James Gordon Bennett Sr.

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James Gordon Bennett Sr.
James Gordon Bennett Sr.jpg
Bennett c. 1851
BornSeptember 1, 1795 (1795-09)
DiedJune 1, 1872 (1872-07) (aged 76)
Known forFounder of New York Herald
Henrietta Agnes Crean
(m. 1840)
Children3, including James Jr.

James Gordon Bennett Sr. (September 1, 1795 – June 1, 1872) was the founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald and a major figure in the history of American newspapers.

Early life[edit]

Bennett was born to a prosperous Roman Catholic family in Newmill, Banffshire, Scotland. At age 15, Bennett entered the Roman Catholic seminary in Blairs, Aberdeenshire, where he remained for four years.[1] After leaving the seminary, he read voraciously on his own and traveled throughout Scotland.

In 1819, he joined a friend who was sailing to North America. After four weeks they landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Bennett briefly worked as a schoolmaster till he had enough money to sail south to Portland, Maine, where he again taught school in the village of Addison, moving on to Boston, Massachusetts by New Year's Day, 1820.[1]

He worked in New England as a proofreader and bookseller before the Charleston Courier in Charleston, South Carolina hired him to translate Spanish language news reports, so he briefly relocated to the South. He moved back north to New York City in 1823, where he worked first as a freelance paper writer and, then, assistant editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer, one of the oldest newspapers in the city.[2]

New York Herald[edit]

In May 1835, Bennett began the New York Herald after years of failing to start a paper. After only a year of publication, in April 1836, it shocked readers with front-page coverage of the grisly murder of the prostitute Helen Jewett. Bennett got a scoop and conducted the first-ever newspaper interview for it. In business and circulation policy, The Herald initiated a cash-in-advance policy for advertisers, which later became the industry standard. Bennett was also at the forefront of using the latest technology to gather and report the news, and added pictorial illustrations produced from woodcuts. In 1839, Bennett was granted the first ever exclusive interview to a sitting President of the United States, the eighth occupant, Martin Van Buren (lived 1782–1862, served 1837–1841).[3]


The Herald was officially independent in its politics but endorsed for president William Henry Harrison (1840), James K. Polk (1844), Zachary Taylor (1848), Franklin Pierce (1852), and John C. Frémont (1856). The author Garry Boulard speculates that Bennett ultimately turned against Pierce for not appointing him to a much-coveted post as American minister plenipotentiary (later called ambassador) to France. From then on, Bennett consistently lambasted Pierce on both his front and editorial page and often called him "Poor Pierce." Bennett supported Democrat and Secretary of State under Polk, James Buchanan of Pennsylvania in the 1856 Election as tensions rose between the sections and states over slavery and states' rights and reached critical point during the 1850s, after the controversial Compromise of 1850.

He later endorsed Southern Democrat and incumbent Vice President John C. Breckinridge (lived 1821–1875, served 1857–1861), of Kentucky under Buchanan for the 1860 presidential campaign and shifted to John Bell (1796–1869), of Tennessee running as a Constitutional Unionist among the four presidential candidates in the confused but pivotal general election in November 1860. In the midst of the following Civil War (1861–1865), he promoted former Union Army General-in-Chief George B. McClellan (1826–1885), nominated from the Democratic Party in the 1864 election, campaigning for a negotiated peace with the South against a second term for wartime 16th President Abraham Lincoln (lived 1809–1865, served 1861–1865), but the paper itself endorsed no candidate for the unusual war election of 1864.

Although he generally opposed the Republican Lincoln, Bennett still backed the Northern cause for the Union and took the lead to turn the Republican war president into a martyr after his April 14, 1865 assassination at Ford's Theater in Washington. He favored most of successor 17th President Andrew Johnson (lived 1808–1875, served 1865–1869), former Vice President for one month in Lincoln's brief second term, a War Democrat, former U.S. Senator and loyal wartime Governor of Tennessee, and his following moderate Reconstruction Era policies and proposals towards the defeated South, following what was thought would have been Lincoln's gentle hand had he lived.

Later career[edit]

By the time that Bennett turned control of the New York Herald over to his son James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841–1912), who was 25 in 1866, it had the highest circulation in America but would soon face increasing competition from Horace Greeley's New York Tribune and soon in the next decades, from Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, and Henry Jarvis Raymond's The New York Times. However, under the younger Bennett's stewardship, the paper slowly declined under the increasing stiff competition and changing technologies in the late 19th century and, after his 1912 death, it was merged a decade later with its former archrival, the New York Tribune in 1924, becoming the New York Herald Tribune for another 42 years. It met with considerable success and reputation in its last half-a-century until it finally closed in 1966–1967.

