The Alien & Sedition Act Trials



"...the Federalists did not need the Sedition Act to ensure a loyal press; generally speaking, they already had it. To this rule there were, however, some notable exceptions... Chief among them was the Aurora, edited by Benjamin Bache of Philadelphia. Sometimes called "Lightning Rod, Junior," Bache was the grandson of Benjamin Franklin; * Bache was fiery, impetuous, and surcharged with passion.

By April, 1798, Bache's Aurora had gained the distinction of being the leading Republican newspaper in the United States. From the debates in Congress, it appeared that Benjamin Bache's Aurora was the most telling Federalist argument for the passage of a sedition law.

When following his indictment for seditious libel at common law, Benjamin Bache appeared before Judge Richard Peters of the United States Supreme Court, be brought with him, as counsels, Moses Levy and Alexander James Dallas, two radical Philadelphia lawyers. Before Bache could be brought to trial or disposed of otherwise, he died of yellow fever in the great epidemic of 1798. * The only result of the government's prosecution of Bache was to increase the influence and the circulation of the Aurora. "


After Bache's death, William Duane took over the paper and with it Mrs. Bache, whom he married in 1800. If anyone could make the Federalists regret the untimely end of "Lightning Rod, Junior", it was William Duane.

[The]Federalist mob... In May 1799, he was attacked by a mob of civilians and army officers and was knocked down and soundly kicked,... But when Duane and his companions were tried for seditious riot in the state courts, they were acquitted.

In July, 1799, Duane * declared in the Aurora that the British were calling the tune for administration policies... less than a week after the publication of his article, Duane was arrested by a Federal marshal. But when Duane came up for trial * the case against him collapsed. Duane owed his reprieve to the fact that * the Republican editor was making no idle boast when he claimed to have documentary evidence in John Adam's handwriting of British influence. Several years before, John Adams had written a letter to Tench Coxe, then Hamilton's assistant in the Treasury.


Duane learned that a bill for settling disputed elections of the President and Vice President had been introduced into the Senate. This bill provided for the establishment of a tribunal * meeting behind closed doors * The Aurora loudly cried fraud.
-Crisis in Freedom by John C. Miller [26,28,60,64,93,94,96,194-99]

Duane, appearing before the Senate, requested that he be permitted to advise with counsel and withdrew. According to his plan, he then addressed letters to Dallas and Cooper, asking them to serve as counsel. This they both declined to do on the ground that the Senate had already prejudged the case and that they would only degrade themselves by appearing before the Senate under the limitations and restrictions that body had imposed *

* All this he published in the Aurora. The Senate then declared Duane guilty of contempt * and issued a warrant for his arrest... Duane evaded the process server until after the adjournment of Congress * Because of a succession of delays * nothing ever came of the prosecution of Duane, against whom proceedings were finally dropped after the former Vice President had become President.
-III Jefferson and the Ordeal of Democracy by Dumas Malone [465-6]

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