Rich Wilhelm

Laurel Hill Tales #001: William Duane

In American history, cemeteries, Laurel Hill Cemetery, politics, presidential elections, Uncategorized on March 6, 2016 at 4:33 am

Over the course of the last month, I have gotten into a comfortable habit of having my dog wake me up way too early on Sunday morning, walking her, then returning home to drink a cup of coffee and type some words into this blog. It’s now Saturday night and Jolie will still wake me up way early tomorrow morning, but I’ll be headed to Laurel Hill Cemetery to help out with a new tour guide presentation, so I will post tonight instead. As soon as I take Jolie out for her “Jolie After Dark” moment. Stay tuned.

Two minutes later…

OK. So, Jolie has had her moment, I have brewed a cupajoe, I’m listening to side three of the Thank God It’s Friday soundtrack and I’m ready to tell the story of William Duane, a permanent resident at Laurel Hill Cemetery. Tonight, I’m apparently all about cultish disco film soundtracks and rabble-rousing anti-federalist journalists. Huzzah!

As last Thursday’s G.O.P. debate aptly demonstrated, we are living through a period of serious political ugliness. No stone is being left unturned, no bit of a certain candidate’s anatomy is being left unmeasured.

In light of this electoral chaos, some concerned citizens have called for a return to decorum in national discourse. There are those who fear that the coarse behavior we’ve recently seen on the campaign trail and on debate stages is beneath us as a country and I certainly can’t say I disagree. And, of course, many people feel strongly that sex, politics and religion remain the three topics that shouldn’t be discussed around the dinner table. Or on Facebook.

However, the truth is we can’t return to something that never really existed. The political process in the United States has always been noisy and raucous.  The people, the politicians and the press have all done their part throughout this country’s history to add to the obnoxiousness.

Need an example? Let’s go way back to William Duane. Born in upstate New York in 1760, as a young man Duane journeyed to Ireland to learn how to become a printer. From there, Duane headed off to Calcutta, India and became a newspaper editor.

Duane’s stint in India ended in deportation, after the local government took issue with some of his criticism. Duane wound up in Philadelphia, editing a newspaper called the Aurora with Benjamin Franklin Bache, grandson of Philadelphia’s most famous citizen. Duane took over the Aurora following Bache’s early demise (and married Bache’s widow) and continued Bache’s legacy with a newspaper that railed against the Federalist administrations of George Washington and John Adams.

That’s right. William Duane didn’t care for the Father of Our Country or his successor and was happy to let readers of the Aurora know this at every opportunity.

The Aurora‘s tirades continued into the Adams administration, so much so that Duane was arrested twice for violating Adams’ infamous Alien and Sedition Acts.  Undeterred, Duane promptly turned his newspaper’s attention to the defeat of John Adams to his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, in the very nasty presidential election of 1800. Charges against Duane were dismissed after Jefferson took office.

And so it goes. The business of electing a president in these United States has always been at least just-slightly-crazy. And sometimes crazier, as Decision 2016 is demonstrating. And, while I have no idea what words William Duane, now resting peacefully at Laurel Hill, would have for Donald Trump, I think Duane would vote down on decorum and up for noise.

Two final notes on William Duane. First, after retiring from the Aurora in 1822, Duane traveled extensively in South America, eventually writing a book about his adventures. Finally, he had a son, William J. Duane–also buried at Laurel Hill–who had the temerity to tangle with President Andrew Jackson on banking issues. But that is a tale for another time.







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Patrick F. O'Donnell

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