“The Democratic Scapegoat”

September 11, 1869

Thomas Nast

“The Democratic Scapegoat”

Irish Americans; Presidential Election 1860; Presidential Election 1864; Presidential Election 1868; Symbols, Scapegoat; Tammany Hall, Tweed Ring;

Belmont, August;

No 'Places' indexed for this cartoon.

"The Twentieth Ward Jackson Club, presided over by Mr. Thomas Costigan, adopted the following Resolution, on motion of Mr. John Delany, at their meeting last evening. Resolved, That the farther continuance of Mr. AUGUST BELMONT in the chair of the National Democratic Executive Committee is fraught with great peril to the existence and Salutary Influence of the party; that, inasmuch as he is lethargic in the performance of his official duties, wavering in his political faith, and distasteful to THE IRISH SECTION of THE DEMOCRACY, that he be forthwith requested to vacate his position."

Although Thomas Nast skewered Democratic politicians (until Grover Cleveland in the early 1880s), here, the Republican cartoonist defends August Belmont, the national chairman of the Democratic Party, from charges of incompetence and calls for his ouster.  During the 1868 presidential campaign, Nast memorably depicted Belmont, Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, and an Irish-Catholic ruffian, all standing with one foot on the back of a fallen black Union soldier to prevent him from voting.  (See "This Is A White Man's Government" on HarpWeek's Black American History Website.)  When the Belmont controversy surfaced in 1869, though, Nast's hatred of Tammany Hall and its Irish-Catholic constituency outweighed any ill feelings he harbored against the Democratic national chairman.  

In this cartoon, Belmont is chased by a Tammany shoulder-hitter (enforcer of the boss’s will) and Irish-American thugs.  He bears the burden of the sins of the Democratic Party and its losses in the presidential elections of 1860, 1864, and 1868.  The chairman's seat is reserved for William Tweed, the boss of Tammany Hall, and a poster from the Tammany Association harshly denounces Belmont's alleged inabilities and poor performance, blaming him for the Democratic defeats.  Nast emphasizes Belmont's Jewish ethnicity by depicting him as a scapegoat, a goat on which the Jewish high priest symbolically placed the sins of the Jewish people on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  During the 1872 presidential campaign, Nast portrayed Chairman Belmont as Shakespeare's mean-spirited moneylender, Shylock, a Jewish stereotype.

August Belmont was born in Alzey, Germany, in 1813.  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 that year, yet he opened a private bank, August Belmont and Company.  It would have a continuing close relationship to the Rothschild 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 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 Pierce's election, the new president 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) that called for the annexation of Cuba by the United States.  He again supported Buchanan’s presidential aspirations in 1856.  When the President Buchanan ignored Belmont’s petition in 1857 to become U.S. minister to Spain, Belmont resigned as the Dutch minister, returned to New York City, and threw his support to Buchanan’s Democratic rival, Senator Stephen Douglas. 

When the Democratic Party split in 1860, Douglas chose Belmont to manage his presidential campaign.  The next year, he was selected to chair the Democratic National Committee, a position he would hold for the next eleven 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, Belmont 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 Chase's support of voting rights for black men alienated him from the Democratic mainstream.  As Belmont predicted, General Ulysses Grant trampled Seymour in the general election.  In late 1871, Belmont joined other prominent New York City Democrats to cooperate with efforts to topple Boss Tweed and his cohorts, whose corruption had finally resulted in indictments.  After Tweed was forced to resign from Tammany Hall in January 1872, Belmont was among the reform Democrats elected to its council.  Later that year, Belmont resigned as national chairman of the Democratic Party.  Thereafter, he became less active in politics, although he did work unsuccessfully for the Democratic 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 horseracing 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).  He died on November 24, 1890.

Robert C. Kennedy

“The Democratic Scapegoat”
May 29, 2024

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