Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Draft of Message to the Senate, [before 12 November 1801]

Draft of Message to the Senate

[before 12 Nov. 1801]

Gent. of the Sen.

By a resoln of the Senate of the 14th. of May. 1800. the President was requested to instruct the proper law officer to prosecute William Duane editor of the newspaper called the Aurora for certain publications in that newspaper of the 19th. of Feb. 1800. learning1 on my accession to the administration that the prosecution had been so instituted as to rest principally, if not solely, on the act called the Sedition act, I caused it to be discontinued, and another to be instituted under whatsoever [other] laws might be in existence against the offence alledged. if such other laws2 did exist the object would be obtained which was desired by the Senate. but if the state of the laws before the passage of that act had3 left the printer free to make the publication4 complained of, then the Sedition act, abridging5 that freedom was contrary to the very letter of the constitution which declares that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press6 and consequently it was void. a new prosecution was accordingly instituted and brought forward with diligence, but the grand jury not finding the bill, it remains without effect. in this procedure I have endeavored to do the duty of my station between the Senate & Citizen; to pursue for the former that legal7 vindication which was the object of their resolution; to cover the latter with whatsoever of protection the Constitution had guarded him, & to secure to the press that degree of freedom in which it remained under the authority of the states, with whom alone the power is left of abridging that freedom, the general government being expressly excluded from it.

The correspondence on this subject with the Atty of the district will shew more fully the details of the proceedings8 in this case.

Dft (DLC: TJ Papers, 119:20569); entirely in TJ’s hand, including set of brackets in the text; undated; written with wide margins for revisions; with partial first Dft of TJ’s annual message to Congress on verso (see Document iii in Drafting the Annual Message to Congress, printed at 12 Nov.).

Resoln of the senate: realizing that William Duane would not be taken into custody and brought before them on contempt charges as ordered on 27 Mch. 1800, the Senate resolved, on 14 May, the last day of the session, “That the President of the United States be requested to instruct the proper law officer to commence and carry on a prosecution against William Duane, editor of the newspaper called the Aurora, for certain false, defamatory, scandalous, and malicious publications in the said newspaper, of the 19th of February last past, tending to defame the Senate of the United States, and to bring them into contempt and disrepute, and to excite against them the hatred of the good people of the United States” (JS description begins Journal of the Senate of the United States, Washington, D.C., 1820–21, 5 vols. description ends , 3:60–1, 98). For the charges brought against Duane in March 1800 and TJ’s involvement as president of the Senate, see Vol. 31:451–4, 466–7. TJ did not send this message to the Senate.

1Word interlined in place of “I learned.”

2Preceding two words interlined.

3Preceding eleven words interlined in place of “[…] existing laws had.”

4Preceding three words interlined in place of “do the act.”

5Word interlined in place of “restraining.”

6Preceding phrase from “which declares” to this point interlined.

7Word interlined.

8TJ first wrote “I send herewith a copy of the second bill & of the finding of the grand jury” before altering the sentence to read as above.

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