The American journalist William Duane (1760-1835) was an effective advocate of Jeffersonian democracy. He and his son William John Duane, a prominent lawyer, were embroiled in the political controversies of the time.
William Duane came from a family of Irish patriots. Born near Lake Champlain, N.Y., he was taken by his mother to Ireland when he was 5. Disinherited for marrying a Protestant, he became a printer and went to Calcutta, India. He prospered until he was deported for printing attacks against the governmental officials of the East India Company. Vain attempts to seek justice in London deepened his hatred of England. In 1796 he went to America, where bitter partisan conflict was spreading and other Irish immigrants were already bringing a special radical fervor to the experimental republican government.
Duane assisted Benjamin Franklin Bache in editing the Aurora, the leading journal of the Jeffersonian party. When Bache died in 1798, his widow, Margaret, continued publication; Duane, himself a widower, married her 2 years later. He also intensified the paper's vehement, often sarcastic advocacy of the Jeffersonian cause. An eloquent writer and a clever editor, he was hated by the Federalists.
John Adams's administration never succeeded in jailing or silencing Duane. But he was constantly in danger, was once attacked by armed men, and in 1799 was charged with sedition in both state and national courts. Safety came only with the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800. To Jefferson, Duane was more than a partisan editor; he was a trusted adviser and a good printer and bookseller.
When the capital was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, Duane moved too; but he never received the patronage in printing he had expected from the Jeffersonians, and he became increasingly disillusioned with them. An unswerving Democrat, he wrote An Epitome of Arts and Science (1811), which attempted to make useful knowledge available to those who lacked wealth and leisure. The Aurora ceased publication in 1822. Duane died on Nov. 24, 1835.
Toward the end of his life Duane had joined the opposition to the National Bank. That institution, with its vast powers seemingly uncontrolled by the government, represented a new form of tyranny to many Democrats. One of Duane's five children, William John Duane (1780-1865), was a central figure in the resulting controversies. Through his state offices and through a series of publications, he became a noted opponent of banking monopolies.
President Andrew Jackson, at war with the National Bank, decided to remove the government's deposits and place them in state banks. On June 1, 1833, he appointed William J. Duane secretary of the Treasury. The Jacksonians apparently assumed that Duane, a well-known opponent of the National Bank, would carry out their wishes. He refused, and on September 23 he was dismissed. His opposition to the National Bank was actually a suspicion of all banks. He felt that Federal deposits should be where close watch was possible. More careful and astute than many other Jacksonians, Duane saw the dangers in reckless state banking that would lead to the Panic of 1837.
Further Reading on William Duane
Duane's place in the development of American newspapers is noted in Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History, 1690-1960 (3d ed. 1962). He also figures prominently in James Morton Smith's authoritative study of the Alien and Sedition Laws, Freedom's Fetters: The Alien and Sedition Laws and American Civil Liberties (1956). See also Eugene Perry Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800 (1942), for Duane and his party; Harry Tinkcom, The Republicans and Federalists in Pennsylvania (1950), for Duane and his home state; and Nathan Schachner, The Founding Fathers (1954), for Duane and national politics. For the controversies in which the younger Duane was involved see Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson (1945), and Bray Hammond, Banks and Politics in America, from the Revolution to the Civil War (1957).
Additional Biography Sources
Phillips, Kim Tousley., William Duane, radical journalist in the age of Jefferson, New York: Garland Pub., 1989.