parentage and a strict Catholic. Although paying slight account to the form and practice of his religion, Benjamin was, however, too proud of it ever to accept Catholicism or any 1 The greater part of this information regarding Judah Benjamin's parents is derived from Robert D. Meade's "Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Statesman" (Oxford Univ. Press, 1943).</page><page sequence="3">JUDAH BENJAMIN 163 other creed. The difference in religion was perhaps the prime factor in producing marital discord and Benjamin was denied the joys of a happy home. Soon after the birth of their only child, Nathalie moved permanently to Paris and Benjamin was only to see her on his more or less yearly visits. But I have anticipated; Benjamin left Fayettesville Academy at the age of fourteen and entered Yale the same year. He left Yale abruptly in the early part of his second year. There is reason to suppose that he got into a fast set, lived beyond his means and was sent down. There is much mystery surrounding the offence which he is supposed to have committed, but it is to be remembered that he was only sixteen at the time and he more than redeemed his bad start by the force of character which he was ultimately to display. After leaving Yale Benjamin settled with his cousin Henry Hyams, a future Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, in New Orleans. It was a wise step to forsake stratified and declining Charleston for New Orleans, a rapidly growing and vital city of infinite promise. There Benjamin at once began to study Law. Per? haps, due to the lesson he learned from his experiences at Yale, he resisted the very attractive temptations of New Orleans and pursued his studies with unflagging energy. He spent the period of waiting for clients known to every barrister by preparing a Digest of the Case Law of the State of Louisiana. The Digest contained references to Spanish Law as well as to the French Civil Code and his familiarity with these codes and with a number of others subsequently acquired, was of great benefit to him before the Privy Council when he came to practise in England; there was no man in England at the time who possessed his encyclopaedic knowledge of Comparative Law. There is not the time available nor would it be profitable or particularly interesting to dwell at length on this occasion on his rapidly expanding practice, nor with his original incursions into politics ; both hold little interest today. But it is interesting to mention as an illustration of the variety of his interests that he embarked on a large scale in sugar planting and that for a time, in consequence of an affection of his eyes, he abandoned law and devoted himself to studying and applying the best methods of sugar culture. It was at this period that Benjamin became a pioneer in the new methods of sugar pro? duction, which he introduced as a result of his study of French inventions and agricultural methods, and by a series of articles in leading commercial publications stimulated a revolution in methods of cultivation in the Southern States. As a successful man of business with roots deep in the soil of the South, with perhaps an exaggerated emphasis on security brought about by his father's lack of success in business and his consequent comparative poverty, with an acute realisation that only by a continuation of the slave nexus, could the South compete with the economic and industrial ascendancy of the North, as well as for the reasons referred to earlier, it was inevitable that Benjamin should be a conservative, but the enthusiasm with which he pioneered in sugar cultivation and with which he promoted railways, his cosmopolitan outlook and his breadth of vision made it equally inevitable that he should be a Pro? gressive Conservative and a force in American political life as such in the fifth and sixth decades. Benjamin became a Senator of the United States in 1852 at the age of 41. He was the second Jew ever to become a United States Senator, his close friend and colleague, David Yulee, having preceded him by a few years, and in the same year another great honour was paid to him : he was nominated by the President a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the first Jew ever to be offered the appointment. This, however, he declined, being anxious to continue his active political career. This was not the</page><page sequence="4">164 JUDAH BENJAMIN only honour paid to Benjamin by the Federal Government; in 1858 he was offered the post of United States Minister to Spain, at that time an important diplomatic appoint? ment owing to Spain's interest in South America, but this appointment he also declined for the same reason. Now I propose to say something of Benjamin's influence during the fateful years leading up to the Civil War. The fiction was put out during that war that, but for the activities of Jefferson Davis and Benjamin, the Civil War would never have taken place. It is true that Benjamin was a leader of the Southern Party, but all the available evidence indicates that he opposed Secession until December 1860, when he became convinced that the North was using the pretext of slavery to achieve final victory in the struggle for economic supremacy. Without wishing to revive controversies which are better buried, Benjamin had certainly very strong legal grounds in favour of the claims which he argued on behalf of the South, and