August Belmont

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For his son of the same name, see August Belmont, Jr..
August Belmont
Augustbelmont.jpg
Born (1813-12-08)December 8, 1813
Alzey, Grand Duchy of Hesse, Germany
Died November 24, 1890(1890-11-24) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Resting place
"Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery"
Occupation Financier, politician, foreign diplomat, racehorse owner/breeder
Net worth USD $10 million dollars at the time of his death (approximately 1/1313th of then U.S. GNP)[1]
Spouse(s) Caroline Slidell Perry, (1829-1892)
Children Perry Belmont
August Belmont, Jr.
Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont
Raymond Rodgers Belmont
Jennie Belmont (died age 10)
Fredericka Belmont
Parents Simon Belmont
Frederika Elsass Schonberg, Alzey, Hesse, Germany

August Belmont, Sr. (December 8, 1813 – November 24, 1890) was a 19th Century German-American politician, financier, foreign diplomat, and party chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 1850s and later a famous horse-breeder and racehorse owner, who established the landmark Belmont Park racecourse on Long Island, [New York State|New York]] and is the namesake of the "Belmont Stakes", third "jewel" of the "Triple Crown series of American thoroughbred horse racing.

Early life[edit]

August Belmont was born in Alzey, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, in Germany on December 8, 1813 —some sources say 1816— to Simon and Frederika Elsass Schönberg, a Jewish family. After his mother's death, when he was age seven, he lived with his uncle and grandmother in the German financial capital city of Frankfurt am Main ("Frankfurt on the Main River").[2] He attended "The Philanthropin", a Jewish school, until he began his first job as an apprentice to the famous Jewish-owned French financial firm and bank, the Rothschilds.[2] The young August, would sweep floors, polish furniture, and run errands while studying English, arithmetic, and writing.[3] He was then given a confidential clerkship in 1832 and promoted to confidential clerk before traveling later to Naples, Paris, and Rome.[3] At age 24, in 1837, Schonberg/Belmont set sail for the Spanish colony island in the Caribbean Sea, - the capital city of Havana, in Cuba, charged with the Rothschild's Cuban interests. On his way to Havana, however, Schonberg/Belmont stopped in New York City in the famed "New World" of the previously prospering United States of America on a layover. He arrived there during the first waves of the financial/economic recession of the "Panic of 1837" shortly after the end of the iconic "first Democrat", seventh President Andrew Jackson's, (1767-1845), two-termed administration, (1829-1837), with his former second-termed Vice President, Martin van Buren, (1782-1862), elected the previous year as the eighth President during the long economically depressed times of the late 1830s. Belmont then remained in New York to supervise the jeopardized Rothschild financial interests in America, whose New York agent had filed for bankruptcy, there instead of continuing on to Havana.[2] After he emigrated permanently to the United States, it was then that he changed his Jewish family surname, "Schonberg" (German for "beautiful mountain"), to "Belmont" (French for "beautiful mountain").

August Belmont and Company[edit]

In the financial/economic recession and "Panic of 1837", hundreds of American businesses, including the famous French financing firm, Rothschild's American agents in New York City, collapsed. As a result, Belmont postponed his departure for Havana, Cuba, indefinitely and began a new firm "August Belmont & Company", believing that he could supplant the recently bankrupt firm, the American Agency.[3] August Belmont and Company was an instant success, and Belmont restored health to the Rothschild's U.S. interests over the next five years.[2] In 1844, Belmont was named the Consul-General of the Austrian Empire at New York, representing that Imperial Government's affairs in the major American financial and business capital. He resigned the consular post in 1850 in response to what he viewed as Austria's cruelty and policies towards its neighboring Hungary, (which was dominated by the House of Habsburg dynasty with the Austrian Emperor also reigning as "King of Hungary" - merged and reorganized later in the 19th Century as "Austria-Hungary", the so-called "Dual Monarchy") even as his interest in American domestic politics grew.[2]

Entry into politics[edit]

