by Alan Brooks

Pistol duels have largely gone out of style in the United States. The modern version of “Sir, I demand satisfaction!” is now “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” And that’s probably for the best. By the end of the 19th century, advances in firearms technology had made pistol duels unsporting. Machined, multi-shot guns with rifled barrels and reliable cartridges meant that both parties in a duel stood a good chance of dying. During the heyday of duels in the United States (the 18th and early 19th centuries) dueling pistols were handmade and generally smoothbore, single-shot, black powder, flint-lock devices that were “sporting” at the typical 30-40 foot distance at which most duels were fought . . .

Often, the duelers didn’t even fire their pistols at each other. A shot into the air or the ground frequently sufficed to show that both parties had the courage to duel…but also the good sense not to. This may have been what Alexander Hamilton expected to happen when he fought his infamous and fatal duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.

Some accounts say that Hamilton fired into the trees behind Burr who misinterpreted the gesture and killed Hamilton. The pistols Hamilton used (which actually belonged to his brother-in-law) seem to support this hypothesis. They were made by a British gunsmith named Robert Wogdon and they were rigged.

The triggers were fairly heavy, but pushing the trigger forward before firing (setting it) reduced the pull to only a few ounces. Hamilton knew this and told his second that he didn’t plan to use the secret advantage that fateful day. Other dueling pistols of the period were designed to be either more or less accurate depending on the vindictiveness and/or sanity of the owners. Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson, one of the most famous and prolific duelists of the 19th century, (which was largely a result of him marrying another man’s wife) owned several sets of dueling pistols of varying styles and calibers that he used in his many duels (in which he was only shot twice).

Today it’s hard to imagine anyone crazy enough to duel with modern pistols. GLOCK 17s at 10 paces would likely be suicide for both parties and, with modern manufacturing techniques and powders, even flintlock pistols today are quite accurate and reliable, if a bit expensive.

148 Responses to The Lost Art of Dueling with Pistols

  1. I think there’s something to be said for dueling. In a way it’s civilized, contained violence. Fatal, yes, but both participants knew that going into it.

    Think of it this way: if two parties hate each other so severely that they want to kill one another would you rather them get into a gunfight on the street or meet at field of honour and settle their dispute in a controlled way?

    • Agreed. Dueling should be legal. If both parties agree, let them settle it on the field of honor. I like the idea of saber duels though.

        • Great scene from an underrated movie. Love the sheer ferocity of that fight. And that’s Superman as the son.

        • Unfortunately, there were also accounts of sociopaths who were excellent swordsmen who would go to taverns and pick fights just for the chance to kill someone.

          You may recall in “Les Miserables” that the protagonist was frequently goaded into duels in an effort to silence him.

          In my high school (1960s) there was a tradition that if two guys were caught fighting they would be taken to the gym, put into boxing gloves, and given the chance to “work it out.” What this usually meant was that a bully would pick a fight with some poor geek or nerd, get him in the ring, and pound the snot out of him while the gym teacher officiated. I barely escaped this “civilized” solution on several occasions.

          A duel, especially with deadly weapons, may be a test of a man’s resolve and convictions, but it may also be suicide. As a general policy of “polite” society I think it’s use as a means of satisfying honor are not valuable as dishonorable men can easily out-shoot and out-fight honorable men.

          In an armed society, however, where a duel will happen IMMEDIATELY in the case of a serious breach of protocol (criminal activity with a credible fear of death or grievous injury), the concept is valid with the exception that it should never be polite and every advantage should be taken to make it unequal and unfair to the antagonist, including one’s seconds drawing and firing as well. This, I believe history shows, would result in a much more polite society.

      • I fence sabre, oddly enough: I believe I’m currently the highest-scoring Navy reservist in the inter-service league tables. (I may also be the lowest-scoring Navy reservist… such is life)

        It’s great fun, good exercise and a demanding skill set, but unless the opposing fencers are grossly mismatched in skill and experience, victory is not always to the “best” fencer; over a typical match, even against top-class opposition (Dickie Barton, winner of last year’s Tri-Service championships) I can get five or six points off him in the time it takes him to score fifteen on me. He’ll always win the matches, but I can win maybe one point in four on the way.

