Name:  August Belmont, Sr.

See a full text list of Biographies


Born:  December 8, 1813
Died:  November 24, 1890
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
August Belmont, Sr., financier and Democratic party administrator, was born in Alzey, Germany, to Frederika Elsass Belmont and Simon Belmont, a landowner and moneylender. As a child, he attended a Jewish school in Frankfurt. At the age of 15, he started working for the Rothschild banking firm as an office boy, but soon advanced to the position of confidential clerk. In 1837 the Rothschilds’ sent him to report on the stability of Cuba, but during a layover he decided to stay in New York City. America was in the midst of a financial panic at year, yet he opened a private bank, August Belmont and Company. It would have a continuing close relationship to the Rothschilds’ firm. Belmont was extremely successful, prospering in diverse financial ventures and serving as the fiscal agent for the federal government during the Mexican War (1846-1848). In 1849 he married Caroline Slidell Perry, the daughter of Commodore Matthew Perry and the niece of John Slidell, a Louisiana politician and diplomat of later Trent Affair fame.

In 1852 Belmont acted as James Buchanan’s presidential campaign manager in the state of New York, then donated liberally to the campaign of Franklin Pierce, who had defeated Buchanan for the Democratic nomination. After his election, President Pierce rewarded Belmont with appointment as the U.S. minister to the Netherlands. During his term (1853-1857), Belmont negotiated trade and extradition treaties between the two countries and helped draft the Ostend Manifesto (1854) which called for the annexation of Cuba by the United States. He again supported Buchanan’s presidential aspirations in 1856. When the new president ignored Belmont’s petition to become U.S. minister to Spain, he resigned as the Dutch minister, went back to New York City, and threw his support to Buchanan’s Democratic rival, Senator Stephen Douglas.

When the Democratic party split in 1860, Douglas tapped Belmont to manage his presidential campaign. The next year, he was chosen to chair the Democratic National Committee, a position he would hold for the next twelve years. During the Civil War he sided with the War Democrats in favor of the Union cause and influenced European financiers, like the Rothschilds, to withhold financial assistance from the Confederacy. In 1862 he joined with other prominent Democrats to purchase the New York World and named Manton Marble, one of his best friends, as the newspaper’s editor. They transformed the publication into the leading voice of Democratic opinion until Marble retired in 1876. In 1864 Belmont helped secure the Democratic presidential nomination for General George McClellan, and two years later resisted President Andrew Johnson’s efforts to merge his National Union party with the Democratic party.

In 1868 Belmont’s candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Chief Justice Salmon Chase, lost to Horatio Seymour because of the former’s support of voting rights for black men. As Belmont had predicted, Seymour was trampled by General Ulysses Grant in the general election. In 1872 Belmont resigned as Democratic party chair and became less active in politics, although he did work unsuccessfully for the nomination of Senator Thomas Bayard (of Delaware) in the next three presidential campaigns.

Belmont continued to be active in social affairs and financial endeavors, becoming one of the richest men in America. He helped popularize horse racing in the United States, establishing the Belmont Stakes race in 1867. Known as a gourmand, he hosted lavish dinner parties. An avid art collector, he served as the first board president of the Academy of Music (1878-1884). Despite (or because of) his accomplishments, he was sometimes disparaged with anti-Semitic remarks.

Source consulted: American National Biography.











Website design © 2001-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
All Content © 1998-2008 HarpWeek, LLC
Please submit questions to