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John Slidell

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John Slidell
United States Minister to Mexico
In office
PresidentJames K. Polk
Preceded byWilson Shannon
Succeeded byDavid Conner
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
December 5, 1853 – February 4, 1861
Preceded byPierre Soulé
Succeeded byWilliam P. Kellogg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1843 – November 10, 1845
Preceded byEdward Douglass White, Sr.
Succeeded byEmile La Sére
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives
Personal details
New York City, U.S.
DiedJuly 9, 1871(1871-07-09) (aged 77–78)
Cowes, Isle of Wight, England
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseMathilde Deslonde Slidell
Alma materColumbia College
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer, Merchant

John Slidell (1793 – July 9, 1871) was an American politician, lawyer, slaveholder, and businessman.[1] A native of New York, Slidell moved to Louisiana as a young man and became a Representative and Senator. He was one of two Confederate diplomats captured by the United States Navy from the British ship RMS Trent in 1861 and later released. He was the older brother of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, a U.S. naval officer.

Early life[edit]

He was born to merchant John Slidell and Margery née Mackenzie, a Scot. He graduated from Columbia University (then Columbia College) in 1810. In 1835, Slidell married Mathilde Deslonde. They had three children: Alfred Slidell, Marie Rosine (later [on 30 Sept. 1872] comtesse [Countess] de St. Roman), and Marguerite Mathilde (later [on 3 Oct. 1864] baronne [Baroness] Frederic Emile d'Erlanger).[2]

John Slidell, photograph by Mathew Brady

Political career[edit]

He was the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana from 1829 to 1833; his brother Thomas Slidell held the post from 1837 to 1838.[3]

Prior to the Mexican-American War, Slidell was sent to Mexico by President James Knox Polk to negotiate an agreement whereby the Rio Grande would be the southern border of Texas. He also was instructed to offer, among other alternatives, a maximum of $25 million for California by Polk and his administration.[4] Slidell warned Polk that the Mexican reluctance to negotiate a peaceful solution might require a show of military force by the United States to defend the border. Under the command of General Zachary Taylor, U.S. troops were sent into the disputed area between the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers. The Mexican government, in a state of chaos at the time, rejected Slidell's mission. After Mexican forces repelled a U.S. scouting expedition, the United States declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846.

Slidell was elected to the Senate in 1853 and cast his lot with other pro-Southern congressmen to repeal the Missouri Compromise, acquire Cuba, and admit Kansas as a slave state. In the 1860 campaign, Slidell supported Democratic presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge but remained a pro-Union moderate until Abraham Lincoln's election resulted in the Southern states seceding. At the Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1860, Slidell plotted with Fire-Eaters, such as William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, to stymie the nomination of the popular Northern Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois.[citation needed]

Civil War[edit]

Mathilde Deslonde Slidell

Slidell soon accepted a diplomatic appointment to represent the Confederacy in France. Slidell was one of the two Confederate diplomats involved in the Trent Affair in November 1861. After he was appointed the Confederate commissioner to France in September 1861, he ran the blockade from Charleston, South Carolina, with James Murray Mason of Virginia. They then set sail from Havana on the British mail boat steamer RMS Trent but were intercepted by the US Navy while en route and taken into captivity at Fort Warren in Boston.

The northern public erupted in a huge display of triumphalism at this dramatic capture. Even the cool-headed Lincoln was swept along in the celebratory spirit, but when he and his cabinet studied the likely consequences of a war with Britain, their enthusiasm waned. After some careful diplomatic exchanges, they admitted that the capture had been conducted contrary to maritime law and that private citizens could not be classified as "enemy despatches." Slidell and Mason were released, and war was averted.

After the resolution of the Trent Affair, the two diplomats set sail for England on January 1, 1862. From England, Slidell at once went to Paris, where, in February 1862, he paid his first visit to the French minister of foreign affairs. His mission to gain recognition of the Confederate States by France failed, as did his effort to negotiate a commercial agreement for France to get control of Southern cotton if the blockade were broken. In both cases, France refused to move without the co-operation of England.[5][6] He succeeded in negotiating a loan of $15,000,000 from Emile Erlanger & Co. and in securing the ship "Stonewall" for the Confederate government.[7][8]

Later life[edit]

Slidell moved to Paris, France, after the Civil War. He died in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England, at age 78. He, Judah P. Benjamin, and A. Dudley Mann was among the high-ranking Confederate officials buried abroad.


John Slidell was the brother of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, a naval officer who commanded the USS Somers, on which a unique event occurred in 1842 off the coast of Africa during the Blockade of Africa. Three crewmen were hanged after being convicted of mutiny at sea. Mackenzie reversed the order of his middle and last names to honor a maternal uncle.

Slidell was also the brother-in-law of the American naval Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who was married to Slidell's sister, Jane. Another brother, Thomas Slidell, was chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.


The city of Slidell in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, was named in his honor by his son-in-law, Baron Frederic Emile d'Erlanger; the village of Slidell, Texas, is also named after him.[9]


  1. ^ Weil, Julie Zauzmer (10 January 2022). "More than 1,800 congressmen once enslaved Black people. This is who they were, and how they shaped the nation". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 May 2024. Database at "Congress slaveowners", The Washington Post, 2022-01-13, retrieved 2024-04-29
  2. ^ "Matilde d'Erlanger Slidell" (PDF). lasocr.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 July 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  3. ^ Executive Office for United States Attorneys (1989). Bicentennial Celebration of United States Attorneys, 1789–1989 (PDF) (Report). Washington, District of Columbia: United States Department of Justice. pp. 78, 202. Retrieved 2024-03-24.
  4. ^ "Teaching With Documents: Lincoln's Spot Resolutions". U.S. National Archives. 15 August 2016. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Slidell, John" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  6. ^ Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Slidell, John" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  7. ^ Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Slidell, John" . Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P. F. Collier & Son Company.
  8. ^ Beach, Chandler B., ed. (1914). "Slidell, John" . The New Student's Reference Work . Chicago: F. E. Compton and Co.
  9. ^ "Handbook of Texas Online - Slidell, TX". Retrieved 2009-01-15.


  • Case, Lynn M., and Warren E. Spencer. The United States and France: Civil War Diplomacy (1970) online
  • Sears, Louis Martin. "A Confederate Diplomat at the Court of Napoleon III," American Historical Review (1921) 26#2 pp. 255–281 in JSTOR on Slidell
  • Sears, Louis Martin. John Slidell, Duke University Press (1925).
  • Sainlaude, Stève. France and the American Civil War: A Diplomatic History (UNC Press, 2019).

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1843 – November 10, 1845
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 3) from Louisiana
December 5, 1853 – February 4, 1861
Served alongside: Judah P. Benjamin
Succeeded by
Notes and references
1. Because of Louisiana's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for seven years before Kellogg succeeded Slidell.