The Belmont Family History
"THE KING OF FIFTH AVENUE"
August Belmont was born in Alzey, France on the 8th of December 1813, a son of a prominent Jewish businessman, learned student of law and government, and President of the Synagogue, Simon Belmont, and Frederika Elsass. Simon's father, Aaron Isaac had passed away when Simon was only one year old, and his widowed grandmother, Gertrude, bore another son after her husband's death in 1790. She moved away to Frankfurt, leaving her sons in the care of her father-in-law, Isaac Simon. She re-married Hajum Lehman Hanau, whose sister would soon marry a son of Mayer Amschel Rothschild. When August Belmont was eight years old, he was sent to Frankfurt to live with his grandmother, Frau Hanau, whose husband was connected to the vast Rothschild empire established in London, Paris, and Vienna as well as throughout Austria and Germany. The five Rothschild brothers were reputed to constitute the wealthiest family in Europe, and were soon to be given a coat of arms and titles of Baron by the Emperor of Austria.
The education of August Belmont was progressive, as he was enrolled in a school which integrated Jew and Gentile, even in the study of the Bible as literature, as well as Hebrew, Latin, and many foreign languages - although his father refused to pay for special English lessons, which August requested. Simon Belmont avoided paying the school's tuition, which resulted in 14-year-old August sweeping floors, polishing furniture, and running errands for the Rothschilds. Baron Carl von Rothschild arranged for young August to further his education by studying English, arithmetic, and writing. He was forced to grow up quickly, and his father and employers had kept him too impoverished to return home even for a visit. However he worked and studied diligently with Amschel von Rothschild, from 1828 - 1832, until he was promoted rapidly from confidential clerk, to private secretary, which enabled him to travel first to Naples, then to Paris and Rome, where he quickly learned the languages, and the mores of the world of finance, wealth and culture. By 1837, age 23, he was asked by the Rothschilds to investigate the economy in Havana.
A momentous co-incidence changed history in May of 1837. Nearly 250 businesses, including the Rothschilds American Agents, and major banks had collapsed just a few days before his ship landed in New York, on May 14th. August Belmont gambled that he could replace the defunct American Agency with August Belmont & Co., 78 Wall Street, New York City, before the slow communications of the day could deny him the opportunity to take advantage of the Panic. Seven eighths of all the businesses in America were bankrupt, and the citizens were existing on a barter system: my services for your services or goods. August Belmont, however had been well schooled in international finance, and with the backing of the Rothschild reputation, bought defunct businesses, real estate, etc. etc. on credit at about a tenth or less of their value before the crash. His business flourished, and he had a new start.
August Belmont was ambitious socially, as well. He lived in ever increasingly magnificent mansions throughout the early to mid 1840s, and bought one of the first mansions on newly fashionable Fifth Avenue at 14th Street. He was invited to the most prestigious balls and political events, he played in the socially elite circles of Saratoga. He was the eligible bachelor, with wealth, wit, wealth, fine taste, wealth, etc. etc.
During a series of what would be called endless balls and parties, he met and fell in love with the much sought after beautiful and talented, Caroline Slidell Perry. Her father, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, had reservations about the alliance because of the difference of religion - no one knew just what August Belmont was. Several years before, August Belmont had been injured in a duel, which began rumors of an illicit past in Europe: born Schoenberg, a Jew, or a bastard child of the Rothschilds. The false rumors were perpetuated by the New York Herald as a result of jealousy of August Belmont's financial power and political influence. Caroline was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church wedding scheduled for October 31, 1849 in New York's Church of the Ascension was postponed to November 7th, with the rumor that Caroline was ill, but, in truth, August Belmont's birth certificate had not arrived from Alzey.
In 1850, influenced by Caroline's uncle John Slidell, August Belmont became a backer of James Buchanan in the Democratic primary races against William Marcy, Lewis Cass, and Stephen O. Douglas. The nominee at the Baltimore convention ended up to be Franklin Pierce, whom August vigorously supported with large contributions. Pierce won the election by a landslide despite vicious attacks on his supporter, Mr. Belmont's, citizenship and ties with Austria. President Pierce appointed him Minister to The Hague in mid-May 1853.
Meanwhile, August and Caroline were raising a family. Their eldest child, Perry, was born in 1850; August, Jr. was born in February 1853. While the family was in Europe between 1853 and 1857, Commodore Perry had been commissioned to open trade relations with Japan in 1852. And their two daughters were born: Frederika in 1854, and Jane Pauline (Jeannie) in 1856.
When the family returned to America in 1858, Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont was born on November 12. In 1863, the Belmonts had another son, Raymond.
August Belmont had desired the post of Spanish Ambassador under President James Buchanan, whom he had backed in 1852 and 1856. Denied the post, he backed Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election, which split in the Democratic Party gave victory to the unknown Republican, Abraham Lincoln. Immediately after the Emancipation Proclamation, when President Lincoln took office in January, the southern states seceded, beginning the Civil War.
A British newspaper observing American political affairs wrote, "If Mr. Belmont had not gone to the Charleston Convention, the present crisis would never have occurred." Although he abhorred slavery, August Belmont believed that the survival of the Union was more important than abolition of slavery. The Democratic position was to phase out slavery - no new slaves, allowing those enslaved to date to remain slaves. The survival of the Union was important enough to Mr. Belmont that he gave up the financial gain he could have realized with by the secession of New York as an independent country. The U.S. Government borrowed gold from August Belmont to finance the Civil War. He used all his influence with his English and French friends, particularly the powerful Rothschilds, to discourage a Confederate alliance with the two European nations. Britain declared itself neutral. But, France felt obligated to protect the lands of many of their citizens in the south (New Orleans).
August Belmont's wealth and influence continued to increase. In 1862, when young Perry Belmont showed a great interest in the outdoors- hunting, fishing, camping, exploring, etc. - his father bought their favorite campsite in Babylon, Long Island with about 1100 to 1300 acres. There he built a village, an ideal world to which the family could retreat. A mansion with numerous stables, a mile-long racetrack, and all the fine accoutrements of a farm were productive as well.
Between 1866 and his death in 1890, August Belmont was recognized as "The most influential man in American racing" - horses, of course.
At the height of August Belmont's social supremacy, and inestimable political influence, their daughter, Jane Pauline (Jeannie), became severely ill. During the time of her progressive illness, August's political and business relationships became stormy - the lavish entertaining was curtailed and finally stopped, as Jeannie died at the age of 19 on October 15, 1875. August Belmont retired from politics.
Caroline and August Belmont were opera lovers, and August was president of the Academy of Music, which refused to make a box available to the nouveau riche Vanderbilt family, who then built the Metropolitan Opera for their own social set.
In 1887 August Belmont became ill, and suffered on and off for three years until his death in New York in 1890, leaving an estimated 10 to 50 million dollars to his wife and his four surviving children.
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