if the Liberal and non-conformist elements in England at that period professed to look askance at the institution of slavery, anyone who has read Engel's "The Conditions of the Working Class in 1840" might well reflect on the application of the maxim that 'those in glasshouses should not throw stones.' The majority of slave-owners treated their slaves far better than employers of labour in England at the time, not necessarily for humanitatian motives but out of a natural desire to protect their property in the same way as they would look after their furniture. The exploiter of child and female labour in England had no such incentive. If the factory child was not bound by a legal tie he was at least bound by an economic one and in that case there was often no incentive to keep him in good health; if he were worn out there were plenty of other children to take his place. Benjamin was invaluable to the South in the immediate prewar period, his legal argument was carefully thought out, his logic relentless and his rhetoric spellbinding. In these circumstances it is not surprising that he was called upon to make many speeches on the issue involved. His almost passionate defence of slavery on one occasion caused him to be dubbed by Senator Wade a Hebrew with Egyptian principles : as the most widely known Jew of his time, his leadership of the pro-slavery party unfortunately led to an identification of American Jews generally with the pro-slavery case. Benjamin's speech of farewell before the Senate on the secession of Louisiana is often quoted and it is reported as having reduced many of his hearers to tears. Sir George Cornewall Lewis is reputed to have exclaimed : "It is better than our Benjamin himself could have done." But the conflict of interest between the North and South had to come to a head. War was inevitable and would have come all the same if neither Jefferson Davis nor Benjamin had been born. It was equally inevitable that when war at last broke out Jefferson Davis should take Benjamin into the Cabinet. Benjamin qualified not only as the most prominent Louisianian but also because he was a close friend of the President, Jefferson Davis, who realised his great worth. Davis had not always been on good terms with Benjamin. Indeed Benjamin had only three years previously challenged Davis to a duel arising out of a quarrel in the Senate. But in the intervening years their respect for each other, which was if anything enhanced by this incident, ripened into intimacy. As Attorney-General Benjamin had relatively little to do so far as his official duties were concerned, but he was at this period used by the President for missions requiring tact and delicacy, both Benjamin's strong points. For example, when Russell, the Correspondent of the London Times, paid a visit to Montgomery, temporarily the centre of the Confederate Government, it was Benjamin who acted as his guide and</page><page sequence="5">JUDAH BENJAMIN 165 chief host?and he was more impressed with Benjamin than with any of the other Confederate leaders. I cannot resist Russell's description of Benjamin : "a short, stout man with a full face, olive colour and most decidedly Jewish features, with the brightest black eyes, one of which is somewhat diverse from the other, and a brisk, livery, agreeable manner combined with much vivacity of speech and quickness of utterance." Benjamin had even before the war had commenced given evidence of his calibre by recommending the purchase by the Confederate States of as many bales of cotton as possible for shipment to England, the proceeds to be used in the purchase of arms nd guns of all calibres. If the Confederacy had had a superiority in arms at this early period it is possible that its early successes might have been decisive before the superior Federal resources had had a chance to make themselves felt. Before the War was three months old Benjamin was acting Secretary for War. It would be pleasant to be able to record his unqualified successes in that office, but in fact as Butler in his "Life of Benjamin" puts it: "Benjamin in spite of his undoubted skill and service in organising and directing the routine work of the War Department certainly displayed no talent for the larger and more difficult work of planning or assisting in the execution of actual campaigns. He had no victory of importance to grace his administration and there were two great disasters, one of which at least Benjamin had contributed to by a serious error of judgment." This last reference relates to the failure of the Confederacy to hold Roanoke Island, a key to a number of useful ports in the Confederacy which were im? portant for breaking the blockade. Benjamin neither reinforced General Wise nor took the other possible step of withdrawing the garrison and as a result the force was over? whelmed and most of it captured. A Congressional Committee ultimately stated that whatever blame and responsibility for the defeat should attach to anyone should attach to Benjamin, but before this Committee had reported, Davis, who had never lost faith in Benjamin and stood by him even at the cost of his own popularity, promoted him to the most important office in the Cabinet after that of the President himself, the Secretaryship of State. More recent opinion is not so critical of Benjamin's term of office as Secretary for War as Butler. Meade in his "Life of Benjamin" by contrast ascribes