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August Belmont (National Cyclopaedia)

Reference

“Belmont, August,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography (New York: James T. White & Company, 1901), 2: 499.

BELMONT, August, banker and diplomat, was born at Alzei in the Palatinate, Rhenish Prussia, Dec. 8, 1816, son of a wealthy landed proprietor, who gave to his son every opportunity of self-improvement in the best schools of the locality, and under the most thorough instructors. When the son was fourteen years of age, he was placed in the Frankfort house of the great banking firm of Rothschild Bros. , in order that he should become a thorough master of the principles of financiering. In this he proved a ready pupil, and at the end of three years, he was advanced to the supervision of the branch house in Naples, Italy. In 1887 he was sent to New York city, to found another branch of the great Rothschild house, under the name of August Belmont & Co. He took the first opportunity to become a citizen of the United States, and from that time was conspicuously identified with the political, diplomatic, commercial, financial, and social affairs of his adopted country. He affiliated with the Democratic party, and cast his first presidential vote for the electors on the Polk and Dallas ticket in 1844. During the same year he was appointed by the Austrian government consul-general in the United States. He resigned the position in 1850, as a protest against the treatment Hungary was then subjected to by the government of Austria. In 1853 Mr. Belmont took an active part in the presidential campaign that resulted in the election of President Pierce, and was appointed charge d'affaires of the U. S. legation at the Hague. In 1855 the rank of the mission was raised, and Mr. Belmont became minister resident of the United States at the Hague. During his incumbency he negotiated a highly important consular convention, and received from the government at Washington special thanks for the service rendered. He also persuaded the state department of the United States to locate consuls in the Dutch East Indies, a diplomatic favor theretofore persistently denied. In 1856, upon the retirement of the Pierce administration, Mr. Belmont resigned as U. S. minister to Holland, and upon his return to America, became an active leader of the Democratic party. He deprecated civil war, and made heroic efforts to maintain peace between the contending sections. He became a natural supporter of Stephen A. Douglas, the champion of compromise. At the Charleston Convention of 1860, to which Mr. Belmont was a delegate, he went with the Douglas wing, and was an active champion of that leader in the Baltimore Convention, and was by the convention made chairman of the National Democratic committee. Upon the election of Mr. Lincoln, he declared that the election could not be considered a just provocation of war, and when South Carolina seceded, he in his official position wrote to the governor of all the other southern states, as well as to the leading southern politicians, and urged them to refrain from a course which he prophetically declared must end in disaster for the South. His words, as written Nov. 30, 1860, were: "Secession in South Carolina signifies civil war, which must be followed by a dissolution of the whole state structure, after infinite sacrifices of money and blood. If patriotism and love of the Union are not strong enough to prevent the people of the South from carrying out their insane purpose, I still hope that they will not lose the instinct of self- preservation." When the South decided to secede, Mr. Belmont became one of Mr. Lincoln's staunchest supporters, and urged a vigorous prosecution of the war. He helped to raise and equip the first German regiment, and on May, 15, 1861, as they were leaving for the seat of war, he presented them with a stand of colors, and in an address to the men, outlined their duty toward the flag of their adoption. Mr. Lincoln and Secretary Seward, knowing the great influence Mr. Belmont had in European financial circles, found in him a ready and willing ally in directing the minds of the commercial and financial leaders of the old world to the superior strength and importance of the North over the South, and discouraging the recognition of the Confederacy as a belligerent. He wrote to the Rothschilds in London and Paris, and his letters were laid before the English and French ministers of state, Palmerston and Thouvenal. In 1861 Mr. Belmont personally visited England, and had an interview with Palmerston, whose laconic reply Mr. Belmont transmitted to Mr. Lincoln: "We do not like slavery, but we need cotton, and hate your Morrill protective tariff." In 1863 he visited Paris and wrote: "I am convinced that the emperor is the chief person from whom we must encounter danger. The secessionists here — and their number is legion- are very sanguine of the speedy recognition by, and assistance of, France." In 1864-68 Mr. Belmont, as chairman of the National Democratic committee, opened and directed the political campaign. In 1872, upon the party nominating Horace Greeley as its candidate, Mr. Belmont resigned. He was a delegate to every National Democratic convention, from 1860 until 1884. He was a member of the Union Club, and for many years president of the Manhattan Club, and of the American Jockey Club, and was deeply interested in the development of American thoroughbreds, and largely contributed to the elevation of the turf in this country. He maintained at the time of his death, one of the best stock farms and one of the leading stables of thoroughbreds in the United States. In 1849 Mr. Belmont was married to a daughter of Com. Matthew C. Perry. Of six children, four are now (1894) living. Perry Belmont, August Belmont, Jr., Oliver H. P. Belmont, and a daughter, the wife of Samuel S. Haviland. Mr. Belmont died at his home in New York city, Nov. 24, 1890.

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