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James Duane - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Thursday, December 24, 2020

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Birth: February 6, 1733
Death: February 1, 1797 (age 63)
Colony: New York
Occupation: Lawyer, Politician
Significance: Signed The Articles of Confederation (at the age of 44); served in First Continental Congress (1774); served in the Continental Congress (Congress of the Confederation) (1775-1783); served as Mayor of New York City (1784-1789)

James Duane Portrait by John Trumbull

James Duane was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in New York City to a wealthy family of second generation Irish immigrants, Duane's parents both died by the time he was only eight years old.

After the death of his parents, Duane became a ward to Robert Livingston, the 3rd Lord of Livingston Manor, a massive 250 square mile estate that was located in present day Columbia County, New York. The Livingston family was a very wealthy and prominent New York family that included figures who signed The Declaration of Independence (Philip Livingston) and the United States Constitution (William Livingston.) Duane received an excellent education at Livingston Manor, and he studied to become a lawyer. 

While Duane opposed British policies, he was generally conservative in his approach and opposed combating British policies with violence or destructive demonstrations. In 1774, Duane was selected to travel to Philadelphia and serve in the First Continental Congress. At the First Continental Congress, Duane supported Joseph Galloway's "Plan of Union" which was a pact that would have enabled a "Grand Council" of the American Colonies to be formed to work with Parliament and peacefully resolve the tensions between British Parliament and the American Colonies. Galloway's plan however did not garner wide support and when the First Continental Congress decided to instead band together in a Continental Association and organize boycotts on British goods, Duane decided to support the decision. Duane became a signatory of "The Continental Association."

Duane returned briefly to New York, but just a few months later in May 1775, Duane returned to Philadelphia to serve in the Second Continental Congress. Although Duane served in the Second Continental Congress on July 4th when Independence was declared, and on August 2nd when The Declaration of Independence was signed, Duane neither voted for Independence nor signed The Declaration of Independence. This is because Duane was not present in Philadelphia during this period because he had returned to New York City in order to draft the New York State Constitution with John Jay. Duane had however returned to the Continental Congress by the end of the year, and he was among the first signers of the Articles of Confederation on July 9, 1778 after the Articles were ratified by his Colony of New York. 

Duane remained in the Continental Congress after signing the Articles of Confederation until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Duane then returned to New York City where he was elected Mayor and served in the position until 1789. Duane presided over New York City during a difficult time period in which there was much work to be done to repair the city after years of British Occupation. After serving as Mayor of New York City, Duane served on the United States District Court from 1789 until 1794, when Duane had fallen into poor health. Duane struggled with his health for three more years before dying in 1797 at the age of 63.

James Duane in Philadelphia

James Duane first came to Philadelphia in 1774 as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, which met inside of Carpenters' Hall. Duane then returned to Philadelphia the following year in 1775 to serve in the Second Continental Congress. While serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Duane worked at Independence Hall, where he signed The Articles of Confederation. 

Today, Carpenters' Hall and Independence Hall are both stops visited along The Constitutional Walking Tour!

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