Abraham Lincoln's Duel



Sadly, you can't challenge people to fight to the death these days without coming across as a weirdo and getting hauled into the editor's office for a lecture about how to resolve workplace conflicts. It was not always so. Early in American history, dueling was an accepted if legally dubious practice.

James Shields, an Illinois politician, once challenged Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and other people had written pseudonymous letters attacking Shields's policies. Shields then demanded satisfaction:

But as the challenged, Lincoln had the right to pick the terms of the duel. He proposed a curious and unique manner of battle: a clash of broad swords in a 12 foot deep pit, with two sides separated by a piece of plywood which neither combatant could cross. These rules were designed to make it all but certain that Lincoln would prevail, as Lincoln was much taller than his irate foe. Shields, nevertheless, accepted the terms. The two were scheduled to duel on September 22, 1842.

Before the duel began, Lincoln found a way to get Shields to back down. Lincoln cut down a tree branch above Shield’s head, demonstrating his height advantage and the certainty of his victory. Lincoln’s and Shield’s “seconds” — friends who could negotiate a truce on the behalf of the duelists — came to an agreement: no duel. This was made easier by a heretofore omitted fact, only then disclosed to Shields: while Lincoln wrote the relatively tame letters from “Jeff” and “Rebecca,” he did not author the more insidious follow up missives to which Shields took umbrage. Those were written by two friends of Lincoln, one of which, Mary Todd, would become his wife just six weeks after the would-be duel.


Link | Photo: US Senate, National Park Service

Previously: Kentucky State Officials Must Swear an Oath against Dueling

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Andrew Jackson fought 103 duels. For most of his life he carried two bullets in his body, one in his arm which was removed 20 years after he sustained the injury, and one near his heart which he took to his grave.

He was not someone that you wanted to screw with.
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One of my favorite Cracked articles put it like this:

On one occasion, he challenged a man named Charles Dickinson to a duel, (the reason behind it wasn't important, not to us and certainly not to Jackson), and Jackson was even kind enough to give Dickinson the first shot. We're gonna go ahead and repeat that: In a duel with pistols, Jackson politely volunteers to be shot at first. Dickinson happily obliged and shot Jackson, who proceeded to shake it off like it was a bee sting. When Jackson returned the favor, Dickinson was not so lucky, and that's why his face isn't on the twenty. The bullet, by the by, remained in Jackson's body for 19 years because, we assume, Jackson knew that time spent removing the bullets would just fall under the general category of "time not dueling," Jackson's least favorite category.
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Maybe that's why Jackson was able to thumb his nose at THE SUPREME COURT. When they decided in favor of Native claims on land, Jackson forced the Natives on to the Trail of Tears anyway, hundreds of miles, on foot, as winter came on...
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Jackson also decided to invade and capture Florida without the approval of anyone. He had his state militia with him. Escaped slaves and Indians were going to Florida, where the British welcomed them. Jackson decided to teach them a lesson and in the process defeated the British and secured Florida for the US.

The President at the time (Monroe? Madison? I don't remember) was furious when the news reached Washington. But by then the war was over and the Florida territory part of the US.
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