Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Practice of Dueling

The practice of dueling reached its peak in the 19th century; with the most famous duel being the one between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.  (Burr was the winner.)   Sam Houston, Stephen Decatur, John Randolph, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson were among noted duelists.  Abraham Lincoln was also almost in a duel, but it was called off at the last minute!

Duels were against the law in all states; however duelists usually went to places beyond the jurisdiction of authorities who might be likely to intervene.

Duels in the antebellum South were often because of an offended sense of honor.  However, other reasons were given.  One gentleman took offense because another person made snide comments about the Mississippi River's size.  He was brought up short with a sword cut.

One another occasion, State Senator Bernard de Marigny challenged another Louisiana legislator to a duel.  Marigny was an expert swordsman and pistol shot; but the other legislator found a way to improve his odds.  As the challenged party, he was given the right to choose weapons and location.

His choice: clubs and in six feet of water in Lake Pontchartrain.

Since Marigny was only five and a half feet tall and his opponent was over six feet tall, Marigny decided that he could not kill someone with such a sense of humor!

For some occupations, such as newspaper editor, having dueling skills was a useful occupational skill on occasion.  For that reason, there were actual dueling studios were one could receive instruction on how to duel effectively.  The favorite spot for New Orleans duels was under the Dueling Oaks at the south end of City Park, near where the present art museum is located.  Duels were most often done on Sunday.  On occasion, there were combatants who had to wait their turn while a duel already in progress was going on.  It was considered bad form, and possibly dangerous, to try to hurry a duel already in progress, especially since the parties and their seconds were armed!

Some graves in the old cemeteries of New Orleans bear the inscription "mort sur le champs de honneur."  While this is an inscription occasionally used for soldiers who died in battle, it became also a common usage for dueling deaths.

Fortunately, the practice of dueling pretty well ended around the time of the Civil War.  Apparently, the large-scale carnage in that conflict made the practice of dueling seem petty by comparison.  Or maybe accepted moral standards became more socially internalized.

Women were considerably less often likely to engage in dueling; but there were a few exceptions.There were even occasions when women resorted to topless_dueling at that!  (There was a rationale for doing that!)


Linda Kay Christensen said...

Oh, first visit to your site, and such a story! And we think some other countries are barbaric! Have a great day.

Bilbo said...

Topless dueling. Now, there's an old tradition it might be worth bringing back ... I have an idea that a topless duel between John Boehner and Harry Reid would lend new dignity to an otherwise laughably useless Congress.

Anonymous said...

this is a long bow to draw, but it could be said that jelly wrestling has become the forum of choice for topless women who want to sort out their grievances.

Bilbo said...

By the way: an interesting historical note is that Aaron Burr, who killed Alexander Hamilton in the famous duel, was one of my distant ancestors on my mother's side. Nothing like having a Famous American Traitor in your family tree when the time for your security clearance update investigation rolls around.