August Belmont

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August Belmont
Augustbelmont.jpg
Born (1813-12-08)December 8, 1813
Alzey, Hesse
Died November 24, 1890(1890-11-24) (aged 76)
New York City, New York U.S.
Resting place
Island Cemetery
Occupation Financier, racehorse owner/breeder
Net worth USD $10 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/1313th of US 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 Schönberg

August Belmont, Sr. (December 8, 1813 – November 24, 1890) was an American politician.

Early life[edit]

August Belmont was born in Alzey, Hesse, 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 seven, he lived with his uncle and grandmother in Frankfurt.[2] He attended the Jewish Junior and Senior High School until he began his first job as an apprentice to the Rothschilds.[2] He 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 private secretary before traveling to Naples, Paris, and Rome.[3] In 1837, Belmont set sail for Havana charged with the Rothschild's Cuban interests. On his way to Havana, however, Belmont stopped in New York. He arrived there during the Panic of 1837 and then remained to supervise jeopardized Rothschild interests there instead of continuing on to Havana.[2] After he emigrated to the United States, he changed his surname, Schönberg (German for "beautiful mountain"), to Belmont (French for "beautiful mountain").

August Belmont and Company[edit]

In the Panic of 1837, hundreds of American businesses, including the Rothschild's American agents, collapsed. As a result, Belmont postponed his departure for Havana indefinitely and began 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 US interests over the next five years.[2] In 1844, Belmont was named the Consul-General of Austria at New York. He resigned the post in 1850 in response to what he viewed as Austria's cruelty towards Hungary, even as his interest in politics grew.[2]

Entry into politics[edit]

Belmont married Caroline Slidell Perry, the daughter of Matthew Calbraith Perry, on November 7, 1849. According to Jewish newspaper sources, he converted to Christianity at that time, taking his wife's Episcopalian faith.[4][5] Soon, John Slidell, his wife's uncle, made Belmont his protégé.[2] Belmont's first task was to campaign for James Buchanan in New York. 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.[2] But Franklin Pierce won the nomination instead, and Belmont made large contributions to the Democratic cause, weathering political attack.[3] After his victory, Pierce in 1853 appointed Belmont chargé d'affaires and minister to The Hague. While in the Netherlands, Belmont urged American annexation of Cuba as a new slave state in what became known as the Ostend Manifesto.[6]

Though Belmont lobbied hard for it, Buchanan denied him the ambassadorship to Spain after his election in 1856, thanks to the Ostend Manifesto.[7] As a delegate to the Democratic Convention of 1860, Belmont supported Stephen A. Douglas, who subsequently named Belmont chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Belmont energetically supported the Union cause during the Civil War as a War Democrat, conspicuously helping Missouri 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, dissuading the Rothschilds and other bankers from lending to the Confederacy and meeting personally with the British prime minister, Lord Palmerston, and members of Napoleon III’s French government.[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 New York World in order to mold it into a major Democratic organ with the help of Manton M. Marble, its editor-in-chief.[11] Seeking to capitalize on divisions in the Republican party at the war’s end, Belmont organized new party gatherings and promoted Salmon Chase for president in 1868, the candidate he viewed least vulnerable to charges of disloyalty to the party during the Republican Lincoln-Johnson administrations.[12] Horatio Seymour’s electoral defeat in that year paled in comparison to liberal Republican Horace Greeley's disastrous 1872 presidential campaign. While the party chairman had promoted Charles Francis Adams for the nomination, Greeley’s nomination implied Democratic endorsement of a candidate who often had referred to Democrats 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 US Senator Thomas F. Bayard of Delaware for the presidency, as a fierce critic of the process granting Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in 1877, and as an advocate of “hard money.”[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 racing's Triple Crown and takes place at Belmont Park, just outside New York City.

Also named in Belmont's honor is the town of Belmont, New Hampshire, an honor Mr. Belmont never acknowledged. Edith Wharton reputedly modeled the character of Julius Beaufort in 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. It was later moved to the park in Washington Square where it was replaced by a marker dedicating the park as Eisenhower Park in 1960. The statue was loaned by the city of Newport to the Metropolitan Museum of Art 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.

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. For more on Belmont’s public contributions to the war effort, see August Belmont, 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