John Slidell

John Slidell (1793-1871), American politician, represented the Confederacy in France during the American Civil War.

John Slidell was born in New York City. After graduating from Columbia College in 1810, he entered into business but was ruined by the War of 1812. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar in New York. In 1819 he moved to New Orleans and for the next 42 years was closely identified with Democratic politics in Louisiana.

Slidell ran several times for the U.S. House of Representatives and for the Senate between 1828 and 1843 but was successful only once, in 1843 taking a seat in the House. In 1845 President James K. Polk, wishing to settle various problems with Mexico arising out of the annexation of Texas by the United States, chose Slidell to conduct the negotiations. He arrived in Mexico City in December, but the Mexican government refused to receive him, and he returned home.

Finally Slidell gained a Senate seat by appointment in 1853. During his senatorial years he was one of the most influential members of the Democratic party. He was instrumental in getting James Buchanan nominated and elected in 1856 and wielded great power during his administration. Slidell left the Senate in February 1861, when Louisiana seceded from the Union.

Slidell served the Confederacy as a diplomat. In September 1861 he was appointed commissioner to France, charged with getting the French emperor to recognize the independence of the Confederacy, to break the blockade by the Union Navy of the Southern ports, to permit ships to be built in French yards for the Confederacy, and to provide money. Early in November, Slidell boarded the British steamer Trent in Havana for the passage to Europe. On November 8, the second day at sea, a U.S. warship overtook the Trent and removed Slidell and James M. Mason, the Confederate commissioner to England. They were taken to Boston as prisoners but were later released when Great Britain protested the action as a violation of international law.

Slidell finally reached France in February 1862 and was received cordially by Napoleon III. But that warm feeling was not translated into policies favorable to the South. The Emperor did not recognize the Confederacy's independence, nor would he use his navy to break the blockade. Slidell did succeed in contracting for six vessels to be built in French yards, but after their completion Napoleon refused to permit Slidell to take possession of them. Slidell convinced a French banker to float $15 million of Confederate bonds, but most of the sum went to commissions. After the war, Slidell remained in France. In 1870 he moved to England, where he died on July 29, 1871.


Further Reading on John Slidell

Louis Martin Sears, John Slidell (1925), is a good biography of Slidell. Beckles Willson, John Slidell and the Confederates in Paris, 1862-65 (1932), is not scholarly, but it is interesting.

Additional Biography Sources

Diket, A. L., Senator John Slidell and the community he represented in Washington, 1853-1861, Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982.