[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]
The Book of the Week is “The King of Fifth Avenue, The Fortunes of August Belmont” by David Black, published in 1981.
Belmont was born in December 1813 in Alzey, the Jewish agricultural ghetto in Germany. Belmont got a member of the Rothschild family to convince his father to let him study the English language. Thanks to his grandmother’s contact with the Rothschilds’ family business (the most famous financial-services business in Europe), Belmont got a job. By 1830, he was making good money in high finance.
The summer of 1837 saw financial ruin in New York City, but Belmont was a take-charge kind of guy. Upon discovering that the American agents of the Rothschilds had gone out of business, he declared himself the new agent, hanging up a shingle bearing his name in a storefront on Wall Street. He used the Rothschild name to grow his company making investments and lending money. In 1844, he became an American citizen.
Descendants of the Knickerbockers (old, wealthy Dutch and English aristocrats in New York City) and other American-born people were anti-immigrant. They were also anti-Semitic, smearing the (Jewish) Rothschilds’ agent Belmont, especially when he jumped into politics, supporting the Democrat James Buchanan for president in 1852. But after Franklin Pierce won the nomination, Belmont backed Pierce instead.
Both the Democrats and the Whigs expressed anti-corporate feelings. But the former opposed Wall Street while the latter opposed foreign capitalists. The Whigs were mostly Wall-Streeters.
When Pierce won the election, James Buchanan turned out to have less political power than Belmont would have liked. Belmont desired to have the U.S. buy the territory of Cuba from Spain, and if Buchanan had been named secretary of state, he could have appointed Belmont a U.S. diplomat who could go to Naples to negotiate a deal. In August 1853, Belmont himself was appointed secretary of state but other events led him to go on a business tour of Europe with his family instead. He became head of the Democrat party in June 1861.
The summer of 1863 saw draft riots in New York City. The rebellion was led by conscripted men who couldn’t afford to pay $300 for someone else to soldier for them in the American civil war. Blacks suffered the most deaths during the violence, scapegoated as the cause of the war.
In the late 1860’s, Belmont became interested in horse-racing, buying land on which to build a racetrack. He became president of Leonard Jerome’s racetrack in the Fordham section of the Bronx.
Read the book to learn of a boatload more history and Belmont’s family history in 1800’s America, in politics and war, especially.