Belmont married Caroline Slidell Perry, (the daughter of famous naval officer Matthew Calbraith Perry, Captain and commodore in the U.S. Navy with his later his famous expedition to open the trading ports of Japan in 1857) on November 7, 1849. According to Jewish newspaper sources, he converted to Christianity at that time, taking his wife's Episcopalian/Anglican faith.[4][5] Soon, John Slidell, his wife's uncle (and U.S. Senator from Louisiana, and later southern secessionist who served the Confederate States government as foreign diplomat and potential minister to Great Britain and French Emperor Napoleon III, removed in late 1861 from the British trans-Atlantic steam packet ship "Trent", off-shore from Havana, Cuba by the Union Navy warship "U.S.S. Jacinto") who later made Belmont his protégé.[2]

Belmont's first task was to campaign for the presidential nomination for American diplomat in Europe, James Buchanan (1791-1868), of Wheatland, Pennsylvania as the Buchanan's campaign manager in New York for the Presidential Election of 1852. In June, 1851, Belmont wrote letters to the "New York Herald" and the "New York National-Democrat", insisting that they do justice to Buchanan's presidential run for the Democratic Party's nomination.[2] But Franklin Pierce, (1804-1869), of New Hampshire, known as the "dark horse" candidate, unexpectedly won the Party's nomination instead, was elected as the 14th President, appointed Buchanan as his Secretary of State, and Belmont made further large contributions to the Democratic cause, while weathering political attacks.[3]

After his victory, President Pierce in 1853 appointed Belmont "chargé d'affaires" and minister to The Hague of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. While in the Holland, Belmont urged American annexation of the Caribbean island Cuba as a new "slave state" in what became known as the Ostend Manifesto.[6]

Though Belmont lobbied hard for it, newly elected 15th President, Buchanan denied him the ambassadorship to Madrid in the Kingdom of Spain after his Presidential Election of 1856, thanks to the "Ostend Manifesto".[7] As a delegate to the pivotal, but soon violently-split Democratic National Convention of 1860 in Charleston, South Carolina, in the momentuous Presidential Election of 1860.

Belmont supported influential U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas, (1813-1861), of Illinois (who had triumphed in the famous "Lincoln-Douglas Debates" over newly recruited Republican Party candidate for the Senate seat representing Illinois, the promising Abraham Lincoln, (1809-1865), his long-time romantic and political rival).

Senator Douglas subsequently nominated Belmont as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Belmont is attributed with single-handedly transforming the position of party chairman from a previously honorary office to one of great political and electoral importance, creating the modern American political party's national organization. Belmont energetically supported the Union cause during the Civil War as a "War Democrat" (similar to former Tennessee's Senator, Andrew Johnson, later installed as war governor of the Union Army-occupied seceded state), conspicuously helping U.S. Representative) from Missouri, (the politically-connected in Washington congressman), Francis P. Blair raise and equip the Union Army's first predominantly German-American regiment.[8] Belmont also used his influence with European business and political leaders to support the Union cause in the American Civil War, trying to dissuade the Rothschilds and other French Second Empire bankers from lending funds or credit for military purchases to the Confederacy and meeting personally in London with the British prime minister, Lord Palmerston, and members of Emperor Napoleon III’s French Imperial Government in Paris.[9]

Postwar political career[edit]

Remaining chairman of the Democratic National Committee after the War, Belmont presided over what he called “‘the most disastrous epoch in the annals of the Democratic Party.’”[10] As early as 1862, Belmont and Samuel Tilden bought stock in the "The New York World" in order to mold it into a major Democratic press "organ" with the help of Manton M. Marble, its then editor-in-chief.[11]

According to the Chicago Tribune in 1864, Belmont was buying up Southern bonds on behalf of the Rothchilds as their agent in New York because he backed the Southern cause. Seeking to capitalize on divisions in the Republican Party at the War’s end, Belmont organized new party gatherings and promoted Salmon Chase (the former United States Secretary of the Treasury since 1861, and later Chief Justice of the United States in 1864) for President in the Presidential Election of 1868, the candidate he viewed least vulnerable to charges of disloyalty to the Party during the Republican/Unionists Lincoln-Johnson Administrations, (1861-1869).[12] Horatio Seymour’s electoral defeat in that 1868 election paled in comparison to the later nomination of "Liberal Republican" Horace Greeley's disastrous 1872 presidential campaign.