        Why do I raise this? Firstly, because even a master swordsman is at risk against an opponent who’ll stand and fight, and indeed an inexperienced opponent can do quite well in their first few bouts until you learn their habits. (The old Elizabethan qualification of “Master of Defence” required applicants to do adequately well in twenty-one duels: seven against established Masters of known skill, seven against strong men of courage but no training or knowledge, and seven against men made “mad with drink”…)

        Secondly, if you were duelling with live blades rather than sports sabres, losing a point isn’t a yelp of pain (a well-timed stop-cut to the wrist can hurt, even through jacket and glove), a light and a smug buzz from the scoring box: it’s a bleeding wound, potentially an incapacitating one, that can start you down a slope of being slowed by pain and blood loss to be cut again, and again… not a good place to be, even if you had the advantage of skill at the start.

        Duelling with the sword took a fair amount of intestinal fortitude and faith in the Almighty, if you ask me… there are good reasons it went out of fashion, but every so often I can still see the appeal.

      • I still appreciate Oregon’s Fisticuffs laws. Fist fighting is permitted, and ends when one person is on the ground, until they stand back up, or agree to end the fight.

        • Many states and communities have “mutual combat” laws. This was the rational behind putting on the gloves in high school that I mentioned above. It does not make it fair and gives bullies the opportunity to just pick someone and beat the snot out of them without legal repercussions.

      • I don’t know, if dueling was legal every individual who is American in name only would quickly die or leave the country. Sort of gives the advantage to those trained in firearms? 😛

    • I agree Michael B.
      The option to Duel it out I think would make the two parties question the seriousness of their issue.. Is it worth putting your life on the line to make your point??. also, I believe that bringing it back would curb the general rudeness and contempt that people have for each other. A person would certainly hold their tongue, rude opinion, and insults if it meant they had to back it all up..on the other end, some people will never learn how to be polite, and it’s better for society to have the means to cull them from the herd.

      • You have the fanciful notion that people are reasonable and think through the consequences of their actions. The fact that we have plenty of murders, even in areas with the death penalty, puts lie to that idea.

        Dueling is not the cause of a polite society; it may have been one effect, but I question whether you really know how ‘polite’ the 1800s were in reality, minus the fact that people couldn’t text on their phones in movie theaters.

      • “A person would certainly hold their tongue, rude opinion, and insults if it meant they had to back it all up…”

        You seem to have forgotten the First Amendment. Unless what you say is slander or libel, or intentionally causes a hazard to the public, you have every right to state your opinion and not get called out to duel over it. If that were not the case a certain POTUS would spend more time on the south lawn with his seconds than he would on the golf course.

    • Agreed. We are a violent species. A legal duel could save many innocent bystanders and return our culture to one of integrity and respect. Now, “high noon” standoffs are another thing. Duels should be several days or a weeks process, full of paperwork releasing both parties from legal and civil ramifications and agreeing to the rules and outcome of the duel. Different scenarios, including dropping both in a large field or wooded area (or ballistic house) and the duel continuing until one is dead or relents.

  2. At least in those good ole days, guys settled their differences fair and square and to the point. Way more honorable than the cowardly behaviors and tactics used today.

    • Yup, gone are the days of standing up against the school yard bully. Nowadays it is more likely that the kid that gets picked on too much brings a gun to school. In the aftermath there are cries that it is the gun’s fault.

      • …that’s why I taught my son to kick some ass, but only when it’s justified. Not when you’re angry, but when a principle greater than yourself clearly sees that there is wrong in the act of another.

    • “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” starring Paul Newman, a highly fictionalized account of the “Law West of the Pecos.”