Personal life[edit]

On June 6, 1840 he married Henrietta Agnes Crean in New York. They had three children, including:


He died in Manhattan, New York City, on June 1, 1872.[4] This was five months before his rival / competitor Horace Greeley also succumbed to illness in November 1872, after Greeley's disastrous presidential election campaign of 1872.[5] He was interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York City.[6]


Bennett and the Herald used racist language, advocated for Southern secession, attacked Lincoln for trying to keep the Union together and generally opposed the American Civil War. In June 1863 the Herald supported a mass anti-war rally in New York City where the war was denounced as an unconstitutional crusade that would lead to freed Blacks flooding North and competing for white jobs.[7]

Bennett endowed the New York City Fire Department's highest honor for bravery in 1869 after his home was saved from destruction by firefighters. It remained one of the department's highest honors for 150 years. The City renamed it on September 7, 2020, after Chief Peter J. Ganci to honor him as the highest-ranking member of the department killed during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

According to The New York Times, Bennett's racism has been called out for years by the Vulcan Society, a fraternal order of Black firefighters.[8]

According to historian Robert C. Bannister, Bennett was:

A gifted and controversial editor. Bennett transformed the American newspaper. Expanding traditional coverage, the Herald provided sports reports, a society page, and advice to the lovelorn, soon permanent features of most metropolitan dailies. Bennett covered murders and sex scandals and delicious detail, faking materials when necessary.... His adroit use of telegraph, pony express, and even offshore ships to intercept European dispatches set high standards for rapid news gathering.[9]

Bannister also argues Bennett was a leading crusader in American election campaigns in the 19th century:

"Combining opportunism and reform, Bennett exposed fraud on Wall Street, attacked the Bank of the United States, and generally joined the Jacksonian assault on privilege. Reflecting a growing nativism, he published excerpts from the anti-catholic disclosures of "Maria Monk", and he greeted Know-Nothingism cordially. Defending labor unions in principle, he assailed much union activity. Unable to condemn slavery outright, he opposed abolitionism."[9]

Bennett reportedly had strabismus for most of his life; an acquaintance once said that he was "so terribly cross-eyed that when he looked at me with one eye, he looked out at the City Hall with the other."[10]

James Gordon Bennett Memorial at 34th Street & 6th Avenue, midtown Manhattan.[11]

The Avenue Gordon Bennett in Paris, France with Stade de Roland Garros, site of the French Open, tennis tournament, is also named after James Gordon Bennett, Sr., possibly thanks to his son.[12]

Bennett's account of the infamous Helen Jewett murder in the Herald was selected by The Library of America for inclusion in the 2008 anthology titled True Crime.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b James L. Crouthamel (1989). Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press. Syracuse University Press.
  2. ^ Harrison, Robert (1885). "Bennett, James Gordon" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 4. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. ^ Paletta, Lu Ann and Worth, Fred L. (1988). "The World Almanac of Presidential Facts".
  4. ^ "James Gordon Bennett" (PDF). New York Times. June 2, 1872.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bennett, James Gordon" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 740–741.
  6. ^ "Mr. Bennett's Funeral. Imposing Ceremonies at the House Father Siarrs' Oration. The Remains Taken to Green-Wood". New York Times. June 14, 1872.
  7. ^ "N.Y. Fire Department Replaces Name on Its Highest Award, Citing Racist Past".
  8. ^ "It's Not Just Statues that Are a Problem in New York City". The New York Times. September 8, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Bannister, Robert C. (1975). "Bennett, James Gordon". In Garraty, John A. (ed.). Encyclopedia of American Biography. pp. 80–81.
  10. ^ "Bennett, James Gordon (1795-1872)". Encyclopedia of Communication and Information.{{cite encyclopedia}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ Monuments, nycgovparks.org. Accessed August 20,2022.
  12. ^ Street sign, Invisible Paris blog]. Accessed 20 August 2022.
  • Boulard, Garry. "The Expatriation of Frankin Pierce," Bloomington: iUniverse, 2006.
  • Carlson, Oliver. The Man Who Made News: James Gordon Bennett. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1942
  • Crouthamel, James L. Bennett's New York Herald and the Rise of the Popular Press. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989 Online

External links[edit]