They rowed out across the Hudson in two separate boats to Weehawken New Jersey where the law was more lenient in prosecuting participants of a duel. The Wogdon pistols were kept concealed in a wooden box and the boatmen stood with their eyes to New York as to not perjure themselves in court when asked if they had seen pistols. The seconds cleared away brush from the duelling ground. Less then twenty four hours later former secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton lay dead from a shot fired by the standing vice president of the United States.
Burr was brought up on murder charges both in New York and New Jersey but neither resulted in a trial. Burr returned to Washington D.C. and finished his term as vice president. It furthered the increasingly negative attitude toward duelling in the public mind.
The Burr Hamilton duel is probably the most famous in American history but several other presidents participated in gentlemanly duels as well.
Andrew Jackson was reported to have taken part in at least thirteen duels and by some accounts as many as one hundred, one of which ended in the death of his opponent, Charles Dickinson. Abraham Lincoln stood for a duel with sabers in 1842 after he humiliated a fellow state legislator in a letter to the editor of a newspaper. Lincoln refused to retract his statement and was challenged to a duel. He came prepared to fight but an agreement was reached through the duelists’ seconds that made the duel unnecessary.
A duel wasn’t simply a gun fight, two drunken men standing in the street emptying their pistols at one another, it was a last resort turned to when a gentleman felt his honor to be offended. Special one shot duelling pistols with hair triggers where used, a set of which most gentleman owned, and there were rules which were codified in Ireland in 1777.
Code Duello: The Rules of Dueling
PBS Reprinted from “American Duels and Hostile Encounters,” Chilton Books, 1963.
The Code Duello, covering the practice of dueling and points of honor, was drawn up and settled at Clonmel Summer Assizes, 1777, by gentlemen-delegates of Tipperary, Galway, Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon, and prescribed for general adoption throughout Ireland. The Code was generally also followed in England and on the Continent with some slight variations. In America, the principal rules were followed, although occasionally there were some glaring deviations.
Rule 1. The first offense requires the first apology, though the retort may have been more offensive than the insult. Example: A tells B he is impertinent, etc. B retorts that he lies; yet A must make the first apology because he gave the first offense, and then (after one fire) B may explain away the retort by a subsequent apology.
Rule 2. But if the parties would rather fight on, then after two shots each (but in no case before), B may explain first, and A apologize afterward.
N.B. The above rules apply to all cases of offenses in retort not of stronger class than the example.
Rule 3. If a doubt exist who gave the first offense, the decision rests with the seconds; if they won’t decide, or can’t agree, the matter must proceed to two shots, or to a hit, if the challenger require it.
Rule 4. When the lie direct is the first offense, the aggressor must either beg pardon in express terms; exchange two shots previous to apology; or three shots followed up by explanation; or fire on till a severe hit be received by one party or the other.
Rule 5. As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore — the offender handing a cane to the injured party, to be used on his own back, at the same time begging pardon; firing on until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane.
If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.
N.B. A disarm is considered the same as a disable. The disarmer may (strictly) break his adversary’s sword; but if it be the challenger who is disarmed, it is considered as ungenerous to do so.
In the case the challenged be disarmed and refuses to ask pardon or atone, he must not be killed, as formerly; but the challenger may lay his own sword on the aggressor’s shoulder, then break the aggressor’s sword and say, “I spare your life!” The challenged can never revive the quarrel — the challenger may.
Rule 6. If A gives B the lie, and B retorts by a blow (being the two greatest offenses), no reconciliation can take place till after two discharges each, or a severe hit; after which B may beg A’s pardon humbly for the blow and then A may explain simply for the lie; because a blow is never allowable, and the offense of the lie, therefore, merges in it. (See preceding rules.)
N.B. Challenges for undivulged causes may be reconciled on the ground, after one shot. An explanation or the slightest hit should be sufficient in such cases, because no personal offense transpired.
Rule 7. But no apology can be received, in any case, after the parties have actually taken ground, without exchange of fires.
Rule 8. In the above case, no challenger is obliged to divulge his cause of challenge (if private) unless required by the challenged so to do before their meeting.
Rule 9. All imputations of cheating at play, races, etc., to be considered equivalent to a blow; but may be reconciled after one shot, on admitting their falsehood and begging pardon publicly.
Rule 10. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection to be considered as, by one degree, a greater offense than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regulated accordingly.
Rule 11. Offenses originating or accruing from the support of ladies’ reputations, to be considered as less unjustifiable than any others of the same class, and as admitting of slighter apologies by the aggressor: this to be determined by the circumstances of the case, but always favorable to the lady.
Rule 12. In simple, unpremeditated recontres with the smallsword, or couteau de chasse, the rule is — first draw, first sheath, unless blood is drawn; then both sheath, and proceed to investigation.
