Sunday, September 07, 2008

Duelling for Fun and Friendship

Linked here is the one version of the "code duello," or the rules that American duellists used in the era of the Founders. While the most famous duels were between politicians and military officers, the code could also be used to deal with minor or major verbal disputes of any kind among gentlemen, including college students. Please read it and consider: Was this a brutal and unreasonable system? What would be the impact in your social circle if people knew they might have to stand and be shot at from 30 feet away across an open field, for treating someone inconsiderately or criticizing them to others?

OTHER RESOURCES: PBS has a good brief history of dueling in American here. A site called How Stuff Works has a surprisingly good explanation on how duelling operated, including but also going beyond early America. A brief history of the Burr-Hamilton duel, and images of the site and the letters leading up the encounter, appear in "Interview at Weehawken."

Any particular duel would make a great paper topic, though if Burr and Hamilton is your interest I would probably make you pick some aspect of their lives or relationship rather than the duel itself.

10 comments:

Matthew Hina said...

I think dueling had/ still has a practical purpose in society. Instead of engaging in a lengthy and costly legal system to mend differences, if one feels truly wronged one could choose to deal with the situation swiftly and with greater consequences. I believe people would act much more respectful if the danger of a duel lay in store for a slanderer or smart mouth.

Phillip England said...

After reading about Early American Dueling and if it has a place in our time, I firmly say no. Not to say that dueling is wrong, at the time dueling did have rules that were codified, its that our society as a whole has moved towards something less on hearsay and defending ones honor, towards the courtroom. The impact on social circles would be of shock. An example would be to tell my friend I am challenging him to a duel after he said my girlfriend was cute and I took offense to that. I would consider such small things a bit much to challenge another to man to defend his life and honor.

Matthew Hina said...

Using an example of challenging a friend to a duel for admiring your girlfriend is a little extreme. Even if you so felt the urge to challenge your friend to a duel for such an offense he doesn’t have to agree to it. An example of something much more deserving of challenging a man to a dual would be more like coming home to find your wife in bed with another man. Current US criminal and civil laws offer no protection to an institution called marriage or the husband’s honor in this case.

Phillip England said...

I agree, but my extreme case came from this. "A jilted lover need only wait for a rival's insult, or even manufacture one. He was then free to challenge and kill the rival without condemnation." There will always be abuses, and that was more of my argument, as there really is no way to prove what each party said, unless some of it was codified into a rule that there must be some evidence of the slander or wronging of ones honor.

Brandon Schatsiek said...

I think that this system never really accomplished anything. Even though not that many people actually died from this, it was still an idiotic way to solve any problems that occurred because of one or two men being pompous and inconsiderate. With that being said, I think it is a fascinating idea of how this came about and its practices but that it never gave a definitive answer to who was right or wrong but instead just played to those that were a good shot. If my friends were a part of this dueling idea then I guarantee most of them wouldn't be as sarcastic as they are with fear of being shot over someone being offended.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of a duel system, and I don't think it's use will ever vanish from human history. Much to Matthew Hina's point, the repercussions of slander or other disagreements developing into this degree of violence (gun-duels), where you're being shot at with high calibur bullets--makes a person rethink their actions, or at least tests the parameters of how much they believe in something. Of course, I find it highly inappropriate for political affairs...but in the sense of the public forum I think it's a great idea...with the exception of the pistols. Swords are even a stretch for me, but I think a traditional fist-fight is a fantastic way of settling scores. I believe that it preserves whatever respectable resolves were in the gun-duels, while filtering out the undignified, murderous ones...usually. Because of course, you don't want to kill anyone...and if you do, a duel's not for you, because there's a lack of honor and decency there, which is something recognized even then as in the case of Andrew Jackson cheating during a duel to kill his opponent...but I think if two individuals are over-ruled by violent passions, that a fist-fight would have been acceptable. But, naturally, peace is usually the best alternative...and produced the natural shift away from gun-dueling.

Joseph Adams said...

I think this draws a parallel to gang violence in today's urban society. It is quite obvious that the american culture's use of violence is almost quite embedded in the american fabric now and then.

Ryan Morman said...

Last spring I read Ron Chernow’s biography on Alexander Hamilton, so of course dueling was dealt with throughout the book. Dueling was usually done to test a man’s honor; not to kill the other person. If the other man showed up for it, it proved his courage and that he was a gentleman. I recall reading that a friend of Hamilton’s during the Revolutionary War was involved in a duel. Both men arrived at the designate spot, misfired their shots and then came together and resolved the conflict peacefully. Hamilton supposedly is said to have thrown off his shot since he did not take the duel as seriously as Burr did. Still though I do not think it should be a system that should be encouraged. There are many other ways two men can resolve their conflicts. It was relevant then due to the high regard of a man’s honor.

MeriageN said...

First I would like to comment on Matthew Hina's assertion that Dueling has a place in today's society as a means to avoid costly legal battles. This goes against the reasoning behind dueling. The reasons that duels were common in America at one time was because duels were a means of protecting one's reputation when there was no other recourse available to gentlemen. As the understanding of what was an appropriate means of defending one's honor shifted to allow for legal redress it is no longer necessary to duel. A gentleman would spare no cost to save his reputation. This fact refutes the assertion that dueling should be used to avoid costly legal battles.

Second I would like to comment on Ryan Morman's belief that Hamilton really threw away his first shot. I would agree that Hamilton said that he was going to throw away his first shot and that Chernow believes that he threw away his first shot but did he really? His second and Burr's second both heard two shots. The debate is over who shot first. The papers of the day claim that Hamilton's second found where Alex's ball struck a tree branch above Burr's head. Was this Hamilton throwing away his shot, as he claimed in his final letter, or was it a miss that was a result of being shot by Burr. I would think that if you were about to shot a gun and a .54 cal ball lodged in your side it could cause you to miss your mark. We will never really know for sure if Alex planned to throw his shot away. What we do know is that if he had taken the duel a little more seriously he may have lived. If he had given Burr more respect from the beginning the duel might never have taken place. If Hamilton had not stopped the proceedings prior to the first shots to retrieve his spectacles and to take a practice aim at Burr he might have survived. He gave Burr every impression that he planned to fire on him. Alex made sure he could see Aaron and he aimed his pistol at him. If someone aimed a pistol at me I would assume that he meant to shot me. To blame Burr for shooting Hamilton is wrong. I would have shot him, but then again as Ryan say men today don't care as much about their honor so I most likely would not be found on a field of honor.

Logan Stoops said...

For me, I don't know if I would like to see duels return to our society.

I can understand from a honor standpoint why someone would want to duel. However, at the same time, if dueling was considered mainstream again, we would see a significant increase in gun deaths.

This will probably not happen because, dueling, in my opinion, is kind of an older tradition, and the fact Barack Obama will be President soon, and put restrictions on the purchase of guns.

I like dueling from an honor standpoint, but it would just not be practical for today's world/society.