Tag Archives: American

Great American Duels #2

Challenger: James Barron-  Former Commodore, United States Navy

Challenged: Stephen Decatur-  Commodore, Commissioner, United States Navy

The Offense:  James Barron was court martialed for his poor handling of the USS Chesapeake during the confrontation with the HMS Leopard in 1807.  Decatur served on the court and recommended Barron be barred from command for five years.  Barron spent those five years in Denmark composing a lengthy defense of his actions.  Upon his return, he applied for reinstatement to Naval command.  Decatur was one of many officers who opposed Barron’s reentry into the service.  Long jealous of Decatur’s fame, Barron singled out his younger rival and challenged him to a duel. 

Relegated to historical obscurity

Background:  Stephen Decatur’s naval career was marked by acts of heroism and exceptional performance under fire.  He was the youngest man in naval history to reach the rank of Captain and distinguished himself in the first and second Barbary Wars.  His stunning victories early in the War of 1812 helped keep morale high during some of the darker days of the conflict.  These exploits established him as one of country’s first heroes and earned the resentment of many fellow officers.   James Barron served without much distinction along side Decatur, rising to the rank of Commodore by 1812.  Barron’s failure to properly oppose the boarding action of the HMS Leopard cost him his commission.  Decatur’s position on the court-martial, as well as his vocal opposition to Barron’s reinstatement led to the duel.  By 1820, dueling was such a problem for the US Navy’s officer corps, there was actually a shortage of properly trained commanders.  

A life most bold and daring….

The Field of Honor:  March 22, 1820–Neither Second in the duel was a suitable choice, for both men wanted to see Stephen Decatur dead.  Barron’s Second was the unpredictable Jesse Elliott, an officer known for his burning ambition and hatred of Decatur.  Commodore William Bainbridge was chosen by Decatur, which was an unfortunate decision.  Bainbridge blamed Decatur for stealing his command during the second Barbary War.  The Seconds negotiated a deadly eight pace turn, guaranteeing bloodshed.  Decatur, a crack shot, did not plan on killing his challenger and made it known in the negotiations.  It is doubtful  either Second mentioned this to Barron.  The count was given by Bainbridge, shots had to be fired after ‘one’ and before ‘three’.  The duelists fired before ‘two’  and both went down with serious wounds.  Barron was struck in the lower abdomen but would survive.  Decatur was hit through the pelvis, severing three arteries, sealing his fate.  Decatur cried out, “Oh Lord, I’m a dead man!”   Barron answered back, “I forgive you, God bless you Decatur!”    The hero’s  funeral was attended by every member of Congress, the entire Supreme Court, President James Monroe, and over 10,000 citizens. 

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Facts in Five

Jefferson : Foreign Policy edition

  • First War on Terror-  Jefferson never supported large standing armies until he was forced to send a fleet to the Mediterranean and Marines to the shores of Tripoli  in 1801.  Jefferson signed the bill creating the US Military academy at West Point.
  • Deal for the ages-  Always a strict constructionist, Jefferson quickly altered his interpretation of the Constitution when the French government offered the Louisiana territory for three cents an acre.  No nation had ever purchased an empire. 
  • Getting a jump on things-  Before the ink was dry on the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson had commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition.  The Corps of Discovery were to explore the Northwest Passage and lay claim to land on the Pacific coast.
  • Snake in the Grass-  Frustrated by his rejections in the political circles of Washington and New York, Vice-President Aaron Burr organized a private militia and openly spoke of organizing the Louisiana Territory into an independent state.  Jefferson called out the troops and had Burr arrested for treason. 
Commander-in-Chief when needs be

Commander-in-Chief when needs be

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Great American Duels #4

Challenger:  Henry Clay- United States Secretary of State, Former Speaker of the  US House of Representatives

Challenged: John Randolph- United States Senator from Virginia, Seven term US Representative from Virginia

The Offense:  On the floor of the US Senate, Randolph challenged the legitimacy of the John Quincy Adams administration and implicated Clay was part of the “Corrupt Bargain” which gave the presidency to Adams.  Clay demanded public satisfaction and was ignored; he quickly challenged Randolph to a duel. 

Henry Clay of Kentucky

Background:  The fiercely proud, frontier statesman, Henry Clay had already been wounded in a duel in 1809.  Clay was arguably the most influential politician of the early republic period; guiding the country through the War of 1812, crafting the American System of economics following the war, and transforming the Speaker position to the powerful post we recognize today.  John Randolph of Roanoke was brilliant, eccentric, and unpredictable.  He defied Jefferson in 1807, opposed the War of 1812, and became a loyal Jacksonian; Randolph frustrated many in his native Virginia.  It is believed he suffered from consumption and consumed liberal amounts of opium to manage his pain.  Randolph was a crack shot and many powerful people in Washington approached him on Clay’s behalf- Henry Clay was too valuable to lose in a duel…..