Rule 13. No dumb shooting or firing in the air is admissible in any case. The challenger ought not to have challenged without receiving offense; and the challenged ought, if he gave offense, to have made an apology before he came on the ground; therefore, children’s play must be dishonorable on one side or the other, and is accordingly prohibited.
Rule 14. Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals they attend, inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal, and equality is indispensible.
Rule 15. Challenges are never to be delivered at night, unless the party to be challenged intend leaving the place of offense before morning; for it is desirable to avoid all hot-headed proceedings.
Rule 16. The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he can decline any second species of weapon proposed by the challenged.
Rule 17. The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger chooses his distance; the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.
Rule 18. The seconds load in presence of each other, unless they give their mutual honors they have charged smooth and single, which should be held sufficient.
Rule 19. Firing may be regulated — first by signal; secondly, by word of command; or thirdly, at pleasure — as may be agreeable to the parties. In the latter case, the parties may fire at their reasonable leisure, but second presents and rests are strictly prohibited.
Rule 20. In all cases a miss-fire is equivalent to a shot, and a snap or non-cock is to be considered as a miss-fire.
Rule 21. Seconds are bound to attempt a reconciliation before the meeting takes place, or after sufficient firing or hits, as specified.
Rule 22. Any wound sufficient to agitate the nerves and necessarily make the hand shake, must end the business for that day.
Rule 23. If the cause of the meeting be of such a nature that no apology or explanation can or will be received, the challenged takes his ground, and calls on the challenger to proceed as he chooses; in such cases, firing at pleasure is the usual practice, but may be varied by agreement.
Rule 24. In slight cases, the second hands his principal but one pistol; but in gross cases, two, holding another case ready charged in reserve.
Rule 25. Where seconds disagree, and resolve to exchange shots themselves, it must be at the same time and at right angles with their principals, thus:
If with swords, side by side, with five paces interval.
N.B. All matters and doubts not herein mentioned will be explained and cleared up by application to the committee, who meet alternately at Clonmel and Galway, at the quarter sessions, for that purpose.
The process of engaging in a duel, the challenge, acceptance , and the seconds attempt to come to an understanding in a way could circumvent violence. It provided a chance for the offended and offender to think about actions and consequences. Their seconds could persuade the participants against the duel and come to an agreement that didn’t involve violence.
In the aftermath of the Civil War gentlemanly duelling lost its popularity and all but died out. It may have been, as some historians have suggested, that Americans were turned away from violence by the sheer scale on which it occurred during the conflict between North and South. If so the sentiment didn’t last very long.
Every few weeks, or days, the headlines are littered with news of the latest shooting. The most recent being at an IHOP in Carson City Nevada. It seems as though violence and guns are engrained in American culture. The homicide rate in the U.S. soars above other industrialized countries at 5.5 people murdered per 100,000. Three times higher than Canada and five times higher than Germany. In 2008 there were 16,272 murders committed in the U.S. , 67% of those were committed with a firearm. Fifty three million Americans own guns, 45 million of which are handguns. There were 5,340,000 violent crimes committed in the U.S. in 2008 and 8% were committed with a visible gun. America is the gun capital of the world.
One way to thwart the problem would be to outlaw firearms but that doesn’t seem like a very realistic option. Pro gun lobbyist groups, like the NRA, contribute $22,467,579 annually to the campaigns of federal candidates who support gun rights while gun control groups spend just $1,888,886. Furthermore in the minds and hearts of many guns are part of what it means to be American. The colonies were freed from England by the Minute Men and their muskets. Westward expansion and the extermination of both the plains buffalo and Native Americans were made possible by the repeating rifle and much of the territory that is now the U.S. was taken at the point of bayonet, bullet or bomb. Americans will not give up their arms willingly.
The other solution is to reinstate the Code Dullo and make duelling legal once again. Instead of someone shooting up innocent people in their workplace or university they could challenge the person they felt offended their honor to a duel and if they accepted kill them legally or at least have the matter settled by their seconds. It is relatively easy to point a gun at an unarmed person and pull a trigger especially when feelings like anger, jealousy, and betrayal are involved. It’s the act of a coward. Why not make it a fair fight? If one was exceptionally brave sabers, axes, or cudgels could be selected as the weapons of choice.
Some proponents of the second amendment say if more people carried a handgun mass shootings and murders would drastically decline. There are two problems with this argument the first being there is rarely a case in the headlines about the armed good samaritan thwarting the bad guy and saving the day. Secondly handguns are not very accurate weapons so unless our hypothetical hero is walking around with a rifle strapped to her back there are probably going to be more casualties than people saved.
The shootings and murders will continue to make their appearances in the headlines as they have for decades. It is obvious the deterrents in place now are not effective. In the past codified laws such as the Code Dullo were put into place to curb violence not promote it. There will be guns, shootings, and bloodshed in America so why not adopt a system of laws to regulate the violence? At first it may seem an irreverent and flippant solution to a rather serious problem but upon further examination it makes sense to create a system of deterrence where gun violence is the last resort not the one of the first.