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Anglo-American Trouble-Makers: J.G. Bennett and J.T. Delane

Arnold Whitridge introduces two powerful newspaper editors, who greatly exacerbated public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic during the American Civil War.

In discussing the causes of the Crimean War, Kinglake points an accusing finger at The Times. It was John Thadeus Delane who, according to Kinglake, led the popular clamour which hounded the country into the declaration of war against Russia.

Under the editorship of Delane The Times came to be regarded as the embodiment of that curious entity, public opinion. At the same time that Delane was creating the illusion that The Times spoke for all England, James Gordon Bennett was building the same reputation in America for the New York Herald.

Bennett was perhaps more candid than Delane. He prided himself on never being in a minority. He made it his business to support winning candidates. When taunted with opportunism, he defended his policy as consistency itself. Was not the country governed by majority rule? Well, then, so was the Herald.

Delane domesticated himself among the aristocracy, whereas Bennett as a professional democrat scorned anything that savoured of a privileged class, but the results were the same. While each might boast of his independence, they both set their sails to catch the popular breeze.

Bennett was a Scot, born in Keith, Banffshire, in 1795. His family being devout Catholics sent him to a seminary in Aberdeen to be trained for the priesthood, but young James Gordon would have none of it. Literature was always beckoning to him. A passion for the Waverley novels, then just appearing, and for Franklin’s autobiography, led him to seek his fortune far from home. For a man with an appetite for adventure and for moneymaking Sir Walter and Ben Franklin were not a bad combination.

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