      When a bad guy comes gunning for the judge and challenges him to a duel he agrees to the time and place. When BG shows up to call him out Bean shoots him in the back, from a hayloft, with a large caliber rifle.

      Some people do not deserve and should not be given a fair chance to kill you.

      • Cliff, In the wild west gunfights were seldom settled between two men on the street. It was settled by a guy on a rooftop with a rifle shooting one of the guys in the street.

  3. When I am offended, I always prefer to get satisfaction with a small sword. Forget all that Glock 17 nonsense, unsporting if you ask me.

    • I beg to differ … my preferred weapon is an 8″ self-propelled howitzer. With a really good forward observer working for me.

    • Robert Heinlein wrote an SF novel in 1942 titled “Beyond This Horizon.” In it, humans lived in a utopian society. Production was so well established that work was more a hobby than a necessity and eugenics had created a race of super-humans the ultimate of which was Harrison Felix, the protagonist of the story. Because there are no police or war, dueling was an everyday practice. This novel established the quote “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

      • “Beyond This Horizon” is one of his best IMO, I love Heinlein. I just finished reading “Time Enough for Love” last weekend. All of the Lazarus Long books are excellent. I haven’t read all of his stuff yet, but I’m slowly but surely working my way through the collection.

        • I think his best is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It’s a retelling of the American Revolution in a science fiction setting with all the nuts-and-bolts “good lord, we’re broke!” reality intact.

        • The whole “voting citizen” concept behind “Starship Troopers” is also an interesting idea.

      • Here’s the exact quote. Felix is the protagonist, the good guy, and is discussing dueling with his mentor, Jordan:

        Jordan: “[…] But don’t assume that the custom of going armed is useless. Customs always have a reason behind them, sometimes good, sometimes bad. This is a good one.”

        Felix: “Why do you say that? I used to think so, but I have my doubts now.”

        Jordan: “Well, in the first place, an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is the sin qua non of civilization. That’s a personal observation only. But gunfighting has a strong biological use. We do not have enough things that kill off the weak and stupid these days. But to stay alive as an armed citizen a man has to be either quick with his wits or with his hands, preferably both. It’s a good thing….”

        And in the story duels were as often fought on the spot as arranged formally for a later date.

    • Why does it have to be a Glock 17 at 10 paces?… How about a single shot T/C Contender pistol in .45 LC… A single accurate manageable round to stake your honor on.

  4. At first I thought that dueling going out of fashion was a good thing, but then I read, “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” Perhaps I should reevaluate my initial reaction.

  5. any contract between two willing parties should be legal as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else (physically) or their private property.

      • A contract is a contract. And the more conservative morons managed to simultaneously die of stupidity (or “duel with modern pistols,” if you prefer), the fewer of them would be left to keep prostitution illegal.

        It occurs to me that making dueling legal would also help get rid of what public support remains for the War on Agriculture, Capitalism, and Chemistry (or “Drugs,” for short), for the same reason.

        And that post yesterday about men taking action to fight rape? Well, if all those macho manly men who pine for the days when men were men and women were chattel manage to off each other in duels, there you go, men fighting rape.

        Hmm, this legal dueling idea could have all kinds of unintended benefits.

      • A basic tenet of law – you cannot create a binding contract to perform an illegal act.

        Next discussion: societies have been trying since the dawn of time to outlaw prostitution. At what point do we admit defeat?

  6. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, in this country is used be legal and perfectly acceptable to duel to the death over feeling insulted or dishonored.

    Now, there are laws that mandate that you attempt to flee before defending yourself against unprovoked attack, even in your own home.

    Oh, how far we have fallen from the days when your manhood and self dignity were more important than your life.

    • To be honest I dont miss those days. In those days your life could be ruined if a neighbour said something about your spouse.

      And the fact that you had to duel if you had a disagreement ended up killing a lot of smart people (mathematicians for instance).

      So I say good riddance.

