Lecture on Judah P. Benjamin at Loyola
On August 23, 2012, The Supreme Court of Louisiana Historical Society and Loyola University New Orleans College of Law sponsored a mid-day lecture by Ms. Catharine MacMillan at Loyola entitled “Judah P. Benjamin: the Early English Career of an American Political Exile.” Ms. MacMillan, Reader in Legal History at Queen Mary, University of London, travelled to New Orleans to continue her research on Judah P. Benjamin’s legal career. She recently published Mistakes in Contract Law (Hart Publishing), a history of the doctrine of contractual mistake in English law, in which Benjamin’s contributions to this development are examined. The lecture was attended by law students, law librarians, members of the bar, Historical Society members, and faculty from both Loyola and Tulane law schools. Ben Janke, Historical Society Treasurer, shared with the audience the Society’s interest in sponsoring programs exploring Louisiana legal figures. He was followed by Loyola Associate Dean John Lovett, who introduced Ms. MacMillan. An important part of Ms. MacMillan’s trip to New Orleans was to learn more about Louisiana laws during Benjamin’s time, slavery in the Deep South (particularly in Louisiana), and the Civil War and Reconstruction. Her interest in Benjamin’s distinguished legal career in New Orleans took her to the New Orleans Public Library, which proved to be a valuable resource for cases Benjamin handled in the Orleans Parish Court, the First Judicial District Court, and the Commercial Court. Although her visit was cut short by Hurricane Isaac, Ms. MacMillan spent some time in the Rare Book Room of the Law Library to see Benjamin & Slidell’s Digest of the Reported Decisions of the Superior Court of the Late Territory of Orleans and the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana (1834). She also took a look at the Law Library’s copies of the first (1875) and third (1881) American Editions of Benjamin’s Treatise on the Sale of Personal Property; with references to the American Decisions and to the French Code and Civil Law. Several biographies of Benjamin have been written over the years, but, as Michael Chesson states in the entry he authored on Benjamin in American National Biography, Benjamin was an enigma even to his closest associates. Most of his papers were destroyed, although there are letters and some papers which have survived. Ms. MacMillan’s biography of Benjamin will be written from a different approach through her examination of the cases handled by Benjamin, primary documents which survive, many untouched, except by dust, for years.