History: Differences Settled the Old Fashion Way


The bickering in Washington could be worse. It is certainly not entertaining. Well for sure its different today than years gone by. In past history be it fisticuffs  caneing or a duel the fights were about ones honor and pride.

Today’s politician seems not to have personal honor and certainly void of pride. Telling a lie is just spin — Washington gobbledygook  is dismissed as “well that’s just politics”. Are today’s politician a more civil modern wo/man political animal? Perhaps. For sure they are boring and dishonest modern political animals. 

Can you imagine today with only 17% of government actually shut down and Harry Reid and his Democrats whining over the disaster; if only House Speaker, John Boehner would walk over to the Senate floor and whop Reid over the head with the soft part of his umbrella (not even one of his golf clubs) and say “you have got to be kidding, government shutdown of 17% you call that a shutdown! Stop berating the GOP for the Democrat’s failings!”. Now that would be exciting.

“In our modern age, solving a problem by asking a dude to step outside is generally considered an immature, low class thing to do.” A quote from Man Knowledge: An Affair of Honor – The Duel.

Below represents some snippets of how issues of politics, disparaging ones honor and pride was settled.

“A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” -Samuel Johnson

1777 – Button Gwinnett vs Lachlan McIntosh – Dueled. Both men suffered gun shot wounds but Gwinnett died of his. Gwinnett was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Gwinnett became embroiled in a bitter political dispute with McIntosh. It began when Gwinnett arrested McIntosh’s brother for treason. It ended on what was euphemistically called the field of honor, in a duel with pistols.

BURR_HAMILTON 1804 – Alexander Hamilton vs Aaron Burr: Hamilton died of his wound. Burr, although charged with murder, filled out his term as Vice President to Thomas Jefferson. These two gentlemen fought due to a history of political differences.

1806 – The Jackson-Dickinson Duel – The future President of the United States, Andrew Jackson shot and killed Charles Dickinson.

Jackson and Dickinson were rival horse breeders and southern plantation owners dickinsonwith a long-standing hatred of each other. Dickinson accused Jackson of reneging on a horse bet, calling Jackson a coward and an equivocator. Dickinson also called Rachel Jackson a bigamist. (Rachel had married Jackson not knowing her first husband had failed to finalize their divorce.) After the insult to Rachel and a statement published in the National Review in which Dickinson called Jackson a worthless scoundrel and, again, a coward, Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel. because Dickinson had accused him of cheating on a horse race bet and then insulted his wife, Rachel.

Apparently Jackson was keen on dueling it is said “Prior to his presidential career, Andrew Jackson was known for his inclination to invoke violence in defense of his honor; he was the veteran of at least 13 duels. These showdowns left his body so filled with lead that people said he “rattled like a bag of marbles.”

1826 – Clay-Randolph Duel – Although dueling was illegal in Virginia, Secretary of State Henry Clay challenged Senator John Randolph from Roanoke. Clay called out Randolph to save his honor after Randolph had insulted him in a speech on the Senate floor.

1842 – Lincoln-Shields Duel – That is Lincoln as in Abraham Lincoln then state Senator, Illinois. James Shields who was the state auditor of Illinois.LINCOLN_SHIELDS
The events that led up to the duel between Abraham Lincoln, then a state legislator, and James Shields, attorney and auditor of the State of Illinois, began when Shields came under fire by anonymous letters published in the Sangamo Journal of Springfield. A person or persons claiming the pseudonym “Rebecca” wrote the letters. The letters criticized Shields for signing some proclamations with which the general public disagreed. One of the letters ridiculed Shields’ Irish ancestry and ordered, “Go back to the place from whence you came. Perhaps there you can succeed; but here you cannot.” Another attacked his lack of courage.
Historians believe that Lincoln’s future wife, Mary Todd, or even Lincoln himself wrote the letters.

On September 22, 1842, both parties crossed the river and attempted to negotiate a settlement of the two gentlemen’s differences; however, James Shields’s quick temper caused him to refuse the compromise. As the duel began, Shields became aware that Lincoln outmatched him with his long reach. This became apparent to everyone when Lincoln reached far overhead and cut off a willow branch with one quick stroke. Shields’s precarious position became obvious to him, thus causing him to back down and make peace with Lincoln. From this point, Lincoln and Shields are said to have had a friendly relationship.