  7. The problem with dueling is that people who do not want to initiate or accept duels are socially pressured into doing so. We see this in American subcultures which experience different social norms due to being centered around street-level black market commerce. With two completely willing people independently deciding to duel, I think it’s fine of course, but it’s hard to allow it and not have the social aspects creep in.

    • Hm.

      Being called out to a duel can be seen as a consequence of being an ass.

      In that sense, not having duels should lead to a ruder society. (Check.). Removing almost all repercussions for being an inflamed hemmorhoid on the fundamentals of society should lead to even more widespread incivility.

      We did that experiment – it’s called the internet.

      • I agree with Don and John L; we have become more industrialized as a people; but I believe we have actually become more un-civilized, rude and even brutal as people and a culture.

      • YOU #$&%*(# YOU’RE WRONG YOU #%$&*# #%(*#$#@ SON OF #&*($%#$@ FLAMING #%&*(#@$@ AND I HOPE YOU NEED A DOCTOR TO PULL IT OUT AGAIN!!

        😀

        • So that’s what a Google Voice transcript from Yosemite Sam looks like. 🙂

          Re not accepting a duel … I may be mistaken but I believe that was usually an option. However, then the challengee either apologized (or did some other corrective action), or was branded a coward and socially ostracized.

          Basically if you slandered someone and didn’t have hard proof to back it up, you either put up or shut up.

  8. You can consider a lot of gang violence a form of dueling except non participants are more likely to die than the protagonists.

  9. Dueling with pistols? Nah, But the willingness to take it outside and settle it using tournament rules is sometimes needed. As long as the other guy understands and is willing to abide by that understanding. That’s the problem though; in the old days, that was the norm, only a criminal would pull a knife or a gun during a friendly fight. Now a days, to many people think that once a fight goes down, anything goes; even people that don’t come from a criminal back ground. From some of the stuff I see on Youtube; Women in particular seem to get especially vicious during a fight.

    The only other time there might be a “dueling with pistols” is if a human predator initiated a violent attack against myself or others.

    • There’s no promise that “friendly” fight won’t have serious repercussions. I’ve seen people permanently brain-damaged from a beating that didn’t involve weapons at all.

      So yeah, you start beating me and I can’t stop it? I’m going to bring in a weapon if I have any chance to do so.

      • Dont need a weapon but I prefer one. Go for the soft points if its a “serious” fight, that is go for the neck, face, ears, genitals, stomach (essentially attack all the dangly bits). If you get pinned – bite, if you get grappled knee or headbutt.

        But then again I have never been in a friendly fight (and would suck at it).

  10. I was fortunate enough to be sworn in to a local position in Kentucky under the following oath. I believe it’s been changed now:

    “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of board member of the Architectural Review Board according to law, and I do further solemnly swear that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”

  11. I would say dueling would be a good way to settle a difference. As I recall the choice of weapons was up to the person being challenged. A good duelist tried to make the other guy challenge so they could pick a weapon they we better with, such as swords. The hardest part would be sticking to the spot after you make your attempt and the other guy was still standing.

    Also lots of the old time duelers where lawyers. Also most dueling pistol where single shot even into the advent of revolvers. I think the current crop of printed pistols would make for a good choice in dueling pistols.

    Oh, and women have always been more vicious fighters than men. Kind of like a cat that way.

  12. Last week when Sean Hannity and Andrew Cuomo were getting pissy with each other, I kind of wished it would come back in style.

  13. Historically just the act of standing and discharging the piece was enough to consider honor upheld. Another point, often the pistols used did not have a bullet loaded by the seconds, so even if one or the other participant did aim to kill no damage was done and honor was served by demonstration of courage under fire. I have a book someplace in the stacks which details several duels and how the seconds took measures to insure neither party was injured or killed, and it speaks about to long running issues between Burr and Hamilton. Have to try and find that, while sitting and freezing my a$$ off!

    • This assumes that you challenger, and his seconds, are in fact honorable.

      In “Barry Lyndon” (Ryan O’Neal) the seconds loaded Barry’s pistol with a plug of tobacco. He fired and hit his challenger, was convinced he had killed him, and fled the country.

