William Alexander Duer

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For other people named William Duer, see William Duer (disambiguation).
William Alexander Duer
William Alexander Duer.jpg
7th President of Columbia University
In office
Preceded by William Harris
Succeeded by Nathaniel Fish Moore
Personal details
Born (1780-09-08)September 8, 1780
New York City
Died May 30, 1858(1858-05-30) (aged 77)
New York City
Spouse(s) Hannah Maria Denning
Parents William Duer
Catherine Alexander
Relatives John Duer (brother)
William Duer (nephew)
William Denning (father-in-law)
Lord Stirling (grandfather)

William Alexander Duer (September 8, 1780 – May 30, 1858) was an American lawyer, jurist, and educator from New York City. He was a president of Columbia University, then Columbia College.

Early life[edit]

He was the son of William and Catherine Alexander Duer. His brother John Duer was a New York lawyer and jurist. His nephew William Duer, the son of John Duer, also served in Congress. He studied law in Philadelphia, and with Nathaniel Pendleton in New York.


During the quasi-war with France in 1798 he obtained the appointment of midshipman in the navy, and served under Stephen Decatur. On the adjustment of the French question, he resumed his studies with Pendleton, and was admitted to the bar in 1802.

He engaged in business with Edward Livingston, who was then district attorney and mayor of New York, and, after moving to New Orleans, formed a professional partnership with his brother-in-law, Beverley Robinson. About this time he contributed to a partisan weekly paper called the Corrector, conducted by Peter Irving in support of Aaron Burr. Duer shortly afterward joined Livingston at New Orleans, and studied Spanish civil law. He was successful, but, owing to the climate and to his marriage with the daughter of William Denning, a prominent whig of New York, he was induced to resume practice in the latter city.

In New York, he contributed literary articles to the Morning Chronicle, the newspaper of his friend Peter Irving. He next opened an office in Rhinebeck, and in 1814 was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he was appointed chairman of a committee on colleges and academies, and succeeded in passing a bill, which is the original of the existing law on the subject of the common-school income. He was also chairman of the committee that arranged the constitutionality of the state law vesting the right of navigation in Livingston and Robert Fulton, and throughout his service bore a prominent part in promoting canal legislation.

From 1822 until 1829, he was judge of the New York Supreme Court when he was elected president of Columbia College (now Columbia University), where he remained until failing health compelled him to resign in 1842. During his administration he delivered to the senior class a course of lectures on the constitutional jurisprudence of the United States (published in 1833; revised ed., 1856). He delivered a eulogy on President James Monroe from the portico of the city hall. After his retirement he resided in Morristown, New Jersey.


After retiring, he wrote the life of his grandfather, Lord Stirling (published by the Historical Society of New Jersey). In 1847 he delivered an address in the college chapel before the literary societies of Columbia, and in 1848 an historical address before the St. Nicholas Society, which gives early reminiscences of New York, and describes the scenes connected with the inauguration of President Washington, both of which were published. He was the author of two pamphlets addressed to Cadwallader D. Colden on the “Steamboat Controversy,” and the “Life of William Alexander, Earl of Stirling” (New York, 1847).

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Hannah Maria Denning (1782–1862), daughter of William Denning, a prominent whig of New York. Together they had:

  • Henrietta Amelia Duer (d. 1824)
  • Frances Maria Duer (1809–1905)
  • Catherine Theodora Duer (1811–1877)
  • Denning Duer (1812–1891), who married Caroline King (1813–1863), daughter of James G. King
  • Eleanor Duer (1814–1892)
  • Edward Alexander Duer (1815–1831)
  • Sarah Henderson Duer (1817–1856)
  • John King Duer (1818–1859), who married Georgeanna Huyler (1818–1884)
  • Elizabeth Denning Duer (1821–1900), who married Archibald Gracie King (1821–1897), son of James G. King
  • Henrietta Duer (1828–1832), who died young.



External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
William Harris
President of Columbia College
Succeeded by
Nathaniel Fish Moore