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“Enquirer” possibly James Watson Webb
Autograph Letter Signed, to James Gordon Bennett, editor and founder of the New York Herald, written by “Enquirer” of New York

Quarto, 4 pages, posted from “Washington Square” New York, “March 29,” no year given, likely 1850’s. The letter writer signs their name “Enquirer” and inquires about Bennett’s opinion on the presumed upcoming American delegation to Paris, France, perhaps concerning some political matter.

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James Gordon Bennett (1795-1872)

James Gordon Bennett was the founder, editor and publisher of the New York Herald and a major figure in the history of American newspapers.

Bennett was born to a prosperous Roman Catholic family in Newmill, Banffshire, Scotland, Great Britain. At age 15, Bennett entered the Roman Catholic seminary in Aberdeen, where he remained for four years. 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. 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

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 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 (1782–1862, served 1837–1841).

By the time Bennett turned control of the New York Herald over to his son James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841–1912), at age 25 in 1866, it had the highest circulation in America but would soon face increasing competition from Greeley's Tribune and soon in the next decades, from Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, along with Henry J. Raymond's The New York Times. However, under the younger Bennetts' 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 arch-rival, the New York Tribune in 1924, becoming the New York Herald Tribune for another 42 years meeting with considerable success and reputation in its near last half-century, until finally closing in 1966–1967.

The author of this letter, written to Bennett, is possibly James Watson Webb (1802-1884). The letter is signed simply “Enquirer,” it is unclear who the author is, but the New York Courier and Enquirer, properly called the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer, was a daily broadsheet newspaper published in New York City from June 1829 until June 1861, when it was merged into the New York World. Throughout its existence it was edited by newspaper publisher James Watson Webb. It was closely connected with the rise and fall of the United States Whig Party and was noted for its careful coverage of New York Harbor shipping news and its close attention to speeches and events in the United States Congress.


“Washington Square


I fear you are becoming so much engrossed with the political conditions of the world as to forget the social. I should like to bring you back, as of yore, to the social and to elicit your opinion upon many important points – one thing – what are we Americans in future to do in Paris? Or are we to go there at all except to deliver lectures on self-government and republicanism, and what is to become of Louis Philipps, the young Duke and Duchess? Will he again in his own words return to the ‘Bundleing System.’ On the occasion of your own presentation to him a year ago, when he seemed quite persuaded he had met you before, His Majesty remarked to a young Tennessean standing near you of whom he was making particular enquiries about the present condition of his state, ‘Ah changed greatly changes since my time.’ Sketching then graphically his route and privations, ‘In my time’ continued the King “We walked on foot in Tennessee, were glad to bite a [hoc] cake in a log cabin and slept three in a bed. We followed the Bundleing System and how well it be with their Highness the Dukes D’Nemours – D’Aumala and Montpensier’ on that presentation occasion notwithstanding the marked civility of the King and Queen and all the Duchesses to the American gentlemen, those young worthies friended by D’Nemours passed the whole American line without even the civil nod and the same thing occurred at two years before and now by the laws of their own land they are as flat down democrats as any log cabin man in Tennessee. Again, I would ask what are we Americans, especially we of the ‘Upper Ten’ to do in Paris?

Hitherto the grand idea of there was sorting with Royalty and nobility has been inducement enough for many of us to brave the seas and sea sickness and even to open splendid hotels in the Toubourgh St. Germaine, a late letter in your paper makes mention of such one fitted up in splendid style then and there existing and describes a grand ball just given by the beautiful hostess, so beautiful you will remember as to have been the belle at last winter’s court Ball at the Fuilveries. Your correspondent speaks of counts and dukes and duchesses by scores gracing the lady’s salon – and is it so that in all time to come La Belle Paris is only to be the abode of dirty democrats? Do give us your opinion.