James Duane and Post-War New York City
James Duane was cautious in his approach to dealing with the British, but once he committed himself to the Patriot cause he made some significant contributions to the creation of modern America.
James Duane was a wealthy New York City merchant who, by the outbreak of hostilities with Britain, had increased his inherited fortune tremendously. He already had experience serving as Attorney General for the City and Indian Commissioner for the State.
When the First Continental Congress was called into session, Duane was one of the original delegates sent by New York. He would be the only New York representative continuously sent to the Continental Congress from the first meeting through the ratification of the Treaty of Paris.
Although he was associated with the rebels, Duane had fears of acting too radically too quickly. In the early going, he supported the Galloway Plan of Union. Additionally, he was initially against the Declaration of Independence.
However, once the Declaration was signed, and the might of the British Navy had gathered in New York Harbor, he threw himself fully into the Patriot Cause.
During the war, Duane would represent the Continental Congress as Indian Commissioner in Albany, New York. He also signed the Articles of Confederation as well as assisted in writing the New York State Constitution.
James Duane left the Continental Congress in 1784 when he was chosen as Mayor of New York City.
Duane took office when the British evacuated the city, after eight years of occupation. He was responsible for cleaning up New York City and restoring it to its former glory.
His most significant moment in office was when he presided over the case of Rutgers v. Waddington in the Mayor’s Court.
In the case, a rebel brewery owner, who fled New York when the British arrived, was suing a man who had taken over her operation while she was in exile. Now that she had returned, she wanted rent for the years he occupied her brewery.
This trial was sparked by New York’s new Trespass Act, which stated Loyalists could be sued in said situation.
The defense, led by Alexander Hamilton, argued that since the Treaty of Paris stated British citizens could not be sued in this fashion, the Trespass Act was illegal.
Duane ruled with the defense.
This is a significant moment because Duane’s ruling implied that international treaties made under the Articles of Confederation would supersede laws made in the individual States.
This foreshadows certain aspects of the U.S. Constitution which would be written three years later.
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