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The First Jewish Senator

In response to:

A Southern Romantic from the April 14, 1988 issue

To the Editors:

I very much admire C. Vann Woodward’s scholarship, but in his review of Eli N. Evans’ Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate [NYR, April 14], Woodward describes Benjamin as the first Jewish member of the United States Senate. Benjamin was a senator from Louisiana from 1853 to 1861.

May I suggest the first Jewish US senator was, in fact, David Levy Yulee, born David Levy, a senator from Florida from 1845 to 1851, and from 1855 to 1861?

Thomas Suddes

Columbus, Ohio

C Vann Woodward replies:

On this question the reasoning of Eli N. Evans seems to me to make good sense. He writes, “Levy changed his name to Yulee and renounced Judaism, converted to Christianity…and claimed he was not Jewish at all but descended from a Moroccan prince. Thus, because he acknowledged his Judaism it can be said that Judah P. Benjamin took his seat in the halls of history as the first Jew in America’s most influential legislative institution.”

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