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THE JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA
VOL. X
Page 496 - Rothschild

 

… While the early history of the firm was dominated by the influence of Nathan, after the year 1830 the youngest brother, James, came to the front, and the Paris house gained that predominance in French finance which it still retains, whereas throughout the nineteenth century there was concealed but very effective rivalry between the Barings and the Rothschilds in London. Baron James had befriended and assisted Louis Philippe before he came to the throne in 1830, and was the medium through which that astute monarch conducted his stock-exchange operations till his overthrow in 1848. In return Baron James obtained in 1846 the concession for the Great Northern Railway Company of France, having 300,000 shares, each of the value of 300 francs. His position in the social world of Paris is described by Balzac under the guise of “Baron Nucingen.” In the year 1848 the Paris house was reckoned to be worth 600,000,000 francs as against 362,000,000 francs held by all the other Paris bankers. Meanwhile the Vienna branch obtained a similar concession for the Austrian Northern Railway (Nordbahn). Baron Salomon had also acquired from the Austrian government the Idra quicksilver-mine; and in 1832 the Almaden mines in Spain also came under the control of the Rothschilds, who thus obtained a monopoly of that metal. The Austrian firm later owned, in conjunction with the brothers Wilhelm and David von Gutmann, mines and iron-works at Witkowitz, Moravia. In the early stages of its existence the Austrian house did a large money-lending business with the mediatized and impoverished nobility of the Austrian empire, loans to the amount of no less than 24,521,000 gulden being on record.

There is little to be said about the Naples house, established in 1821 and discontinued in 1861 at the fall of the Bourbon dynasty.

Apart from railroads and mines the Rothschilds have rarely been interested in industrial developments, though the London house is still rated as “N. M. Rothschild and Sons, merchants.” At one time they took up general insurance, and founded in 1824, with Sir Moses Montefiore, the Alliance In-

   

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surance Company as a sort of rival to Lloyd’s. Only recently has the firm again turned its attention to mines, under the influence of Lord Rothschild, the interests of the London house in the Rio Tinto copper-mines and the De Beers diamond-mines being considerable. Similarly the firm has large interests in the oil-wells of Baku, Russia, thus becoming the chief competitor of the Standard Oil Company.

With, the fall of Louis Philippe (1848) the hegemony of the various Rothschild firms again reverted to London. Baron Lionel, though his attention was diverted considerably from finance to politics by the struggle for the emancipation of the Jews, gained considerable prestige by his repeated election as representative of the city of London; and the London firm was instrumental during his leadership of it in financing no less than eighteen government loans, including the Irish Famine Loan, one of £15,000,000 to the English government in 1856, the £5,000,000 Turkish loan of 1858, several refunding operations for the United States, and national loans to the Russian government. He declined, however, to take up the Russian loan of 1861, owing to his disapproval of the action of the Russian government toward Poland.

After Mayer Amschel’s death the Frankfort firm, which for many years, especially between 1850 and 1870, was of great importance, was until about 1855 under the guidance of Baron Amschel Mayer von Rothschild, and upon his death came under the joint management of the brothers Baron Mayer Karl and Baron Wilhelm (universally known in Germany as “Baron Willy”). The former was a man of high culture and great ability, a lover of art and literature, but somewhat of a misanthrope, owing, it is said, partly to the fact that seven daughters were born to him but no son. Baron Mayer Karl became a member of the Prussian Herrenhaus (House of Peers) in 1870, and thereafter paid little attention to business affairs, leaving these to his brother Baron Wilhelm. The latter was a very religious man, of rather narrow views, under whom the importance of the Frankfort firm rapidly declined. It was liquidated after his death in 1901.

The Rothschilds were not, however, without competitors in the issue of public loans. Other Jewish families — the Lazards, Sterns, Speyers, and Seligmans — adopted the Rothschild plan of establishing local branches in European capitals, each headed by a brother, and after 1848 the governments of Europe adopted the plan of throwing loans open to the public instead of resorting to one or two banking firms like the Rothschilds. In this way the Sterns secured the chief Portuguese loans, while a number of smaller Jewish firms began to combine their resources and form limited liability companies like the Credit Mobilier, the Dresdener Bank, and the Deutsche Reichsbank of Berlin.

The relative importance of the Rothschilds diminished considerably in the second half of the nineteenth century. Having been ill advised as to their American policy, they invested largely in Confederate bonds and lost heavily. This appears to have disgusted them with American finance, which they left severely alone for many years, thus losing the opportunities afforded by the great financial expansion of the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century. With the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) the Rothschilds again came into financial prominence. They arranged with Bleichroeder for the payment to Germany of the indemnity of five milliard francs; in 1875 the London house advanced the British government £4,080,000 for Suez Canal shares, upon which the Rothschilds were reported to have made

   

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£100,000; and in 1884 they loaned the Egyptian government £1,000,000.

