Belmont, August

views updated


BELMONT, AUGUST (1816–1890), U.S. banker, diplomat, and politician. Belmont was born in Alzey (Hesse), but claimed descent from the distinguished *Belmonte family of Portugal. His enemies later circulated the story that his original name was Schoenberg. He began his career as an apprentice in the Frankfurt banking house of *Rothschild and was soon transferred to the Naples office, where he conducted the Rothschilds' financial negotiations, including those with the Vatican. After an assignment to Havana, Cuba, in 1837, Belmont served the Rothschild interests in New York. Later he opened his own banking house, August Belmont & Co., which continued to represent the Rothschilds in the United States until the beginning of the 20th century. In 1844 he was appointed honorary Austrian consul general in New York, but resigned in 1850 in protest against the Vienna regime's brutal treatment of the Hungarian rebels, particularly their leader, Louis Kossuth. Belmont represented the United States at The Hague as chargé d'affaires (1853–55), and as minister (1855–58). At the conclusion of his foreign service, Belmont returned to New York and became active in political life. He supported the Union during the Civil War and raised and equipped the first German-born regiment in New York. He enlisted the support of European bankers and merchants for the Union cause during visits to Europe in 1861 and 1863. As Democratic National Committee chairman from 1860 until his retirement from politics in 1872, he exercised great influence in his party and American society. He became the founder of the U.S. Racing Club. One of America's best-known racetracks bears his name. Belmont severed his Jewish ties and married the daughter of Commodore Matthew C. Perry. One son, perry (1850–1947), became a lawyer, diplomat, congressman, and an author on United States history and politics. The other, august (1853–1924), succeeded his father as head of the bank, and played an important role in financing public transportation in the United States.


R.J.H. Gottheil, The Belmont-Belmonte Family (1917), 173–5; I. Katz, August Belmont… (1968).

[Joachim O. Ronall]