Libel or Not? The War of Words between Lajos Kossuth and New York Editor James Watson Webb




Lajos Kossuth, James Watson Webb, New York Courier & Enquirer, New York Times, journalism


Although three notable American editors opposed Lajos Kossuth before and during his visit to the United States in 1851-52, the most influential was arguably James Watson Webb, editor of the New York Courier and Enquirer (NYCE). Webb had been appointed by President Zachary Taylor to be Charge d’Affaires to Vienna in 1849 but had neglected to wait for confirmation by the Senate before traveling to Vienna. When the Senate rejected his appointment by an overwhelming vote, an embittered Webb was obliged to return to the United States. Although Webb had made many political enemies, the public reason given for his Senate rejection was that body intended to keep the post vacant as a “punishment” for Austria’s brutal suppression of the Hungarian rebels after their defeat in August 1849. Webb allegedly held Kossuth responsible for his rejected nomination, and upon returning to the United States and resuming the day-to-day operations of the NYCE, the paper's coverage of Hungary and Kossuth turned negative. During his visit to New York, Kossuth hinted that the Austrians might have bribed a certain New York editor to publish falsehoods about the Hungarian War of Independence. Webb took this hint as a personal attack and demanded an explanation from Kossuth, who never clearly explained which editor he was referring to.






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