      • Yes, having good seconds was very important. Definitely wanted persons not directly involved if possible. That would also encourage people to “hang out” with a better class of companions, people with a well developed sense of personal honor and decorum rather than ambitious social climbers with questionable morals.

  14. Paintball guns at 5 paces.

    And, the restoration of real duels would rapidly deplete the number of lawyers. You’d have to get a number to get your “shot” at them.

  15. I think if dueling were legal (perhaps not to the death, but in some fashion) there’d be a lot more civility and a lot less asshattery in general. If you had reasonable suspicion that your words could get your ass kicked, maybe you’d choose them more carefully.

  16. I rarely recommend movies, but by all means rent (or buy, as I did) “The Duelists.” It’s a man’s movie about honor and beautifully filmed by Ridley Scott.

  17. And so, too, would return the lost art of the glove slap. Although, that could be dangerous. A fellow could scratch a cornea! Forget I said anything.

  18. Dueling is by no means lost. There is plenty of it. In the hood… and they just hold their pistols sideways now. It’s simply not as easy to see the duel.

  19. I was in several duels in school. Fists were the chosen weapons and usually it happened behind the gym or in an adjacent park. Won some, lost some. Learned some lessons along the way.

  20. It is no wonder that a lot of people think of us as nuts eager to pull the trigger after reading some of these comments! Seriously? People think that duels are a good idea and honorable? That is insanity.
    I think this idea is espoused by people who have seen too macho many movies and not enough young men shot to death. The romanticism of duels is a fantasy. I’ve seen plenty of young men shot and think lawyers are certainly the lesser of two evils (no offense Ralph)

    • If you’ll actually read the comments, I believe most of them are saying they find society too rude now.

      (Presumably these commenters live amongst the savages on the uncivilized east and west coast.)

    • If you have something to lose, you will consider your words and actions wisely. You will be a lot more polite because otherwise you might piss off the wrong person and you end up with a nasty case of the deads.

      Bottom line: today there are no consequences for anything. In many EU countries you don’t even get life for murder anymore. You get a maximum of 20-25 years, no matter how many people you kill. As a result society has become more rude and crime is through the roof.

    • Why shouldn’t two consenting people be allowed to settle their differences without the government acting as referee, so long as no innocents are involved? After all, both parties have to agree to a duel. No one was ever subpoened to be a duelist.

      • Sure they should be allowed to–and the rest of us win regardless of the outcome, by removing a violent psychopath who thinks dueling is a good idea (or potentially two, if the rest of us were lucky).

        • I’m not sure that everyone who fought a duel was a violent psychopath, but I’m sure I don’t have the grounding in history or psychology that you may.

        • Oh, there is always that component in any given societal structure, the amoral and immoral who will use a given circumstance for sick personal entertainment or as a route to personal advancement/wealth. We call most with that makeup in our society today lawyers.

  21. The object of a duel was not to kill but to wound. Men dying in a duel was rare. Burr, was a mean spirited ass who shot to kill and to prevent even being wounded he liked to wear oversized coats to make it even harder to actually even hit him. Hamilton fired first missing Burr. Burr, who personally hated Hamilton, patiently took careful aim and killed him.

    • Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

      And the goal of dueling was neither to kill nor wound, but to show one’s willingness to put life and limb at risk for one’s honor.

      • That is a point lost on most people, a duel was far more a demonstration of one’s personal courage in a passage at arms than a determined attempt to actually kill the opponent. Did people die in duels? Hell yea, and many were severely injured/crippled for life. Another point many don’t see is many men involved in the decades of “duel culture” had been in combat and so knew for a fact what the very nasty results could be.

      • “And the goal of dueling was neither to kill nor wound, but to show one’s willingness to put life and limb at risk for one’s honor.”

        If that were in fact true, universally, the only risk in a pistol duel would be to be shot accidentally. If there were not a real and credible risk that your opponent might intentionally shoot you there is hardly any honor in the effort.