John Randolph of Roanoke

The Field of Honor:  Saturday, April 8, 1825- The duel was held in Virginia, Randolph declared that only Virginia soil could catch his blood.  Dueling was illegal in Virginia, so both men would face criminal charges.  Randolph’s Second, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, tried in vain to settle the dispute; even after Randolph’s pistol discharged early because of a hare-trigger.  Clay demanded a reload and his satisfaction.  At 30 paces, the two men turned and fired….both missed.  Clay shouted, “This is child’s play!”  and pistols were reloaded.  Clay fired first and hit Randolph’s coat, missing the mark again.  The Code Duello demanded that Clay absorb his opponent’s charge.  Randolph took his time, a very tense 2 minutes passed…..he aimed high and fired over Clay’s head.  The two men met halfway and shook hands, Clay asked, “Mr. Randolph are you hurt?”  “No”, Randolph replied, ” but you owe me a new coat.”

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Great American Duels #1

Challenger:  Aaron Burr-  Vice President of the United States

Challenged:  Alexander Hamilton-  Former Secretary of the Treasury

The Offense:   Burr had been dropped from Thomas Jefferson’s ticket in 1804 and was seeking the Governorship in New York.  Alexander Hamilton’s opinion of Burr (“a most dangerous man not to be trusted with the reins of government”)  had been made public is several private letters that were published in Albany newspapers.  The concerted efforts of Hamilton and his allies cost Burr the election.   Burr protested, “political opposition can never absolve gentlemen from the necessity of a rigid adherence to the laws of honor and the rules of decorum.”  Hamilton accepted Burr’s challenge. 

A sketch of America’s most famous duel

Background:  The Burr-Hamilton feud can be traced to 1791, when Burr defeated Hamilton’s father-in-law in a New York Senate race.  In 1800, Hamilton used his influence in the House of Representatives to give the contested Presidential election to Thomas Jefferson over Burr.  Hamilton considered Burr an interloper whose ambition made him unfit for honorable public service.  Burr’s political career was clearly impeded by the efforts of Hamilton.  It seemed a duel was inevitable, yet historians debate the motivations of Hamilton and Burr.  Was Burr simply a murderer?  Did Hamilton have  a death wish?

The Burr-Hamilton pistols

 The Field of Honor:  July 11, 1804–  The duelists were rowed across the Hudson river to the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey.  Most historians now agree that Hamilton did not plan on firing at Burr.  Burr’s later statements indicate he had every intention of killing Hamilton.  The Seconds were instructed to turn away from the dueling ground, but the participants agree that Hamilton’s shot crashed into the tree branches above Burr’s head.  Burr took aim and struck Hamilton in the torso slashing his internal organs and lodging in his vertebrae.  Burr briefly showed concern, but his entourage rushed him back to Manhattan.  Hamilton died a day later.  Burr was never convicted of murder, though dueling was illegal in both New York and New Jersey. 

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Problem with Popular Politics

The common assumption is that the Founders… disliked popular politics because they were elitists, even aristocratic.  Many Americans grow old believing that the Founding generation opposed popular voting because it didn’t trust working people; going so far as to consider the masses as undereducated sheep.  This overly-simplistic analysis makes for spirited dinner conversation, but couldn’t be further from the truth.  As with most interpretations in history, the true story is more complicated. 

Not common money-changers

Not common money-changers

The Enlightenment ideal of the “disinterested gentleman”… has since been misinterpreted as elitism.  According to enlightened principles, the ideal political leader has removed himself from the intrigues of financial dealings- “disinterested” himself from wage earning to achieve an impartial state of mind.  The Founders were worried that a government controlled by men still worried about acquiring fortune could be used to that end.  Entry into public service was almost always accompanied by a retirement from business, this was considered by the Founders as the proper code of conduct.  Typically, this was accomplished by men who could afford such a radical change.  It was not always attainable, but it was a standard the Founders strove to reach.

 

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At 25 Paces….

Most Americans think of dueling… in terms of Looney Tunes with Bugs Bunny walking 25 paces and avoiding trouble in the end.  The haphazard practices that most Americans associate with dueling bears little resemblance to the actual confrontation.  The rules of dueling, or Code Duello, were actually put on paper by Irish gentleman in the late 18th century.  It is believed that this code found its way across the Atlantic to the British colonies and influenced duelists well into the 19th century.  The 25 rules show the complicated role dueling played in proper society.

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.

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.

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Facts in Five

Fallen Timbers edition…

Fear the "long knives"

Fear the “long knives”

  • The name Fallen Timbers was given to the battle because a tornado touched down a few weeks prior and knocked down hundreds of trees in a circular pattern
  • Mad” Anthony Wayne earned his nickname during the Revolutionary War; he ordered a night-time bayonet charge at the Battle of Stony Point in New York
  • Washington considered leading the third expedition himself (following the embarrassing defeats of Harmar and St. Claire) Anthony Wayne was considered a gamble by the military establishment.
  • Little Turtle urged his fellow chiefs to sue for peace following Wayne’s decisive movement north- Blue Jacket and the other warriors ignored the warning… The battle was over in minutes
  • The British commander at nearby Fort Miami had been providing shelter and supplies to Little Turtle’s army… the fort was not opened to the retreating warriors following  the battle.
  • The British cautioned Wayne, “Should you continue to approach my post in the threatening manner you are at this moment doing, my indispensable duty to my King and country and the honor of my profession will oblige me to have recourse to those measures…”

Wayne’s humorous reply, “…neither the fort nor its guns could much impede the progress of the Victorious Army under my command.”

Not so Mad after all

Not so Mad after all

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