detecting, and defeating all conspiracies against america -- 5/10/21

Today's selection -- from "The King of the Alley," William Duer: Politician, Entrepreneur, and Speculator, 1768-1799 by Robert F. Jones. During the American Revolutionary War, not all the colonists were in favor of independence, and many remained loyal to the king and referred to themselves as loyalists. That left those who were for independence highly fearful of what they termed “domestic enemies.” A “Committee of Conspiracies” was quickly formed to identify and defeat the efforts of these “loyalists,” which handled 500 cases in fewer than 130 days. New York’s William Duer (who was later involved in various financial scandals) was a leader in that effort:

“The success of British arms in the fighting on and around Manhattan had emboldened New York's loyalists and led to [William] Duer's most significant piece of work to date. Impelled by ‘the great laws of self-preservation … to provide that no means in their power be left unessayed to defeat the barbarous machinations of these domestic as well as external enemies,’ the Convention charged some of its members, Duer among them, to devise a method for ‘preventing the dangers which may arise from the disaffected in the State.’ On 21 September, the committee recommended a standing committee 'for the express purpose of enquiring into, detecting, and defeating all conspiracies . . . against the liberties of America.'

"Its original members included Duer, [John] Jay and others. It sat almost constantly for four months until it was replaced in February 1777 by a commission staffed from outside the Con­vention. The Committee of Conspiracies had the power to subpoena witnesses and had the assistance of several messengers and a troop of soldiers. The amount of work it handled – 500 cases in less than 130 days – was impressive, especially considering that all of its members had other assignments. Until 10 January, Duer attended regularly, serving as chairman at almost half the meetings.

"The committee’s vigor made an immediate and, if one picturesque source can be trusted, strong impression on the loyalists of Westchester County. In early October, an American militiaman, Enoch Crosby, was traveling through the country to rejoin his unit when he fell in with a stranger. His new companion took him for a loyalist and confided that many in the area felt the same way. 'Though the vigilance of Jay, Duer, Platt, Sackett, and their deluded instruments compel my friends to be very circumspect in their movements,' he hoped to move through the lines with some friends and join the king's forces.

"Crosby got away on a pretext and went to the committee, telling them where the loyalists were to rendezvous for the attempt to get through the lines. American troops were able to capture them and the committee, elated by this success, hired Crosby. He was to travel about Westchester and Orange Counties, posing as a loyalist, in the hope of uncovering similar attempts to join the enemy. The committee, with the help of Crosby and others, as well as the efforts of subordinate local committees, worked diligently at suppressing loyalism."



Robert F. Jones


"The King of the Alley", William Duer: Politician, Entrepreneur, and Speculator, 1768-1799


American Philosophical Society


Copyright 1992 by the American Philosophical Society


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