Benjamin F. Jonas, U.S. Senator

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Benjamin Franklin Jonas

Birthplace: Williamsport, Grant County, Kentucky, United States
Death: Died in New Orleans, Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Abraham Jonas and Louisa Jonas
Husband of Josephine Jonas
Father of Benjamin Franklin Jonas and Edwin Jonas
Brother of Lucia Block; Capt. Charles Henry Jonas, (CSA); Julian J. Jonas; Maj. Sidney Alroy Jonas (CSA); George Jonas and 3 others

Occupation: Lawyer, La State Legislator, Confederate Army Officer, US Senator from LA
Managed by: Kevin Lawrence Hanit
Last Updated:

About Benjamin F. Jonas, U.S. Senator

Benjamin Franklin Jonas (July 19, 1834 – December 21, 1911) was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Louisiana and an officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He was the third Jew to serve in the Senate.

Life and career

He was born in Williamsport, Grant County, Kentucky to Abraham Jonas (1801–64), a merchant and lawyer, and Louisa Block. As a boy, he moved with his parents to Quincy, Illinois, where his father became a Republican state legislator and postmaster, and was acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. (In 1864, Lincoln appointed the widowed Mrs. Jonas postmaster in succession to her late husband.)

Benjamin attended the public schools in Quincy. In 1853, he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana; his maternal uncle, Abraham Block, was well-known there, being an important figure in the nearby Red River settlements. He studied law at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University). In 1855, he graduated, was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice in New Orleans.

Despite his family's strong Republican connections, Benjamin Jonas cast his lot with the South in the Civil War. In 1862 he enlisted in the Confederate Army. He served till the end of the war, rising to the rank of major.

After the war, he returned to New Orleans and became active in state politics as a Democrat. In 1865, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, and served until 1868.

In 1872, he was elected to the State Senate, but declined to take the seat. In 1875, he was appointed city attorney of New Orleans, and served until 1879. He was again elected state Representative in 1876.

In 1879, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and served from 4 March 1879 to 4 March 1885. In the 46th Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. He sought another term in 1884, but was not re-elected.

In 1885, he was appointed Collector of the port of New Orleans, serving until 1889. He then resumed the practice of law.

Jonas died in New Orleans on 21 December 1911, and was buried in Dispersed of Judah Cemetery.

He was the second Jewish U.S. Senator from Louisiana, the first having been Judah P. Benjamin (1853–1861), and the third Jewish Senator overall, the others being Benjamin and David Levy Yulee of Florida (1845–1851, 1855–1861). However, both Yulee and Benjamin married Christian wives, and did not openly practice Judaism afterward. Jonas was the first practicing Jew in the Senate.


Benjamin F. Jona s (1834-1911). After deciding on his father's profession, he entered the law school of the University of Louisiana, where he graduated in 1855. Like his father, who had served in the state legislatures of both Kentucky a n d Illinois, he was captivated by politics. In 1860 Jona s was a n unsuccessful candidate for delegate t o the state convention called t o consider the question of secession. When war finally came J o n a s entered the Confederate service. His achievements in the en- suing years were numerous; a s one writer has observed, "to write the life of Jona s after the war is t o write the history of Louisiana for that period." Jona s served various terms in the state legisla- ture, was a delegate t o the Democratic convention of 1872, a n d was for two terms city attorney of New Orleans prior t o his elec- tion a s United States Senator from Louisiana for a term running f rom 1879 t o 1885.28

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Benjamin F. Jonas, U.S. Senator's Timeline

July 19, 1834
Williamsport, Grant County, Kentucky, United States
December 21, 1911
Age 77
New Orleans, Orleans, Louisiana, United States