to a notable degree the victories of the Confederate armies during the following summer and autumn to Benjamin's efforts and pays tribute to his industry and organising ability. But after the disaster of Roanoke Island his period of usefulness as Secretary for War was clearly at an end. As Secretary of State he was undoubtedly more highly equipped than anyone else in the Confederacy. He was a good linguist, an international lawyer with a cosmopolitan outlook and he had numerous European contacts. The cardinal point in Benjamin's policy was to secure recognition of the Confederacy by Britain and France. The fact that recognition was never achieved, although France at one time came near to according it, was due to no failing of Benjamin's, but to the inability of the Confederacy to break a vicious circle. Britain and France were not prepared to recognise the Confederacy until the latter had won some decisive victories, but the Confederacy could not win decisive battles without arms and were not in a position to obtain arms from Europe until accorded recognition. Benjamin made strenuous efforts to break this circle and his negotiations with Louis Napoleon came very near to success. He endeavoured to drive a wedge between Britain and France and at the same time beat the blockade by offering France 100,000 bales of cotton at cost of four and a half million dollars which could be sold in France for twelve and half million. It was stipulated that the French were to fetch the cotton from American</page><page sequence="6">166 JUDAH BENJAMIN shores which would be tantamount to non-recognition of the blockade or even recognition of the Confederacy. France was also to get the benefit of an advantageous commercial treaty. In addition Benjamin offered support for French ambitions in Mexico where Louis Napoleon was planning to establish a French Empire. The crafty Louis Napoleon only half swallowed the bait. He refused to commit himself decisively to the Con? federate cause before the Confederacy had established its predominance in the struggle but he did propose to the British and Russian Governments that they should join with him in suggesting an armistice and a suspension of the blockade. Unfortunately Louis Napoleon had not sufficient courage to move alone and Lord John Russell, then Prime Minister, was hostile to the Confederacy and as a result the British answer was not forthcoming until after a series of unfortunate Confederate defeats made it obvious what the answer would be. Although Benjamin failed in his main object his negotiations with France were successful in that a loan was agreed to, which was underwritten by Erlangers of Paris and which proved of great advantage to the Confederacy. The sale of the bonds in Europe provided funds for the Confederate purchasing agents. Benjamin also persuaded Erlangers to support a plan to build ironclad ships in France for the Confederacy, work on which commenced with the tacit approval of Louis Napoleon. Louis Napoleon, however, was playing a double game. He at the same time allowed the facts regarding the building of these vessels to come into the possession of the Northern States' Envoy to Paris who forced the French Government to take steps to prevent the vessels from leaving the French ports. By the summer of 1864 it must have been quite clear that the South was defeated and that there was no hope of recognition or even assistance from Europe. The Con? federate Commissioners to London and Paris were withdrawn but Benjamin still strove with resolution and courage to achieve what results he could. He sent an envoy to Rome to obtain the support of the Pope in curbing the flow of Irish Catholics to the Northern armies, but his efforts met with little success since, as Benjamin himself stated, the poor, naive but combative Irish peasants were willing to sell their souls for a thousand years extra service in purgatory to obtain the five hundred dollar enlistment bounty from the United States Government. His plans to perpetrate an armed invasion from Canada in conjunction with disaffected elements in the Northern States and to set fire to New York proved equally abortive. Meanwhile the war was drawing to a close. In the dark days which preceded the end Benjamin went about his duties cheerfully and resolutely. He was a source of great strength to the President and even on the occasion of his last political address when advocating a measure so unpopular as the emancipation and arming of the slaves Mrs. Davis wrote : "He sent those who had come discouraged and desperate knowing as they did the overwhelming forces which confronted them back to camp full of hope and ardour and I think made the most successful effort of his life." The end came, however, when Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant in April 1865. Benjamin set out for Florida disguised as a Frenchman unable to speak English, and ultimately when he crossed the state border into Florida assumed the identity of a farmer looking for land to settle on. He had many narrow escapes from capture before he reached the west coast of Florida. It took him a month to procure a boat and with two companions he commenced a perilous twenty-three days' journey down the coast seated in an open boat exposed to the tropical sun with no place to sleep and subject to frequent squalls. Happily he evaded capture and managed to obtain a passage in</page><page