Duane, James

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Duane, James

DUANE, JAMES. (1733–1797). Patriot statesman, jurist. New York. Born on 6 February 1733 in New York City, James Duane was admitted to the bar in August 1754, and soon had a large, highly successful practice. In Revolutionary politics he was conservative, and after his election to the Continental Congress (4 July 1774) he worked for conciliation with Britain. As a member of the committee to draft a statement of the rights of Americans, he did much to moderate its tone. He seconded Joseph Galloway's Plan of Union on the grounds that the British Parliament did have the right to regulate colonial trade, but he signed the non-importation agreement (20 October 1774) even though he felt it went too far. Re-elected to the Continental Congress, he was one of the strongest opponents of the movement toward Independence.

Serving as a delegate from 1774 to 1779, and again from 1781 to 1783, Duane was on a large number of committees, and his most important work was done in the fields of finance and Indian affairs. He assisted in making the final draft of the Articles of Confederation (adopted 15 November 1777 by the delegates). Inevitably, his loyalty to the Revolution was challenged and, in the summer of 1781, the press raised charges of which he was cleared only after John Jay and other influential colleagues stepped forth to defend him. When New York City was evacuated by the British, Duane entered the city as a member of Governor George Clinton's council. On 4 February 1784 he was appointed mayor, an office he held until September 1789, when President George Washington appointed him the first federal judge of the New York district. In March 1794 he retired from public life because of bad health, but continued to be active in land development. As a lawyer he had represented New Yorkers in private suits involving the boundary dispute with Vermont. Prior to 1765 he had carried out colonizing projects on his large Mohawk Valley holdings, and his interest in this undertaking continued. Duane attended the Poughkeepsie ratification convention of 1788 as a supporter of the Constitution. He died in Schenectady, New York, on 1 February 1797.

SEE ALSO Independence.


Alexander, Edward P. A Revolutionary Conservative, James Duane of New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1938.

Duane Papers. New-York Historical Society, New York City.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles