William Duane

Image of signature of W Duane, written in reddish brown ink on a tan background.
Duane's writing, editing, and publishing career spanned four decades and four countries.

NPS photo

As editor of the Aurora, William Duane was a vocal opponent of the Alien and Sedition acts and upheld the Aurora's status as one of the leading newspapers in the country. He went on to have a successful military career.

"There is in the Aurora of this city, an uninterrupted stream of slander on the American government."--Secretary of State Timothy Pickering to President John Adams, July 1799

"I have always regarded Duane, and still regard him, as a sincere friend of liberty, and ready to make every sacrifice to its cause but that of his passions."--James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, May 1811


Editor of the Aurora

When the Aurora resumed publication after the death of Benjamin Bache, its owner was Benny’s widow, Margaret, and its editor was William Duane. Born in Newfoundland to Irish parents, Duane was raised in Vermont, Philadelphia, and Clonmel, Ireland, where he learned the printing trade and became a journalist.

With the Aurora under his guidance, Duane fought successfully against the infamous Alien and Sedition acts that were in force between 1798 and 1801. The controversial Irish-American was cited by Thomas Jefferson (and Jefferson’s political enemies) as a major factor in elevating Jefferson to the presidency in 1801. Of all the early American Republic’s “transatlantic radicals”—intellectuals and political activists forced to flee to the U.S. from Ireland, Scotland and England during the 1790’s—William Duane was probably the most influential.

Military Career

A US Army colonel and a Pennsylvania Militia officer, Duane also served as Adjutant General in the defense of Philadelphia during the War of 1812 (during which time James Wilson, Woodrow Wilson’s grandfather, edited the Aurora with the help of Duane’s eldest son, William John). Duane authored and published several books on military tactics for the U.S. armed forces. His A Handbook for Riflemen (1812) was required reading at US military academies for over a century.

Advocate for South America

Duane’s Aurora championed South America’s independence struggle and was the leading source of information in the U.S. on the conflict, from 1811 to 1822. In fact, one of Duane’s best friends and colleagues in Philadelphia was Manuel Torres, a Colombian exile who eventually became the first official representative of the newly independent South American governments in the United States.

William and Margaret Duane sold off the Aurora in 1822. Duane then traveled to Colombia and Venezuela, where he was welcomed as a hero. Two generations later, William Duane II, at the request of the Colombian government, sent a portrait of his illustrious grandfather to Bogotá, where it was hung with honor in the Capitol.

Last updated: February 21, 2017

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