sequence="7">JUDAH BENJAMIN 167 a small sloop bound for Nassau in the Bahamas. Benjamin was, however, still dogged by misfortune. His sloop foundered at sea thirty miles from the nearest land. He thus found himself in a leaking skiff with but one oar, with no provisions and in company with three negroes. If the slightest sea had sprung up all would have perished but fortunately the sea remained calm and after some ten hours they were picked up by a French vessel which took them into Nassau. Even on this occasion he had a narrow escape. The vessel was boarded by the Federal Navy. Benjamin hastily donned the disguise of a cook and it is reported that one of the searchers looked at him and exclaimed that it was the first occasion he had seen a Jewish cook. From Nassau he made his way to Havana but even now his troubles were not at an end because the vessel taking him to England caught fire and it proved to be touch and go whether the ship would have to be abandoned or not. Ultimately after triumphing over every vicissitude Benjamin arrived in England in the late summer of 1865. The story of his escape which I have told very briefly represents a remarkable trial of endurance for a man who was already nearly fifty-four and presaged his success in the new career upon which he was to embark. It had been intimated to Benjamin that if he chose to settle in Paris an important position in banking cicles would be offered to him, an indication that his negotiations with French banking interests during the War had impressed those interests with his great ability, but Benjamin resolved to return to his old love, the Law, and to seek a practice at the English Bar. A further stroke of bad luck was, however, still to befall him. The small personal fortune which he had deposited with his bankers, Overend, Gurney and Co., representing the proceeds of sale of bales of cotton belonging to him, was lost when the bank failed and he was compelled to seek employment with The Daily Telegraph, for whom he wrote the weekly leading article on international affairs at five pounds an article. The Daily Telegraph was so impressed by the brilliance of his articles that he was offered a permanent post on the staff of that periodical, but Benjamin was not to be diverted from the Law. In spite of his age and his somewhat bizarre appearance he had certain advantages. In the first place he had influential friends. In his earlier letters from England to his sister he furnishes an indication of this : I have been treated with great kindness and distinction and have been called upon by Lord Campbell and Sir James Ferguson, the former a peer and the latter of the House of Commons. Though the whole world, as they say, is now in the country this being the long vacation in London both assured me that I would meet the utmost aid and sympathy and would be called on by a large number of leading public men here as soon as they returned to town. Mr. Disraeli also wrote to a friend of mine, expressing the desire of being useful to me when he should arrive in town, and I have been promised a dinner at which I am to be introduced to Gladstone and Tennyson as soon as the season opens here. I cannot resist reading a slightly later letter because it further illustrates the powerful influences that were behind Benjamin and because also it is of special interest to the Bar, showing that the etiquette and customs have remained the same over the last seventy years : It will I know interest you to learn what were the forms etc. attending my admission to the Inn. I had to pay on admission ?37. 10. 0. I then had to deposit ?100 as security that I will pay for my dinners. The next step was to enter a barristers' chambers with a view to learning the course of practice and for this the fee was ?105. I am now in the Chambers of Mr. Charles Pollock, son of the Chief Baron of the Exchequer, Sir Frederick Pollock. I am very kindly treated on all sides and was invited by the Chief Baron to spend a day with</page><page sequence="8">168 JUDAH BENJAMIN him at his country seat at Hatton. We went down on Saturday and returned on Monday morning and I spent a most charming day. The old gentleman although 83 years old being as lively and as sportive as a boy. You will be greatly amused to see our dinner at Lincoln's Inn. There are tables at the head of the room for the Benchers who are the old leaders of the Bar, such as Lord Brougham, Lord St. Leonards, etc. Next come the barristers, next the students including your humble servant, all seated at long tables and dressed in stuff gowns which the waiters throw over us in the antechamber before we enter the dining hall. To each 4 persons who constitute a mess the waiter serves a dinner composed of soup, one joint and vegetables, one sweet dish and cheese. A bottle of sherry or port at choice is allowed to each mess; the charge for the dinner is 2/-d. One dines almost every day with some stranger but the rule is that all are presumed to be gentlemen and conversation is at once established with entire abandon as if the parties were old acquaintances. By the influence of Lord Justice Turner and Giffard the regular three years' term for c?ning were dispensed with in Benjamin's case and he was called to the Bar on June 6th, 1866. Benjamin joined the Northern Circuit where Southern sympathisers were numerous and he had the further advantage to be gained from practising in a trading community in that, as Baron Pollock in an article in The Green Bag says "Few men had a sounder or wider range of experience of the law merchant, including shipping, insurance and foreign trading." The incursions into aristocratic circles which he made during the first eight months of his stay in London, when he declined the honour of meeting the Prince of Wales, now yielded to a period of unrernitting hard work. Apart from his work in Court he was working on his book, which became famous on publication and which is still the standard textbook on both sides of the Atlantic, namely, "A Treatise on the Law of Sale of Personal Property With Reference to the American Decisions to the French Code and Civil Law" or more simply "Benjamin on Sale." It went through three editions before the author's death. Soon after publication Baron Martin on taking his seat on the Bench asked his clerk to hand Benjamin's work to him. "Never heard of it, My Lord," was the clerk's answer. "Never heard of it?" ejaculated Sir Samuel Martin, "Mind that I never take my seat here again without that book by my side." Benjamin's progress at the English Bar was at first relatively slow and during 1867, his second year at the Bar, his fees totalled only ?495. 12. 3 which, although considerably better than the average for a young barrister, was not remarkable for a man of Benjamin's reputation. By 1869 however, he was more than feeling his way. This is shown in the case of United States v. McRae in which the United States Government asked for an account against the Defendant of all money and goods that came into his hands as agent or otherwise on behalf of the pretended Conferedate Government. Benjamin appearing for the Defendant was led by two famous leaders who both subsequently went to the Bench, Mr. Kay and Mr. Martin. It appeared that the Vice Chancellor was about to direct an enquiry when suddenly Benjamin rose from the seat and made these unprecedented observations : "Notwithstanding the somewhat off hand and supercilious manner in which this case has been dealt with by my learned friend Sir Roundell Palmer (who was subsequently Lord Chancellor and who led for the Plaintiff) and to some extent acquiesced in by my learned Leader, Mr. Kay, if you will only listen to me, if you will only listen to me (repeating the same words three times in cresendo) I pledge myself that you will dismiss the suit with costs." He addressed the Court for two hours and the suit was dismissed largely on Benjaniin's argument. Benjamin was at his best in non-jury cases and was less effective in handling witnesses</page><page sequence="9">J?D?H BENJAMIN 16 than in addressing the Court on legal arguments. Early in 1870 he was made a Queen's Counsel for the Duchy of Lancaster and two years later he became a Queen's Counsel after the case of Potter v. Rankin, regarded as a leading case in marine insurance, which although he lost in the Lords, prompted the Lord Chancellor to recommend a special patent of precedence. Thus after only five years of practice at the English Bar he had emerged as a leader. Soon he would not appear except in the Privy Council or the House of Lords for a special fee of a hundred guineas and the writer of his obituary notice for The Times mentioned that when a would-be client asked for a consultation in his own house Benjamin asked for and received a fee of three hundred guineas. He was particularly at home, as might be expected, in cases before the Privy Council, but a glance through the Law Reports between 1872 and 1883 will reveal the great variety of cases with which he was concerned. Here we find him arguing about bills of exchange, a husband's liability for his wife's debts, the duties of the charterers of a ship, the re? opening of an account closed in New Zealand more than nine years previously and the famous Tichborne case. It has been suggested that some of the force and cogency of his argument sprang from his having practised before the American Federal Courts where each counsel had a limit of two hours to state his case. Benjamin might have welcomed the introduction of the rule in Britain if he could have addressed the Court without interruption. Once Benjamin ended a series of questions which were launched at him by a full Court by saying that if he were to answer all the puzzling questions their Lordships put to him the case would become more puzzling than the facts them? selves. As soon as Benjamin had familiarised himself with the relations between Bench and Bar his relations with the former were excellent. He naturally had his clashes, and one which is recorded reflects so favourably on both parties that it may be re-told. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Selborne, having more than once interrupted, met a proposi? tion of Benjamin's with the ejaculation "Monstrous !" Benjamin immediately tied up his papers, bowed and left the Court. The noble Lord publicly sent a conciliatory message to Benjamin and the difference was entirely composed. There is no doubt that his prompt and unhesitating resentment of an affront to his dignity even from the Bench made a strong impression and increased respect for him. It is not clear why he did not become a Judge, a position for which he was clearly suited. Lord Coleridge, at the time Lord Chief Justice, has this to say about the matter : I suggested to Lord Cairns (at that time Lord Chancellor) that the late Mr. Benjamin should be appointed to the Bench, as the man whom I was anxious to have seen among the Judges of England and who to my knowledge would have felt himself honoured by being placed among them. But Lord Cairns refused to consider his claims and he refused on grounds which I cannot help admitting were at the time urgent and forcible and would by most men be held to be conclusive. I am sure in not appointing Mr. Benjamin Lord Cairns acted against his own wishes and from the purest and most patriotic motives. These observations are somewhat cryptic and it would be futile to speculate on the reasons which prompted the Lord Chancellor in this paper. This is a historical and not a legal society and it would not therefore be proper for me to discuss at any length the famous cases in which Benjamin was engaged. With the exception of the Tichborne case they were not of great general interest, although often of considerable importance to the profession. One cause celebre in which Benjamin appeared was the Queen v. Keyn. Benjamin led for the defendant, Keyn, whose vessel ran down an English steamer within three miles of Dover causing the death of a passenger in such circumstances as to amount in English Law to manslaughter by the captain.</page><page sequence="10">170 J?DAH BENJAMIN The captain was tried at the Old Bailey and found guilty. The question whether the Court had jurisdiction was sent to the Court for Crown Cases Reserved by Baron Pollock. At the first hearing the Court was equally divided and on the re-hearing by a special Court of fourteen Judges the Court held by 7 to 6, one Judge having died before giving judgment, that the Court had no jurisdiction to try the case. Not long afterwards Parliament passed the Territorial Waters Act to cure the mischief occasioned by the decision, but Benjamin had scored a great personal triumph in a case whiGh occupies over two hundred pages in the Law Reports. By the end of the 1870's Benjamin was probably the most in demand of any Leader. In 1878, for example, his fees amounted to ?15,742, an enormous income for those days. He longed to retire since his health was failing, but his wife Nathalie in Paris still pursued her extravagant life. She persuaded him to build a mansion in a fashionable quarter of Paris, which was later owned by one of the Rothschilds and furthermore he was always most generous to his brothers and sisters and their children. His retirement, however, was hastened by a serious accident which befell him in Paris in 1880, when stepping off a swiftly moving tram, from which he never fully recovered. His health was affected and in addition his chronic malady of diabetes became worse. He had thus no alternative but to announce his retirement from practice. The stir this event caused is an indication of the pre-eminent position which he occupied. To quote a contemporaneous letter "every leading newspaper with The Times at the head made his retirement a matter of national concern and regret." A signal honour was paid to him which has never been paid before and I cannot trace that it has ever been paid since. He received a letter from the Attorney-General informing him that more than eighty Queen's Counsel and all the leading members of the Bar of England desired to offer him a banquet in order to take farewell of him. The banquet took place in the Inner Temple Hall in June 1883, with the Attorney-General in the Chair, Lord Selborne, the Lord Chancellor, on his left and Mr. Benjamin on his right. All the Judges and every leading member of the Bar was present. A remarkable tribute, not only to Benajmin but to the English Bar, which was so generous in the help it gave to Benjamin on his arrival and grudged not at all his outstanding success. The Daily Telegraph, in reporting the dinner, echoed the feelings of all. "The history of the English Bar will hereafter have no prouder story to tell than that of the marvellous advance of Mr. Benjamin from the humble position he occupied as a junior in 1866 to the front rank of his profession in 1883." The remainder of the story is brief. He was not to enjoy his retirement for long. He died in Paris on the 6th May, 1884, at the age of 73. There has been much speculation as to what Benjamin would have achieved had the Civil War not been lost. Professor Meade in his "Life of Benjamin," takes a pleasant flight of fancy : "What," he asks, if Disraeli had attained the Premiership while Benjamin was still Secretary of State ? It is left however, to Professor Macguire of Harvard to sense and express in a few short sen? tences the message of Benjamin's life : Had the lost cause not been lost Benjamin might at the time have appeared to gain in personal stature. Looking back though from the advan? tageous distances of some sixty years to the time when his career terminated it is easy to think that he might have been much less of a man. As things actually fell out his days were full of disappointment, misfortune, tragedy and unremitting toil with altogether too little of the ease and opportunity to bask in the sun like a lizard and for which he yearned more and more with advancing years. Facing this he was nevertheless by impulse and resolution alike, optimistic, kindly, generous and above all undismayed. He was one who lived a brave life in evil times, setting an example which we shall do well to follow.</page></plain_text>

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