  22. In comparison, in feudal Japan in the Edo period (roughly from 1603-1868) samurai in a crowd would usually keep their swords very close to their bodies. This was done to avoid a so called “saya ate”, a touching of scabbards with another samurai. Such a touch could lead to a duel right there in the street. Samura who thought of themselves as great sword fighters would, of course, not keep their swords close to the body.

    Unsurprisingly such duels were extremely rare. An apology was usually enough to solve the issue because most samurai had the sense of realizing that it wasn’t really worth getting killed over.

    I can think of only one recorded incident in the 1800s that led to such a duel, and it happened because the “infringed” party was under the influence and out for a fight. It was an encounter between a ronin, a masterless samurai, and a drunk samurai with his friends. After the touch the ronin apologized promptly, but the drunk guy was out for a brawl. According to the eyewitnesses (and there were a lot of them, including other samurai, because, as I said, such a spectacle was extremely rare) the fight was swift and the drunk guy had a rather lasting case of the deads within a few seconds. The ronin then reported it to the police, as was required by the law. There were no legal repercussions for the ronin. Such affairs of honor were well within the limits of Tokugawa law.

    I should note that even vendetta was legal under Tokugawa law. Even for women. It was a legal request that had to be filed, then the fight would take place, usually under observation, to make sure protocols were followed and the parties would not bring in other weapons or help.

    There’s a well documented case of two peasant girls named Miyagino and Shinobu who petitioned their daimyo (aka feudal lord) to exact vendetta on a samurai named Shiga Daishichi who had killed their father Yomosaku. Now, for a samurai it was essentially legal to kill a member of a lower caste, however, the man in question had already been on the run for another misdemeanor and when his victim stumbled over him, he killed him. The request was approved and the two women met the samurai in combat in 1649. They killed him.

    It doesn’t come as a surprise that Japan developed such a distinct and intricate culture of politeness that lasts even today.

    • I think most of the tropes of politeness seen in Japanese society come from the aforementioned legality of one of the gentry killing a peasant for any reason; rather than dueling per se. When someone has the physical, legal, and immediate power to cut your head off with a great thumping big sword -because he was having a bad day- people tend to tread lightly. Case in point being the “rudeness” of telling someone they *can’t* do something rather than offer an alternative to their desired course; no one wanted to be the “last” guy to tell the boss he was unable to do something that day.

      As to Japanese being polite even now, I’ve seen a rather dramatic shift toward rudeness between the late 80s and mid 2000s. Their society is getting coarser.

  23. “And that’s probably for the best.”

    Not only did you begin that sentence with a conjunction, but I also disagree as completely as a person can.

    I beleive we need more killing. Disagree if you like, I just don’t value the life of shitty people and I’m willing to put mine on the line for the chance to make the world a better place by removing a shitty person from it.

    Like I said, disagree if you like. This IS a matter of opinion, and it is my opinion that all men are created equal, should they choose to lower themselves too much after being created, they should be killed. Period. Life isn’t the only gift. Humanity is. Superior intellect is. If these are discarded and a man stoops to being an animal, he should be killed.

    • “The Quick and the Dead” did not depict dueling for honor as is being discussed here, but rather ritualized combat to the death – more like gladiators.

      • The wild west was basically a fantasy created by the early Hollywood movie makers, and it was stolen from the “pulp” novels popular in the 1870s to 1900. The real gunfighters and the cattle range wars were rather few and far between. As for the Indian Wars period it was not so much a general, widespread state of hostilities as an ongoing series of incidents scattered over a large volume of years and land.

        Was not until after the Civil War that USG got really determined to engage the various tribes in active war, and in the same time frame the more notorious of the outlaw gunfighters ticked up, but did not last as long or was as bloody as the movies always depicted it.

        • The Noble Savage concept kinda predates what I am referring to. It was more a 17th century idea embraced by the philosophers and authors of the Enlightenment period.