1798: Roger Griswold (CT-Federalist) v. Matthew Lyon (VT- Republican)

On January 30, 1798 in a debate over international relations, Congressman Matthew Lyon implied that Connecticut Federalists, including Roger Griswold, were corrupt. Upon hearing this Griswold called Lyon a coward on the Senate floor. Lyon responded, in turn, by spitting in Griswold’s face. A motion to expel Lyon from the Senate on this basis failed.

Thus, on February 15, Griswold decided to take matters into his own hands. On that date he charged across the Senate floor and began striking Senator Lyon about the head with a heavy wooden cane. Lyon arose and retreated to a fire pit were he grabbed hot tongs to defend himself, but Griswold was able to disarm him. The two locked up and exchanged blows briefly until they were broken up.

1832: William Stanberry (R-OH) v. Governor Sam Houston

On March 31, 1832 Ohio’s William Stanberry took to the floor of the House of Representatives and accused Governor Sam Houston of corruption in his dealings with the Indians. On April 13th during a trip to Washington, Houston confronted Stanberry on Pennsylvania Avenue and began beating the Congressman with a cane. Stanberry drew a pistol and attempted to shoot Houston, but the gun misfired.

1850: Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO) v. Henry Foote (D-MS)

In 1850, the Senate was in turmoil due to the fact that the issue of slavery was boiling. During an argument that occurred over procedural rules that erupted during a debate, the large Benton became angry and charged toward the smaller Foote. At that point, Foote drew a pistol and pointed it at Benton. At that point, the Senate was adjourned for the day.

1855: Speaker Albert Rust (D-AR) v. Horace Greeley (Journalist-New York)

Horace Greeley repeatedly criticized Speaker of the House Albert Rust for his pro-slavery political stances. Taking umbrage at the accusations, Rust struck Greeley in the head with a cane. Greeley suffered a mild concussion.

1856: Charles Sumner (R-MA) v. Preston Brooks (D-SC)

Preston_BrooksOn May 19, 1856 Charles Sumner, a Republican, made a speech on the Senate floor regarding slavery which, in part, attacked South Carolina Congressman Andrew Butler. Three days later Preston Brooks, a close ally of Butler and member of the House of Representatives, entered the Senate and struck Sumner repeatedly with a cane. The attack lasted a full minute, causing Sumner to bleed severely and almost die.

1857: Laurence Keitt v. Galusha Grow (R-PA)

The House was engaged in a three day debate over the admission of Kansas to the Union as a slave state. Grow was on the Democratic side of the House conferring with some Congressmen when he objected to a motion made by another Congressman. Keitt, who was intoxicated and half-asleep at the time, told Grow to go to the other side of the isle if he was going to make an objection. Grow asserted his right to stand anywhere he wanted to in the House, and the two men exchanged epithets regarding the other’s love of African-Americans. Keitt took off after Grow in an attempt to choke him, and the Keitt fell to the ground (accounts differ on why this happened, based on the political party of the observer). Several Congressmen then began a melee on the House floor. During the episode Cadwallader Washington (R-WS) grabbed William Barksdale (D-MS) by the hair in an attempt to punch him. Unfortunately for Washington, Barksdale’s wig came off in his hand. The chamber erupted in laughter, and the fignht ceased.

1866: Lovell Rousseau (Unionist-KY) v. Josiah Grinnell (R-IA)

During a debate over a bill supported by Grinnell designed to give more power to the Freedman’s Bureau, Grinnell questioned the military record of Rousseau (a civil war veteran), and made some nasty remarks about the State of Kentucky. Rousseau confronted Grinnell after a meeting of the House and demanded an apology. The two exchanged words and Rousseau struck Grinnell repeatedly with a cane. Grinnell, however, escaped with only minor bruising.

1902: Ben Tillman (D-SC) v. John McLaurin (D-SC)

Once political allies, Tillman accused the junior Senator from his state, McLaurin of giving in to “improper influences” on a particular matter. McLaurin took to the Senate floor on February 22, 1902 and accused Tillman of a “deliberate lie”. Tillman then turned around and punched McLaurin directly in the face. The two were separated moments later.


A Publication by Warren Brennan, J.D.
Art of Manliness
Lincoln’s Forgotten Duel by, Lori Eberhart Civic Memorial High School, Bethalto
Button Gwinnett (1735-1777)