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|James Gordon Bennett
founder of the New York Herald
James Gordon Bennett was born in New Mill (now Keith), Scotland, on September 1, 1795. He attended public school until the age of 15, when he entered Blair College, a Catholic seminary, to train for the priesthood. Doubts about Catholicism and religion in general led to his leaving the seminary after four years. After five years of traveling to historical sights in Scotland, reading, and occasionally writing for a periodical, Bennett decided to leave Scotland.
In 1819, Bennett immigrated to Nova Scotia, where he taught bookkeeping. He then lived for a short time in Portland, Maine, and was in Boston by January of 1820. He spent three years working as a proofreader and bookseller for a Boston printing house before being hired by the Charleston Courier, in South Carolina, where he translated news from Spanish newspapers. Moving to New York City late in 1823, he spent three years working as a freelance newspaper writer and editorial assistant before being hired as the Albany and Washington correspondent for the New York Enquirer. When that paper merged with the New York Courier in 1829, Bennett became associate editor in charge of political and banking issues. The paper was a staunch supporter of Andrew Jackson's administration, and Bennett wrote many editorials supporting Jackons' refusal to renew the Bank of the United States. He quit when the paper switched allegiances.
After leaving the Courier, Bennett first attempted to start his own newspaper, the New York Globe, but was unsuccessful. He then tried to buy the Washington Globe, but was unsuccessful in that venture as well. In 1833 he began the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, a pro-Jackson Democratic daily paper. He lost his financial support, however, when he criticized President Martin Van Buren. After a couple of years freelancing in New York City, he founded the newspaper that made him famous.
The New York Herald
Bennett founded the New York Herald in May of 1835, after witnessing the success of the New York Sun, the nation's first successful daily paper. The Herald combined public interest stories, sensational reports of crimes and disasters, and coverage of national and international events, along with Bennett's own editorials. In April of 1836, Bennett shocked the nation with front-page coverage of the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett, and the subsequent trial of her killer. During the coverage, Bennett is credited with conducting the first newspaper interview. By the end of the decade, the Herald and the Sun were the two highest-circulation dailies in America.
Always hoping to beat his rivals to a news story, Bennett was quick to adopt any new technology or method for news transmission. He would send boats out to meet cruise ships in order to get news from overseas, and took full advantage of the telegraph. He added interest to the stories with illustrations produced from woodcuts. In December of 1836, he founded the Weekly Herald, the predecessor to such 19th-century weeklies as Leslie's and Harper's, and to 20th-century news magazines like Time and Newsweek.
Although Bennett frequently voiced his opinions on current events through his editorials, the Herald remained officially neutral in politics, and never stood strictly with one party or another. The paper endorsed Whigs William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, Democrats James K. Polk and Franklin Pierce, and Republican John C. Frémont for President. In New York State politics it usually supported challengers against incumbents, regardless of party. Bennett advocated expansion into all of North America and the Caribbean in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine. He defended slavery and Southern states' rights, but opposed slavery's expansion into new states. Despite his pro-slavery stance, Bennett backed the Union cause during the Civil War. After Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the Herald led the nation in transforming the slain President into a martyr. He subsequently supported the Reconstruction policies of President Andrew Johnson.
Bennett handed the reins of the Herald over to his son, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., in 1866, and died on June 1, 1872.
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This page was last updated on 06/01/2017.