        • But the concept didn’t get the wide spread public attention until the cheap novels spread the fiction.
          The real history of how Indians lived has been glossed and lied about for over a hundred years.

        • Yea, they were never the peace loving agrarian reformers living in harmony with Mother Gaia that history revisionists keep pushing. They were humans, living with all the same faults and foibles humans have always had. A point often overlooked is that until the level of education was high enough and widespread enough for “popular media” to begin having a major impact the vast majority of people got their information from ministers/priests/preachers and they stuck pretty damned close to doctrines and ideology of their respective religious denominations. Looking at all of this from the remove of 200-300 years people really don’t grasp how SLOW and halting ideological and cultural changes came throughout the majority of human history. Until the early 1800s, mainly the period just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, most people had no idea what was happening in the world at large. That is a concept that is rather hard to get across to a lot of people today. People always fall into that “the world has always been exactly like it is now” mindset, and its damned hard to break them out of that.

        • You are spot on with all of your comment. I have to ask people how old they are so I have an inkling of what they should know.

        • “I have to ask people how old they are so I have an inkling of what they should know.”

          Hell, brah, I been there since the 80s.

  24. I’d like to see dueling come back, but for a select and narrow set of circumstances.

    Members of Congress get into a pissy match? Take it out on the capitol steps and draw. Hell, give them Glock 18’s and let them hose down uninvolved members of Congress as well.

    Talking heads of either political party going off on some screaming face TV show? Televised duel, right there on Fox or CNN. It’ll make ratings go through the roof.

    When the first round of dolts are killed off, it means that we citizens will have fewer people we need to kill to achieve a polite society again.

    Now, on a wholly serious end of this topic:

    Recently, I found myself in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY. Therein they now have the largest collection of firearms in the world, having recently topped the NRA collection in Virginia. The collection is vast, and I’m thinking of approaching the curators to volunteer to teach a full-day history/development timeline tour in the museum. It would require a lot of work on my part, plus a pretty full day of driving there and back, but it might bring an appreciation of firearms to more people in a more structured manner – and also teach people that there’s no way to ban guns.

    Anyway, in their collection were several dueling pairs, almost all of them are some of the very best work a gunsmith has ever made. A couple of the dueling pairs had clearly been the epoch of the gunmaker’s art at the time they were made, and all of them still had wood tight to their metal, beautiful finishing on both the wood and the metal, etc. Just lovely pieces, ensconced in beautiful wood boxes with everything needed to load, clean and maintain the dueling pairs. In short, they were possessed of the highest levels of workmanship.

    Knowing something about making guns with hand tools, seeing these dueling pairs brought another aspect of the dueling period to mind: the economic disparity and advantage the richer man in the contest enjoyed. If a man of modest means got into a duel with a moneyed man, the richer man probably supplied the dueling pair. This meant that the richer man had an opportunity to practice and achieve skill in the martial art of pistol marksmanship, which wasn’t a common skill in that day by anyone, and even if the pistol(s) were not rigged, the man who was picking up one of the pistols for the very first time was at a huge disadvantage in the duel.

    One of the reasons why dueling probably was outlawed was that the coming age of mass-produced handguns meant that the rich aristocracy would no longer enjoy this advantage. Their opponents might well be highly versed in the use of handguns… and rich people never like a fair fight.

  25. As I recall, dueling also died out for another, very pertinant reason– Stand-ins. Dueling became less a personal consequences affair and more about hiring a professional who played marksman for a living to stand in for you if you had the coin/connections.

  26. A shot into the air or the ground frequently sufficed to show that both parties had the courage to duel…but also the good sense not to. This may have been what Alexander Hamilton expected to happen when he fought his infamous and fatal duel with Vice President Aaron Burr… The pistols Hamilton used (which actually belonged to his brother-in-law) seem to support this hypothesis. They were made by a British gunsmith named Robert Wogdon and they were rigged. The triggers were fairly heavy, but pushing the trigger forward before firing (setting it) reduced the pull to only a few ounces. Hamilton knew this and told his second that he didn’t plan to use the secret advantage that fateful day.

