Beyond the Book: Background information when reading All Other Nights

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All Other Nights

A Novel

by Dara Horn

All Other Nights by Dara Horn
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2010, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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The Life & Times of Judah Benjamin
All Other Nights incorporates a number of historical characters, but perhaps the most integral to the tale is Judah Benjamin, the Secretary of State for the Confederate States of America.

Judah Benjamin was born in 1811 in the West Indies during the British occupation of the Danish West Indies (now US Virgin Islands).  He emigrated with his father, an English Jew, and mother, a Portuguese Jew, to the USA a few years later and was brought up in North and South Carolina.  He entered Yale Law School at 14 years of age but left without a degree. In 1832, he moved to New Orleans, LA, where he became a commercial lawyer. The next year, he married Natalie St. Martin, the daughter of a prominent Catholic New Orleans family. He soon became a slave owner and established a plantation in Belle Chasse, LA. In 1847, Natalie took the Benjamin's only child, five-year-old daughter Ninette, to Paris, where they lived for the rest of Natalie's life.

In 1842, Benjamin was elected to the lower house of the Louisiana State Legislature. His reputation as an eloquent speaker and his subtle legal mind eventually won him a seat in the U.S. Senate and he became a noted advocate for Southern issues, particularly slavery. Though others, especially senators from the North, lambasted him for the perceived irony of his position – that of being a proponent of slavery and a Jew (who annually celebrated the escape of the Israelites from Egypt) – he saw no such conflict between his religious and political beliefs.

Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederate States of America (CSA), apparently saw no conflict either and appointed Benjamin Attorney General of the CSA. He would ultimately become Secretary of State. Benjamin was often referred to as the "Brains of the Confederacy" and was known for his "lucidity of intellect, systematic habits, and capacity for labor."

Initially, Benjamin tried to draw the United Kingdom into the war on the side of the CSA, but he was unsuccessful. His next plan, to offer freedom to any slave willing to bear arms for the Confederacy, was ultimately unsuccessful as well - the plan was supported by Robert E. Lee, and eventually passed in 1865, but was too late to help the CSA win the war.

After Lee's surrender, Benjamin fled south through Florida and the Bahamas to England, where he began a second and lucrative career as a barrister. He died in Paris on May 6, 1884.

This article was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the March 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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