While the party chairman had originally promoted Charles Francis Adams for the nomination, Greeley’s nomination implied Democratic endorsement of a candidate who as publisher of the famous nationally-dominant newspaper, "The New York Tribune", had often earlier referred to Democrats before and during and after the War as “‘slaveholders,’ ‘slave-whippers,’ ‘traitors,’ and ‘Copperheads’ and accused them of thievery, debauchery, corruption, and sin.”[13]

Although the election of 1872 prompted Belmont to resign his chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, he nevertheless continued to dabble in politics as a champion of U.S. Senator Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware for the presidency, as a fierce critic of the process granting Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in the 1876 election, and as an advocate of “hard money" financial policies.”[14]

Death[edit]

Belmont died in New York in 1890. His funeral was held at the Church of the Ascension in New York.

The Letters, Speeches and Addresses of August Belmont was published at New York in 1890. Belmont left an estate valued at more than ten million dollars.

He is buried in an ornate sarcophagus in the Belmont family plot (along with other Belmonts, Perrys and Tiffanys) in the Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island.[3]

Belmont's sons were Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, Perry Belmont, and August Belmont, Jr..

In culture[edit]

Belmont threw lavish balls and dinner parties, receiving mixed reviews from New York's high society. He was an avid sportsman and the famed Belmont Stakes thoroughbred horse race is named in his honor. It debuted at Jerome Park Racetrack, owned by Belmont's friend, Leonard Jerome. Today "The Belmont Stakes" is part of thoroughbred horse racing's "Triple Crown" and takes place at Belmont Park racetrack, just outside New York City. Belmont was heavily involved in thoroughbred horse racing. He served as the President of the National Jockey Club from 1866 to 1887, and owned two large horse-breeding farms as well.

Also named in Belmont's honor is the town of Belmont, New Hampshire, an honor Mr. Belmont never acknowledged. Author/novelist Edith Wharton reputedly modeled the character of "Julius Beaufort" in her novel "The Age of Innocence" on Belmont.[15]

In 1910, famed sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward completed a bronze statue of a sitting Belmont. The statue was originally installed in front of a small chapel adjacent to the Belmont burial plot in the Island Cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island. It was later moved to the park in New York's Washington Square neighborhood where it was replaced by a marker dedicating the park as "Eisenhower Park" in 1960, to remember 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, (1890-1969). The statue was loaned by the city of Newport, Rhode Island to the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art by Central Park in New York in 1985 and was eventually installed about 1995 in front of the headquarters building for the Preservation Society of Newport County at the corner of Bellevue and Narragansett Avenues in Newport.

Belmont was referenced as a "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" ("W.A.S.P.") in "Paddy Whacked" by author T.J. English.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xiii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Katz, Irving (1968). August Belmont; a political biography. New York and London: Columbia University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Biography of August Belmont". Archived from the original on October 10, 2006. Retrieved January 28, 2007. 
  4. ^ American Israelite, August 7, 1874, p. 4
  5. ^ Jewish Exponent, December 19, 1924
  6. ^ Katz, 42–45.
  7. ^ Katz, 58–61; John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, Vol. II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 534
  8. ^ Katz, 90. F or more on Belmont’s public contributions to the war effort, see August Belmont's self-published, "A Few Letters and Speeches of the Late Civil War", New York, [Private Printing], 1870.
  9. ^ Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. II (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929), 170.
  10. ^ Quoted in Katz, 91.
  11. ^ Garraty and Carnes, 534.
  12. ^ Garraty and Carnes, 534; Katz, 167–68.
  13. ^ Katz, 200
  14. ^ Katz, 210–276.
  15. ^ "The Edith Wharton Society". Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. Retrieved January 27, 2007. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Birmingham, Stephen (1996). "Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York". Syracuse University Press. pp. 57–62. ISBN 0815604114. 

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
George Folsom
U.S. Minister to the Netherlands
1853–1857
Succeeded by
Henry C. Murphy