The papers consist of correspondence, letterbooks, diaries, newspapers, and miscellanea documenting the personal life and professional career of James Watson Webb (1802-1884) and his family, including his second, wife Laura Virginia Cram Webb. The papers document Webb's journalistic and political careers, his personal life, and the activities and observations of his second wife, who was a close confidante to her husband. Major topics of interest include New York politics and life, national politics, the Civil War, foreign relations with France and Brazil, and the social life of New York and Washington, D.C. As a major New York City newspaper publisher and a U.S. diplomat to Brazil, Webb corresponded with such figures as: James Blaine, Lewis Cass, Henry Clay, Hamilton Fish, Abraham Lincoln, William Marcy, Napoleon, III, William Seward, and others.
The James Watson Webb Papers are organized in forty-three (43) boxes and total twenty-one (21) linear feet. The papers are arranged in the following series: I. Correspondence and Papers, 1819-1888; II. Letterbooks, Papers, Newspapers
and Miscellanea, 1827-1889; and III. Laura Virginia Cram Webb Diaries and Papers, 1849-1890.
SERIES I, CORRESPONDENCE AND PAPERS, 1819-1888, contains the personal and professional letters of James Watson Webb. Chronological files include a small amount of material relating to Webb's early life as a soldier in Illinois and Michigan. The bulk of correspondence focuses on Webb's journalistic career as a newspaper editor in New York and as a United States diplomat. Webb's newspaper activities reflected his personal views and political motivations, and he worked to make the New York Courier the largest circulating paper in the country. In the era of Jacksonian politics Webb corresponded with such figures as Nicholas Biddle, James Gordon Bennett, James G. Blaine, Lewis Cass, Henry Clay, Edward Everett, Hamilton Fish, A mos Kendall, William Marcy, Mordecai Ma. (M.M.) Noah, William Seward, Thurlow Weed, Daniel Webster and many others.
In his transition from Jacksonian Democrat to Whig Party member, Webb seldom failed to touch upon a major political issue or individual in his correspondence and writings. His newspaper battles occasionally resulted in a resort to the gentleman's "code of honor," or a duel. One such instance involved Webb and Congressman Thomas F. Marshall of Kentucky. The resulting arrest, trial, and conviction of Webb in 1842 generated a great deal of support for him. Correspondence with Governor William Seward, a friend who advised Webb on how to obtain a pardon, and a letterbook containing numerous notes of support (SERIES II, box 32, folder 263) document this incident.
A verbal duel with the novelist James Fenimore Cooper, which culminated in a series of libel suits against Webb and the Courier, is also documented. Transcripts of court testimony and other material from 1833-1843 are included in this section. Correspondence relating to Webb's ill-fated appointment as charge d'affaires to Austria (1850) and his later appointment as minister to Brazil (1861) detail his political career (see also: SERIES II, boxes 33-35).
Select files contain a small quantity of personal correspondence, primarily from Webb's children, although letters from Daniel Webster are also organized in this section.
SERIES II, LETTERBOOKS, PAPERS, NEWSPAPERS, AND MISCELLANEA, 1827-1889, contains correspondence, in the form of letterbooks and letterpress copy-books, and other papers, including selected issues of newspapers which Webb published or retained for informational purposes. A small quantity of pictorial material is also included in this series.
Letterbooks includes a volume of letters relating to Webb's conviction and pardon for dueling (1842). Letterpress Copybooks contains two volumes relating to Webb's diplomatic duties, including letters from Napoleon, III.
SERIES III, LAURA VIRGINIA CRAM WEBB DIARIES AND PAPERS, 1849-1890, contains several volumes of a personal diary maintained by Webb's second wife from 1849-1890. The entries provide a vague if somewhat routine account of the daily lives of the Webbs. Additional material includes a volume documenting the work of many household servants employed by the Webb family.