Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Barton, 24 June 1801

From William Barton

Lancaster (Penns.) June 24. 1801.—


The inclosed News-paper (published in a Country-Town) contains some “Facts and Observations”—the production of my humble pen,—”respecting the late decision of the Circuit Court at Philad. in the case of William Duane, on the question of Citizenship.” Conceiving the subject to be of high importance, as connected with our National Policy—and presuming that the view of it, here taken, may not be unacceptable to the President of the United States, to whose correct judgment it is entirely submitted,—I have taken the liberty of craving, for it, the Honor of his Attention.—

With the most profound Respect, And sincerest personal Attachment, I have the Honor to be, Sir, Your faithful and obedt. Servt.

W. Barton

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the United States.”; endorsed by TJ as received 27 June and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found, but see below.

In May 1801 the U.S. circuit court in Philadelphia heard a case against William Duane brought by Federalist merchant Levi Hollingsworth. Although the trial originated as a libel suit, it evolved into an attempt to revoke Duane’s American citizenship by having him declared an alien and therefore subject to the Alien Friends Act of 1798. Barton’s facts and observations on the case appeared in the 18 and 22 July editions of the New York American Citizen, which included a dateline of “Lancaster, 24 June” and the signature “An American Citizen.” The essay compared Duane’s circumstances with a similar case involving William Loughton Smith, the former Federalist congressman from South Carolina whose own citizenship had been called into question in 1789 when he attempted to take his seat in the House of Representatives. Duane cited Smith’s case in his defense during his trial. Barton’s essay detailed the similarity of their situations: both men had been born in America, both had been taken to Europe before the Revolution while still minors, and subsequently attained their majority while resident there before returning to America. In Smith’s case, the House deemed that these circumstances did not constitute a loss of American citizenship. In Duane’s case, the circuit court came to the opposite conclusion. “This contrariety of Decisions,” Barton concluded, “will beget such a degree of doubt and uncertainty respecting it, as must necessarily be attended with great inconvenience, and even mischief.” He hoped that the next session of Congress would consider the issue and provide “a radical and complete Remedy for so monstrous an Evil” (George C. Rogers, Jr., Evolution of a Federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston (1758–1812) [Columbia, 1962], 165–6, 169–71; Phillips, “William Duane,” description begins Kim Tousley Phillips, “William Duane, Revolutionary Editor,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1968 description ends 124–6). For Duane’s criticism of the court’s decision and his conviction for contempt on 23 May, see TJ to Robert R. Livingston, 31 May.

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