    I have somewhere seen the suggestion that Hamilton provided even more rigged cheat pistols, that defaulted to firing a second, hidden shot backwards at the shooter unless a secret adjustment were made, only Hamilton inadvertently mistook what to do and shot himself. I have seen no evidence for it, but it’s amusing enough to be worth repeating.

  27. @Kevin A, Michael B – Thank you for the clarifications. I merely recall ‘Phoenix Jones’ engaging in legal, mutual combat, and thought it was in Portland, instead of Seattle.

  28. I was once so incensed at receiving yet another unjustified, hateful speeding ticket, that I contemplated stipulating Trial by Combat against the Council’s chosen Champion, to defend my honour (and the right to pick my own speed at which to travel).

    But I Googled it and found that this legal right was abolished in the late Middle Ages.
    Damn. (Phew!).

  29. Hamilton provoked the duel with Burr by commenting at a dinner party that Burr had improper relations with his own daughter. There’s no documentation of what Hamilton actually said but some generalizations in the private correspondence of the others present clearly point in that direction. Burr tried to get Hamilton to retract his comments and Hamilton escalated with every reply, eventually taking out a newspaper ad calling Burr a scoundrel. The two were political opponents but got along reasonably well on a personal basis up to that point, and occasionally dined together. The majority opinion as to why Hamilton provoked the conflict is that he wanted to run for President and in that time a dueling record was a political asset. At the actual duel, Hamilton fired first and missed; the theory that he deliberately missed is undercut by the fact that he stepped to the mark with his pistol, then called time out while he returned to the carriage to switch glasses because in his concentration he had forgotten to switch his reading glasses for his distance vision ones. The story of the benevolent Hamilton slain by the evil Burr was kicked into gear by Hamilton, who took a while to croak, making a deathbed statement that he had deliberately missed, and that statement further propagated by one of Hamilton’s seconds. Sort of an “I let you win.”

    Dueling was strictly regulated by the Code Duello, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/sfeature/rulesofdueling.html, although the European monarchs had been cracking down on it for a long time, pretty effectively. Everybody had rules prohibiting it, by the 1600’s, but they weren’t enforced because with edged weapons the combatants were usually stitched up after the event and went back to duking and earning and knighting. When the rapier came along, evolving into the small sword, those puncture wounds were more often than not fatal, and the monarchs realized the nobility were killing themselves off, so they put some teeth in the law. By the 1700’s, in most countries if a duel was fought, the participants and even the seconds were put to death. Obviously, it was still a widespread but underground practice up through the early 1800’s. In America, the formal duel was much less common than whipping out your knife and chopping away.

    The prevalence of blade duels in Europe was responsible for the advent of fencing schools, so young men could reach reproductive age. Even though a duffer can win a blade fight with a lucky hit, or a first hit, when pistols came along, combined with the emergence of a middle class, the custom of dueling got out of control. People were killing each other over insults and breaches of etiquette or even provoking a duel with a stranger just because they were in that kind of a mood. Looking back it’s fascinating but it was also a dark, deadly business most often ending in one or more deaths, and in reality there was nothing heroic or romantic about it. Alexander Pushkin, for example, fought an estimated 29 duels including his last in which he was killed himself, and that wasn’t an uncommon track record. The code of honor at the time required a gentleman to respond to an insult with a challenge, which let the insulter pick the weapon, and there was no getting out of it.

    People generally were more polite in those days, but if you were unlucky enough to cross paths with a stranger who was in the mood for a killing, you could find yourself having grass for breakfast just because he felt like some live action target practice. And you couldn’t even run (footnote: running is a highly effective defense technique, especially against a bladed opponent).

  30. I THINK LOW POWER AIR GUNS COULD BE A GOD DUELING PISTOL. BRINGS BACK THE SPOR ASPECT. LESS LKELY TO KILL YOU AS WELL.

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