July 30, 2012
On this, the 105th and 31st day anniversary of one of the most important conflicts in American history, the Hamilton Burr duel, I thought it appropriate to confess (as a matter of honor), I was set to run this on its proper July 11 anniversary on, but it got bumped for mulch.
However, a very important mulch.
That confessed, the Alexander Hamilton Aaron Burr feud came to a head, or a duel, when Hamilton voted for Thomas Jefferson for president against an “unprincipled Burr,” though Burr was closer to his own Federalist beliefs than Jefferson.
U.S. citizens based their dueling codes on 26 commandments of the Code Duello of Ireland, which contained all aspects of a duel, even including even how to apologize for provoking a duel.
No apology would be needed here.
Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel, and Hamilton accepted, getting his choice of weapons: Wogdon dueling pistols.
The two, and their seconds met in Weehawken, New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson River.
The seconds had an important, nerve-wracking role under the code. If one of the participants didn’t show, the second had to assume his place.
No need for the seconds to worry; the participants were there on time.
Major Nathaniel Pendleton recited the code of conduct; both parties declared they were ready. Historians are somewhat hazy on who got off the first shot, but we do know Burr got off the best shot.
After the shot, if neither man was hit, and if the challenger stated that he was satisfied, he could declare the duel over.
We don’t know what would have happened here, since Hamilton was mortally wounded and died 36 hours later.
This duel did hasten stronger rules to end what Jefferson called, “a barbaric practice.” The practice continued in the south, where notions of individual honor still ran deep.
What of today?
First of all, if you are in Rhode Island, do not even challenge anyone to a duel.
Merely challenging a person to a duel will get you 1-7 years in jail, as will accepting the challenge, whether the duel is fought or not.
So far, 20 states have some statures prohibiting dueling. However, think twice, about a duel anywhere, as assault and murder laws can apply.
Now that we don't have duels to redress our grievances, how do we protect our honor against anyone besmirching our good name?
A violent game of Scrabble? Arm wrestling? (But better check on the local statutes.) Small space newspaper ad saying it’s not true.
Clearly, we need something.