Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Duane, 27 March 1800

From William Duane

Aurora Office March 27 1800


I beg you to lay before the Senate this acknowlegement of my having received an authenticated copy of the resolution of Monday last in my case.

Copies of those resolutions I transmitted to Messrs. Dallas and Cooper, my intended counsel, soliciting their professional aid. A copy of my letter to each of those Gentlemen is enclosed, marked (A). Their answers I have also the pleasure to enclose, marked (B) and (C).

I find myself in consequence of those answers deprived of all professional assistance, under the restrictions which the Senate have thought fit to adopt. I therefore think myself bound by the most sacred duties to decline any further voluntary attendance upon that body, and leave them to pursue such measures in this case as in their wisdom they may deem meet.

I am, Sir, With perfect respect

Wm. Duane

RC (DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.); addressed: “To the President of the Senate”; endorsed by clerk. Not recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Duane to Alexander J. Dallas, [25] Mch. 1800, with notation that a similar letter was addressed to Thomas Cooper (Tr in DNA: RG 46, Senate Records, 6th Cong., 1st sess.). (2) Dallas to Duane, 25 Mch. 1800 (RC in same). (3) Cooper to Duane, 25 Mch. 1800 (RC in same).

Duane’s communications with Dallas and Cooper enclosed a copy of the resolution passed by the Senate on 24 Mch. and requested that the two men appear as his counsel. Duane noted that it was not from a conviction that the Senate possessed the “constitutional authority to order my attendance” that he appeared before them, “but from a sense of delicacy towards a branch of the legislature” that he would not want to disrespect. Both Dallas and Cooper declined to serve. Dallas argued that he could not “consent to act as Counsel, under so limited an authority,” and that accompanying Duane to the Senate would be “degrading to the profession, as well as to myself.” Cooper was even more adamant that he would not attend the Senate with “their Gag in my Mouth.” “Where rights are undefined,” Cooper warned, “and power is unlimited—where the Freedom of the Press is actually attacked, under whatever Intention of curbing its Licentiousness, the melancholy Period cannot be far distant, when the Citizen will be converted into a Subject.” Duane published the two letters in the Aurora of 27 Mch.

Duane not only declined any further voluntary attendance, but went into hiding. On 27 Mch., TJ, as president of the Senate, signed the warrant for the editor’s arrest on the charge of contempt of the Senate. On the following day Duane announced in the Aurora that readers could still reach him by writing under seal to the newspaper’s office, although he hid well enough until the adjournment of Congress to avoid the Senate’s process server (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 10:121–4; Smith, Freedom’s Fetters, description begins James Morton Smith, Freedom’s Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956 description ends 297–300).

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