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