John Slidell

John Slidell
United States Senator
from Louisiana
In office
December 5, 1853 – February 4, 1861
Preceded by Pierre Soulé
Succeeded by William P. Kellogg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1843  November 10, 1845
Preceded by Edward Douglass White, Sr.
Succeeded by Emile La Sére
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives
Personal details
Born 1793
New York City, New York
Died July 9, 1871 (aged 7778)
Cowes, Isle of Wight, England
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mathilde Deslonde Slidell
Children Alfred
Alma mater Columbia College
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Merchant

John Slidell (1793  July 9, 1871) was an American politician, lawyer and businessman. A native of New York, Slidell moved to Louisiana as a young man and became a staunch defender of Southern rights as a U.S. Representative and Senator. He was the older brother of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, a US naval officer.

Early life

He was born to the merchant John Slidell and the former Margery Mackenzie, a Scot. He graduated from Columbia University (then College) 1810. In 1835, Slidell married the former Mathilde Deslonde, and 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).[1]

John Slidell, photograph by Mathew Brady

Merchant, lawyer, politician

Slidell was in the mercantile business in New York before he relocated to New Orleans. He practiced law in New Orleans from 1819-1843. He was the district attorney in New Orleans from 1829-1833. He also served in the state's House of Representatives from 1837-1838.[2] Though he lost an election to the United States House in 1828, he was elected in 1842 and served a term and a half from 1843–1845, as a Democrat.[3] He served as minister plenipotentiary to Mexico from 1845-1846.

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 hinted to Polk that the Mexican reluctance to negotiate might require a show of military force by the United States. Under the guidance of General Zachary Taylor, U.S. troops were stationed at the U.S./Mexico border, ready to defend against Mexican attack. The Mexican government rejected Slidell's mission. After Mexican forces attacked at Matamoros, 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. In the 1860 campaign Slidell supported Democratic presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge, but remained a pro-Union moderate until Abraham Lincoln's election pushed the Southern states into 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.

Civil War

Mathilde Deslonde Slidell

With the passage of the Louisiana ordinance of secession, Slidell resigned from the U.S. Senate and headed home. In a dramatic farewell address, he threatened the boycott of all northern manufacturing and predicted the dominance of southern ships on the seas. He argued that foreign countries would prevent the Union from blockading southern ports: he promised however that the Confederate States would never fire the first shot but should the Union do so then "This will be war, . . . and we shall meet it with . . . efficient weapons."[5] The historian John D. Winters reports that many Confederates "still thought a peaceful solution could be found. Many believed the Yankee incapable of learning to use a gun or of mustering enough courage to fight; the emergency [they mistakenly thought] would soon dissipate."[6]

Slidell soon accepted a diplomatic appointment to represent the Confederacy in France. John Slidell was one of the two CSA diplomats involved in the Trent Affair in November 1861. After having been appointed the Confederate States of America's 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 U.S. Navy while en route and taken into captivity at Fort Warren in Boston.

The Northern public erupted with a huge display of triumphalism at this dramatic capture, and 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 example that France might get control of Southern cotton if the blockade were broken. In both cases, France refused to move without the cooperation of England.[7][8] But he did succeed in negotiating a loan of $15,000,000 from Emile Erlanger & Co. and in securing the ship “Stonewall” for the Confederate government.[9][10]

Later life

Slidell moved to Paris, France, after the Civil War. He died in Cowes, Isle of Wight, England, at age 78. He is interred in the Saint-Roman family private cemetery near Paris. He, Judah P. Benjamin and A. Dudley Mann were among the high-ranking Confederate officials buried abroad.


John Slidell was a 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. In that incident, 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.

Another brother, Thomas Slidell, was chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He was also the brother-in-law of the American naval Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who was married to Slidell's sister, Jane. Perry is remembered for opening United States trade with Japan in 1853.


The city of Slidell in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana was named in his honor by his son-in-law Baron Frederick Emile d'Erlanger; the village of Slidell, Texas is also named after him.[11]


  1. Matilde d'Erlanger Slidell
  3. The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, p. 97
  4. "Teaching With Documents: Lincoln's Spot Resolutions". U.S. National Archives.
  5. John D. Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963, ISBN 0-8071-0834-0, pp. 14-15
  6. Winters, p. 15
  7.  Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Slidell, John". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  8.  Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Slidell, John". Encyclopedia Americana.
  9.  Reynolds, Francis J., ed. (1921). "Slidell, John". Collier's New Encyclopedia. New York: P.F. Collier & Son Company.
  10.  Beach, Chandler B., ed. (1914). "Slidell, John". The New Student's Reference Work. Chicago: F. E. Compton and Co.
  11. "Handbook of Texas Online - Slidell, TX". Retrieved 2009-01-15.

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Slidell.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Edward D. White, Sr.
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 1st congressional district

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