Meanwhile the Nationalist and Reactionary parties in France desired to counterbalance the “Semitic” influence of the Rothschilds by establishing a banking concern which should be essentially Catholic. Accordingly in 1876 the Union Générale was founded with a capital of 4,000,000 francs, increased to 25,000,000 francs in 1878 under the direction of a certain Bontoux. After various vicissitudes, graphically

The
Union
Générale.

described by Zola in his novel “L’Argent,” the Union failed, and brought many of the Catholic nobility of France to ruin, leaving the Rothschilds still more absolutely the undisputed leaders of French finance, but leaving also a legacy of hatred which had much influence on the growth of the anti-Semitic movement in France. Something analogous occurred in England when the century-long competition of the Barings and the Rothschilds culminated in the failure of the former in 1898; but in this case the Rothschilds came to the rescue of their rivals and prevented a universal financial catastrophe. It is a somewhat curious sequel to the attempt to set up a Catholic competitor to the Rothschilds that at the present time the latter are the guardians of the papal treasure.

Of recent years the Rothschilds have consistently refused to have anything to do with loans to Russia, owing to the anti-Jewish legislation of that empire, though on one occasion the members of the Paris house joined in a loan to demonstrate their patriotism as Frenchmen.

The remarkable success of the Rothschilds, which has now lasted exactly a century, has been due in the first place to the financial genius of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, and secondly in large measure to the settlement of the five brothers in the European capitals, which enabled them to issue loans simultaneously. In the early and later stages the London house was the base of operations; but during the reign of Louis Philippe the Paris house appears to have directed undertakings. The business principles on which the Rothschilds acted

As
Philan-
thropists
and Art
Patrons.

were the unified policy of the five, later four, and finally three firms; their determination never to deal with unsuccessful persons; their use of the surest information and the most reliable instruments; and prompt action after obtaining such information. They did not aim at excessive profits, nor did they put “all their eggs in one basket”; they drew back in time if an enterprise was not promising, selling quickly, if necessary even at a loss, on the principle that the first loss is the best; and they were almost the first to make use of journalistic methods to arouse the interest of the public in their loans. They have, however, consistently kept the secret of their own operations. The original five brothers were shrewd business men, but all were equally uncultured (Karl Mayer writes of a “kondract” he had made). Their descendants, however, have been among the great patrons of art throughout western Europe, the collections of Barons Amschel, James, and Ferdinand being especially noteworthy. They have created quite a school of Jewish dealers in art, whose chief customers they have been (Duveen, C. Davis, Spitzer, and Wertheimer).

The services of the Rothschilds in the cause of philanthropy have been equally marked. Special hospitals have been founded by them for all creeds at Jerusalem, Vienna, Paris and London; the Jews’ Free School of the last-named city is supported almost entirely by Lord Rothschild at an estimated annual cost of 15,000. In London and Paris they have established workmen’s dwellings on a large scale and on an economic and commercial basis; and their private charities are very large. The founder of the house, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, held the curious theory that if a beggar thanked him, the charitable transaction was concluded, whereas if he received no thanks, Heaven owed him some recompense for his charity. Consequently, it was his custom to thrust a coin into the hand of a beggar, and to hurry away before the latter could express his gratitude.

In addition, some of the members of the family have evinced an interest in Jewish literature. Baron James in Paris was the founder of the Société des Etudes Juives; Baron Wilhelm of Frankfort was a zealous collector of Hebrew incunabula, which are now in the Frankfort town library; and almost all great Jewish literary undertakings have been subventioned by one or other branch of the firm.

Hitherto the pedigree of the Rothschild family has been traced only as far as Amschel, the father of Mayer Amschel Rothschild; but, owing to the recent publication of the tombstone inscriptions of Frankfort-on-the-Main by Horovitz (“Inschriften von Frankfort”), it is now possible to trace it back with a high degree of probability four generations further, as far as Moses Rothschild, who was born about the middle of the sixteenth century. There is little doubt that all the Rothschilds form one family, as is shown by the similarity of first names; this would account for the somewhat unusual name of Kalman (brother of Mayer Amschel), and would give some hint as to the use of “Jacob” as the name of Mayer Amschel’s youngest son, since the younger son of the uncle after whom he was named was also called Jacob. It is also seen that the rabbinic part of the family left Frankfort early in the seventeenth century, and is not related in a direct line with the more worldly portion.

The number of marriages between cousins in the later history of the family is remarkable, especially in the second and third generations after the five brothers had gone to five different capitals. Altogether of fifty-eight marriages contracted by the descendants of Mayer Amschel Rothschild up to 1905, no less than twenty-nine, or exactly one-half, have been between first cousins. It is noteworthy that these marriages as a rule have been fertile, which is what is anticipated by biological science; but several of the unions have resulted in daughters only, which is also anthropologically significant.

In the first names adopted there has been a restriction in choice in the early generations, causing a considerable amount of confusion between the many Charlottes, Louises, Karls, and Nathans. As a rule, the son has adopted the father’s name as a second name, which has enabled a distinction to be made; …