Charges against William Duane

Senate Contempt of Congress charges against journalist William Duane, March 22, 1800

National Archives and Records Administration, Records of the U.S. Senate

In February 1800 Democratic-Republican senators leaked information about a proposed Federalist bill that altered how disputed Presidential elections would be decided. William Duane, Democratic-Republican editor of the Philadelphia Aurora, published the text of the bill, along with several editorials attacking the Federalists. In response, the Federalist-controlled Senate investigated, detained, and ordered Duane to appear before the Senate. Charged with making "false, scandalous, defamatory, and malicious assertions," Duane received permission from the President of the Senate, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson, to leave and consult with his lawyer. He never returned. The Senate held him in contempt, but never attempted further prosecution.