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.
Resting place Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery
Occupation Financier, politician, foreign diplomat, racehorse owner/breeder
Net worth US$10 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/1313th of then U.S. GNP)[1]
Spouse(s) Caroline Slidell Perry (m. 1849–1890)
Children Perry Belmont
August Belmont, Jr.
Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont
Raymond Rodgers Belmont
Jennie Belmont (died age 10)
Fredericka Belmont
Parent(s) Simon Belmont
Frederika Elsass Schonberg

August Belmont, Sr. (December 8, 1813 – November 24, 1890) was German-American politician, financier, foreign diplomat, and party chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 1850s, and later a horse-breeder and racehorse owner, who established the Belmont Park racecourse on Long Island, New York. He is the namesake of the Belmont Stakes, third jewel of the Triple Crown series of American thoroughbred horse racing.[2]

Early life[edit]

August Belmont was born with the name August Schönberg to a Jewish family in Alzey, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, in Germany on December 8, 1813—some sources say 1826—to Simon and Frederika Elsass Schonberg. 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").[3] He attended The Philanthropin, a Jewish school, until he began his first job as an apprentice to the Rothschild banking firm in Frankfurt am Main.[3] The young August, would sweep floors, polish furniture, and run errands while studying English, arithmetic, and writing.[4] He was then given a confidential clerkship in 1832 and promoted to confidential clerk before traveling later to Naples, Paris, and Rome.[4] 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 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-term administration, (1829-1837), with his former second-term 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.[3] After he emigrated permanently to the United States, he changed his family surname, "Schoenberg" (German for "beautiful mountain"), to "Belmont" (French for "beautiful mountain") in an attempt to avoid anti-Semitism and integrate into American High Society.

August Belmont and Company[edit]

In the financial/economic recession and Panic of 1837, hundreds of American businesses, including the Rothschild Family's American agents in New York City, collapsed. As a result, Belmont postponed his departure for Havana indefinitely and began a new firm, August Belmont & Company, believing that he could supplant the recently bankrupt firm, the American Agency.[4] August Belmont & Company was an instant success, and Belmont restored health to the Rothschild's U.S. interests over the next five years.[3] In 1844, Belmont was named the Consul-General of the Austrian Empire at New York City, representing the 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 Austrian government's policies towards Hungary, which had yet to gain equal status with Austria as part of the Dual Monarchy compromise of 1867. His interest in American domestic politics continued to grow.[3]

Marriage[edit]

Belmont married Caroline Slidell Perry on November 7, 1849. She was the daughter of naval officer Matthew Calbraith Perry, captain and commodore in the U.S. Navy, later famous for his expedition to open the trading ports of Japan in 1857. According to Jewish newspaper sources, he converted to Christianity at that time, taking his wife's Episcopalian/Anglican faith.[5][6] Belmont's sons were Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, Perry Belmont, and August Belmont, Jr.

Entry into politics[edit]

Soon, John Slidell, his wife's uncle (a 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 USS San Jacinto) who later made Belmont his protégé.[3]

Belmont's first task was to campaign for the presidential nomination for American diplomat in Europe, James Buchanan (1791-1868), of Wheatland, Pennsylvania, as 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.[3] 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.[4]

After taking office in 1853, President Pierce appointed Belmont chargé d'affaires (equivalent to ambassador) to The Hague of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Belmont held this post from October 11, 1853 until September 26, 1854 when the position's title was changed to Minister Resident. Belmont served as Minister Resident until September 22, 1857. 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.[7]

Though Belmont lobbied hard for it, newly elected President Buchanan denied him the ambassadorship to Madrid in the Kingdom of Spain after the presidential election of 1856, thanks to the Ostend Manifesto.[8] As a delegate to the pivotal, but soon violently-split Democratic National Convention of 1860 in Charleston, South Carolina, in the momentous 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 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.[9] 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 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.[10]

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".[11] As early as 1862, Belmont and Samuel Tilden bought stock in the New York World in order to mold it into a major Democratic press organ with the help of Manton M. Marble, its editor-in-chief.[12]

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 1868, the candidate he viewed least vulnerable to charges of disloyalty to the Party during the Republican/Unionists Lincoln-Johnson Administrations, (1861-1869).[13] Horatio Seymour's electoral defeat in the 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, during and after the War as "slaveholders", "slave-whippers", "traitors", and "Copperheads" and accused them of "thievery, debauchery, corruption, and sin".[14]

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.[15]

Death[edit]

Belmont died in New York in 1890.[2] His funeral was held at the Church of the Ascension in New York City.

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.[4] His widow died in 1892.[16]

Interests[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 (the maternal grandfather of Winston Churchill). 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.

Legacy[edit]

Belmont, New Hampshire, is name in his honor, an honor he never acknowledged.

In 1910, sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward completed a bronze statue of a seated Belmont. The statue was originally installed in front of a small chapel adjacent to the Belmont burial plot in the Island Cemetery. It was later moved to a park between Washington Square and Touro Steet in Newport. It was replaced by a marker dedicating the park as Eisenhower Park (Newport) in 1960, to honor President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The statue was loaned by the city of Newport, Rhode Island to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1985. It 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.

In popular culture[edit]

Author Edith Wharton reputedly modeled the character of Julius Beaufort in her novel The Age of Innocence on Belmont.[17]

Belmont was referenced as a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) in Paddy Whacked by T.J. English, though Belmont was Jewish, not Protestant.

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 "August Belmont is Dead. A Notable Career Closed Early Yesterday Morning. The Veteran Banker's Short And Fatal Illness. His Life As a Leader In Finance, Politics, Society, and On The Turf". New York Times. November 25, 1890. Retrieved 2015-04-29. August Belmont, the famous banker and turfman, died yesterday morning at 3 o'clock at his residence, 109 Fifth Avenue. The cause of Mr. Belmont's death was pneumonia, from which he had been suffering only three days. The beginning of the malady was a cold contracted at the recent horse show in Madison Square Garden. ... 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Katz, Irving (1968). August Belmont; a political biography. New York and London: Columbia University Press. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Biography of August Belmont". Archived from the original on October 10, 2006. Retrieved January 28, 2007. 
  5. ^ American Israelite, August 7, 1874, p. 4
  6. ^ Jewish Exponent, December 19, 1924
  7. ^ Katz, 42–45.
  8. ^ Katz, 58–61; John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, Vol. II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 534
  9. ^ Katz, 90. For more on Belmont's public contributions to the war effort, see Belmont's self-published, A Few Letters and Speeches of the Late Civil War, New York, [Private Printing], 1870.
  10. ^ Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. II (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929), 170.
  11. ^ Quoted in Katz, 91.
  12. ^ Garraty and Carnes, 534.
  13. ^ Garraty and Carnes, 534; Katz, 167–68.
  14. ^ Katz, 200
  15. ^ Katz, 210–276.
  16. ^ "Mrs. August Belmont Dead. Death Came Peacefully Yesterday After A Long Illness". New York Times. November 21, 1892. Retrieved 2015-04-29. Mrs. August Belmont died yesterday afternoon at 4:30 o'clock. An hour before death she became unconscious, and did not again rally. She passed away peacefully. At her bedside at her death was her son Perry Belmont, August Belmont, Jr., and wife, S.S. Howland and wife, Oliver H.P. Belmont, and Dr. Barrows. She was attended in her illness by Drs. Barrows, Polk, and Hanlen. 
  17. ^ "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