De Leon, Edwin

May 4, 1818–December 1, 1891

After the war De Leon returned to America and worked to reestablish the Democratic Party in the South, campaigning for Horatio Seymour for president in 1868 and Horace Greeley in 1872.

Diplomat, writer. De Leon was born in Charleston on May 4, 1818, to Mardici Heinrich De Leon and Rebecca Lopez-y-Nu├▒ez. His father was a prominent Jewish physician, and his brothers also had notable careers: Thomas Cooper as a journalist and author, and David Camden as surgeon general of the Confederate Medical Department. Edwin De Leon was a prolific writer, respected diplomat, and dedicated propagandist for the South.

Growing up in Columbia, De Leon read widely in his father’s extensive library (destroyed in 1865) and attended South Carolina College. Graduating in 1837, he was admitted to the bar in 1840. From 1842 to 1848 he coedited the Savannah (Ga.) Republican. He drew the attention of southern Democrats in Congress, who in 1850 invited De Leon to Washington, where he and Ellwood Fisher founded the proslavery Southern Press. De Leon was friendly with politicians including Jefferson Davis and Franklin Pierce, and with writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with whom he traveled in Italy. He also spent time with Mormon leader Joseph Smith at Nauvoo, Illinois, and knew William Thackeray, Charles Dickens, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson later in England.

In 1853 President Franklin Pierce appointed De Leon diplomatic agent and consul general to Egypt, a position reaffirmed by Pierce’s successor, James Buchanan. De Leon distinguished himself in Turkish-controlled Egypt by his boldness, most notably in protecting Greek inhabitants from a massacre during the Crimean War. Awarded the Cross of His Royal Order of the Saviour by King Otho of Greece, De Leon graciously turned the honor down on grounds that decorations violated the spirit of republicanism.

Hearing news of the outbreak of the Civil War, De Leon immediately resigned his position and returned to the South, where he ran the blockade at New Orleans and made his way to Jefferson Davis’s home in Richmond, Virginia. Davis appointed him diplomatic agent for the Confederacy to Europe, and he arrived in England in June 1862. Finding a propaganda apparatus already in place, De Leon moved on to France, where he argued the Southern cause and defended slavery as a benevolent institution in a thirty-two-page pamphlet entitled La Vérité sur les Etats Confédérés d’Amérique (The Truth about the Confederate States of America). Despite a vigorous effort, he was unable to secure official French support and, having alienated Judah P. Benjamin, Davis’s powerful secretary of war, received a letter announcing his dismissal in February 1864.

After the war De Leon returned to America and worked to reestablish the Democratic Party in the South, campaigning for Horatio Seymour for president in 1868 and Horace Greeley in 1872. Living primarily in New York, he also traveled in Europe and the Middle East, helping to establish Egypt’s telephone system in 1881. He published widely in newspapers and journals such as the Southern Quarterly Review and Harper’s and wrote several books, including a novel, Askaros Kossis, the Copt (1870), and Thirty Years of My Life on Three Continents (1890), a memoir. He died on December 1, 1891, in New York City.

Cullop, Charles P. “Edwin De Leon, Jefferson Davis’ Propagandist.” Civil War History 8 (December 1962): 386–400.

De Leon, Edwin. Thirty Years of My Life on Three Continents. 2 vols. London: Ward and Downey, 1890.

Sutherland, Daniel E. “Edwin DeLeon and Liberal Republicanism in Georgia: Horace Greeley’s Campaign for President in a Southern State.” Historian 47 (November 1984): 38–57.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title De Leon, Edwin
  • Coverage May 4, 1818–December 1, 1891
  • Author
  • Keywords Diplomat, writer, dedicated propagandist for the South, diplomatic agent and consul general to Egypt, Crimean War, Awarded the Cross of His Royal Order of the Saviour by King Otho of Greece, La Vérité sur les Etats Confédérés d’Amérique (The Truth about the Confederate States of America), worked to reestablish the Democratic Party in the South,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 26, 2020
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update September 14, 2016
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