The First Jewish Senator: David Levy Yulee
David Levy Yulee (1810-1886) was born to a Sephardic Jewish family in St. Thomas, West Indies, before relocating to Florida where he studied and practiced law in St. Augustine. When Florida became a state, Yulee was elected to serve. In 1841, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, though his position was disputed under claims that he was not a citizen – though in 1842 his position was clarified as acceptable.
Yulee later served in the U.S. Senate, from 1845-1851 and again from 1855-1861, as a Whig-Democrat in the 27th and 28th Congresses. With his successful 1845 election, Yulee became the first individual of Jewish ancestry to be elected to the United States Senate.
Hailed as the “Father of Florida Railroads,” Yulee also founded the Florida Railroad Company. Yulee faced anti-Semitism and prejudice throughout his life, eventually raising his children in his wife’s Christian faith to avoid further discrimination. He also legally added his father’s Sephardic last name, Yulee, to his title. Following the Civil War, Yulee was imprisoned at Fort Pulaski for a term of nine months under the accusation of treason.
On October 10th, 1886, David Levy Yulee passed away in New York City.