Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Duane, 24 March 1800

From William Duane

Aurora Office, March 24, 1800


A copy of the Proceedings of the Senate of the United States, in relation to a publication in “The Aurora,” and ascribing guilt to me in that publication, and a breach of their Privileges, has been left at my office.

It is with pleasure I observe that the justice of the Senate provides, as the constitution prescribes, that I shall “have an opportunity to make any proper defence” for the conduct which has been imputed to me; and as such defence will necessarily involve points of law as well as of fact, I pray you, Sir, to submit to the Senate, a respectful request on my behalf—That I may be heard by Counsel, and have process awarded to compel the attendance of witnesses in my behalf. I am, Sir, With perfect respect

Wm. Duane

RC (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.); addressed: “To the Vice President of the United States”; endorsed by clerk; not recorded in SJL.

William Duane (1760–1835), radical newspaper editor and politician, was born in America near Lake Champlain to Irish Roman Catholic immigrant parents. At the age of 11 he went to Ireland with his mother after the death of his father. After serving an apprenticeship in the printing trade and marrying a Protestant woman, Duane moved his family to London, where he acted as parliamentary reporter for John Almon’s General Advertiser for several years. In 1786 he left for Bengal, where he worked on a number of newspapers, eventually editing and coowning the Calcutta Bengal Journal. He was expelled for praising the principles of the French Revolution and criticizing the establishment East India Company. After a temporary return to London, he and his family emigrated to America in 1796. Following his wife’s death from cholera in 1798, he began to work for Benjamin Franklin Bache at the Aurora. After Bache’s death, Duane married his widow Margaret Bache and together the couple edited the Aurora. Although he staunchly maintained that he was a native-born American citizen, in 1802 Duane, to be safe, took out naturalization papers. He broke with the Republican Party during James Madison’s presidency, in part because he felt his military efforts as a lieutenant colonel and an adjutant general were unappreciated. Duane advocated a high tariff and opposed the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. He also attacked the Missouri Compromise. In the last few years before his 1822 sale of the Aurora, Duane focused on the Latin American independence movements and in 1822–23 traveled extensively by mule in South America. The income from the book that described his travel adventures aided his always precarious finances as did a small salary as a clerk of the state supreme court that he was awarded in 1829. In 1834 he revived the Aurora, with only modest success, to support Andrew Jackson’s attack on the Second Bank of the United States (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; Pasley, Tyranny of Printers description begins Jeffrey L. Pasley, “The Tyranny of Printers”: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic, Charlottesville, 2001 description ends , 176–95).

On 24 Mch. TJ laid this letter before the Senate. Duane appeared and submitted a respectful request to be represented by counsel. The remarks he addressed to the Senate, in which he claimed that he was “willing to answer all questions” that were properly put to him, were printed in the Aurora of 25 Mch. The Senate asked him to withdraw and debated the wording of the proposition to allow counsel, with Massachusetts Federalist Samuel Dexter offering an amendment that effectively would limit Duane’s right to counsel to a time when he was “personally attending at the bar of the Senate,” and to speak only “in denial of any facts charged” or in “excuse and extenuation of his offense.” On a copy of the motion in the Senate records, TJ made the notation “Mr. Dexter’s amdmt to be inserted.” Republican Stevens Thomson Mason’s unsuccessful effort to substitute a more open wording, “motion to amend the amendmt. by striking out the words ‘he be allowed the assistance of counsel &c’ to the end & insert ‘he be permitted to have the assistance of counsel for his defense,’” is entirely in the vice president’s hand, along with the notation “question divided & to be put first on striking out by Y. & N.” Dexter’s amendment passed by a vote of 21–8, and Duane was ordered to appear at noon on 26 Mch. (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.; Annals description begins Annals of the Congress of the United States: The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States… Compiled from Authentic Materials, Washington, D.C., Gales & Seaton, 1834–56, 42 vols. All editions are undependable and pagination varies from one printing to another. The first two volumes of the set cited here have “Compiled … by Joseph Gales, Senior” on the title page and bear the caption “Gales & Seatons History” on verso and “of Debates in Congress” on recto pages. The remaining volumes bear the caption “History of Congress” on both recto and verso pages. Those using the first two volumes with the latter caption will need to employ the date of the debate or the indexes of debates and speakers. description ends , 10:117–19).

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