I owe a couple people a some thoughts on my favorite character in the history of American finance.
Here’s the first and last paragraphs of his all-too-brief Wikipedia page (links retained):
Lamont was born in Claverack, New York. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1888 and earned his degree from Harvard University in 1892. He became a generous benefactor of the school once he had amassed a fortune, notably funding the building of Lamont Library. After 1910, he became a partner of J.P. Morgan & Co., and served as a U.S. financial advisor abroad in the 1920s and 1930s. During the 1919 Paris negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, Lamont was selected as one of two representatives of the United States Department of the Treasury on the American delegation. He was at that time a member of the Council of Foreign Relations. He played a leading role for Morgan in directing both the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan. . . .
Lamont was an influential member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and one of the most important agents for the Morgan investments abroad. He was an unofficial mentor both to the (second) Woodrow Wilson and the Herbert Hoover administrations, and informed both the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan.
While I’m at it, I can’t resist including the synopsis paragraph of his son’s (much longer) Wikipedia entry:
Corliss Lamont (March 28, 1902–April 26, 1995), was a socialist philosopher, and advocate of various left-wing and civil liberties causes. As a part of his political activities he was the Chairman of National Council of American-Soviet Friendship starting from early 1940s. He was the great-uncle of 2006 Democratic Party nominee for the United States Senate from Connecticut, Ned Lamont.
Is there a better illustration of the Cathedral in action?
Ron Chernow’s book, The House of Morgan, contains a couple of nuggets that we will need to finish our brief portrait:
In extreme cases in the 1930s, the House of Morgan would function as an unfettered government in its own right, conducting secret foreign policy at odds with that of Washington.
In less extreme cases, the House of Morgan would simply direct Washington’s foreign policy.
One more quote, if you’ll indulge me:
His son Corliss, a socialist and later a professor of philosophy at Columbia, saw his father’s foreign-policy views as spotless: "Although my father was a successful banker, and a Republican in politics, he was in essence a liberal, particularly on international affairs."
Following the death of JP Morgan, Lamont eventually emerged as the de facto head of JP Morgan bank. He also conducted US foreign policy, except for rare instances in which USG disagreed with him, in which case he conducted the foreign policy of his choosing anyway until USG changed its mind (sometimes it took a while for USG to catch up to Lamont). Lamont negotiated the agreements that ended WWI and the subsequent plans that dealt with the problem of German reparations. He advised Wilson and Hoover. Did I mention he ran a bank as well? He also went to Harvard, naturally.
His socialist son – don’t forget the "National Council of American-Soviet Friendship" – thought he had "spotless" foreign policy views . . . and Lamont was arguably running US foreign policy. Was this in your history book?
His great nephew beat Lieberman in the Democratic Party – interesting, no? American politics are full of these little quirks if you’re paying attention.
This brief portrait just scratches the surface, but I promise that a little digging, by anyone who is interested, will pay off.