I challenge you to a duel
April 24, 2006 4:16 PM   Subscribe

Abraham Lincoln, duelist? Hamilton and Burr were not the only prominent duelists in US history. In the early morning hours of September 22, 1842, a young Abraham Lincoln crossed the Mississippi River at Alton, IL on his way to a small island where he would engage in mortal combat with a political adversary. Lincoln had used his sarcastic wit to write anonymous letters to the editor lampooning a political rival, James Shields. Some of his friends joined in and perhaps went a little too far, including suggestions of Shields' inadequacies with the ladies. One of these friends included Lincoln's future wife, Mary Todd. Shields demanded a duel and Lincoln defined the parameters of the duel - broadswords in a pit.
posted by caddis (46 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Oops, I forgot something important: via Cynical-C Blog.
posted by caddis at 4:32 PM on April 24, 2006

--broadswords in a pit.

posted by russilwvong at 4:40 PM on April 24, 2006

No kidding. That's hard core.
posted by brundlefly at 4:41 PM on April 24, 2006

Several people screamed and one woman fainted when they spotted a corpse in one of the boats. The “corpse” turned out to be a large log with a red shirt draped over it. Someone had set up the deception just to get a reaction out of the awaiting audience.

Wow, they had Metafilter back then?
posted by Afroblanco at 4:43 PM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best. Duel. Ever.
posted by thewittyname at 4:46 PM on April 24, 2006


I'm a bit disappointed that Lincoln and Shields did not in fact go through with the fight, though it was really clever of Lincoln to do the intimidation thing. Still, my thirst for blood was not satisfied. I wonder if either of them ever had any formal swordsmanship training. I also wonder if politicians would get along better now adays if dueling were legal once more... On second thought, never mind. Bad, bad idea.
posted by Mister Cheese at 4:46 PM on April 24, 2006

I'm pretty sure Howard Dean could kick anyone's ass; except possibly McCain.
posted by keswick at 4:48 PM on April 24, 2006

*erases long comment Mr. Cheese somehow telepathically stole from my head and copied*

Pretty clever manipulation of an awful situation by Lincoln - no surprise there I guess.
posted by freebird at 4:49 PM on April 24, 2006

Good god, man, this is beautiful. Broadswords in a pit -- how cool is that? Shields was hoodwinked, daresay. I was disapointed, however, to see they were calvary broadswords. I was thinking Conan The Barbarian style.
posted by undule at 4:50 PM on April 24, 2006

This is covered in Barbara Holland's book Gentleman's Blood", a book which I highly recomend.

Also from the book, the rules for dueling:
  1. Only gentlemen need duel. If a ruffian or a fishmonger issues a challenge, it need not be answered. Such people have no honor, so they cannot seriously challenge yours. You may wish to send some henchmen to teach them respect, however.
  2. The duel is over when the offended party has "received satisfaction". This might mean that one or both parties are dead. Certainly someone is bleeding.
  3. Alternatively, the king can call a draw at anytime, with no loss of honor to either party.
  4. Its no loss of honor to lose to a gentleman. Unless you do something craven like pleading pathetically for your life.
  5. If you don't wish to dirty your hands, you may hire a proxy to fight in your stead. If this is a "trial by combat" duel, and your proxy loses, then you're guilty, and you'll be hanged forthwith.
  6. Spectators (other than the King) should be silent and still or their hands will be cut off.
  7. Nobles may fight on horseback and with any weapons they want. Peasant must make do with cudgels.
posted by ludflu at 4:53 PM on April 24, 2006 [3 favorites]

You know the law: Two men enter, one man leaves.
posted by thanatogenous at 4:59 PM on April 24, 2006

Real holographic simulated Evil Lincoln is BACK!
posted by letourneau at 4:59 PM on April 24, 2006

Other good dueling stories: (I can't help myself)

  1. Saint-Fox, a french writer, told an officer of the guard that he smelled like a goat. The man challenged him. Saint-Fox quipped, "Put up your sword you fool. If you kill me you shall not smell any better, and if I kill you, you shall soon smell far worse."
  2. La Maupin was an Opera singer. At one time she was the lover of a fencing master. She was also in the habit of crossdressing and enjoyed to company of women as well as men. At a ball, she danced with a pretty woman, and kissed her. The woman's male relatives objected, and La Maupin answered "At your service, gentlemen." Apparently this is not a friendly promise, but a bellicose offer to duel. They all left the room, and a bit later, only La Maupin returned.
  3. In 1808, M. de Grandpree, and M. le Pique got in a snit over a woman. Thinking themselves very modern, they agreed to duel whilst aloft in a pair of hot air ballons. le Pique fired at de Grandpree's basket and missed. m. de Grandpree did the more obvious thing, and shot a hole in le Pique's ballon, sending him crashing to the ground.
  4. An Italian classic goes like this: "If your courage is equal to your impudence, you will meet me in the woods at dawn."
  5. You know Tycho Brahe's fake golden nose? Lost his real nose in a duel over some fine point of mathematics. Or something.
posted by ludflu at 5:01 PM on April 24, 2006 [4 favorites]

Don't fuck with Lincoln, man. I always thought of him as this big lanky guy, but he was apparently a really good wrestler.

Shit, is Honest Abe (AKA the "Illinois Rail-Splitter" - hell yeah) the new Chuck Norris now?
posted by redteam at 5:07 PM on April 24, 2006

Tycho Brahe: one of my heroes.

I think we should bring back the concept - with some small adjustments to mitigate fatality and litigation.
posted by tkchrist at 5:10 PM on April 24, 2006

Hmmm... I just exactly what is a "Calvary Broadsword?" I've found something from the 1800's referred to as a "Light Calvary Saber." Might not be as cool as a Conan sword, but I'd certainly not want to be up against Lincoln armed with any edged weapon due to his reach advantage.
posted by Mister Cheese at 5:11 PM on April 24, 2006

That's a really great story. I can't believe I've never heard it before. Lincoln was even cooler than I thought.

posted by EarBucket at 5:11 PM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Broadswords in a pit

Now, there's a movie title. (Young Mr. Lincoln is already taken, and is a pretty lame title anyway.)
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on April 24, 2006

Great post -- a pit and a sword -- what more could you ask for?

Abe would have so kicked his ass.
posted by cedar at 5:43 PM on April 24, 2006

Goddamn ruffians and fishmongers.
posted by bardic at 5:48 PM on April 24, 2006

My favorite variation on this theme was the duel between Sir William Petty and Sir Hierome Sankey. Petty had been challenged and had choice of weapons and venue.

Axes, in a pitch-black cellar.

The challenger withdrew.
posted by bitmage at 5:49 PM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Muthafuckin' BROADSWORDS in a PIT!

yeah like you wouldn't have
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:15 PM on April 24, 2006

Honest Abe Lincoln the Destroyer
posted by blue_beetle at 6:42 PM on April 24, 2006

All you PoliticsFilter Nuh-uh/Uh-Huh wonks are just plain pussies now. If you care about America, broadswords in a motherfuck'n pit!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:48 PM on April 24, 2006

I also wonder if politicians would get along better now adays if dueling were legal once more... On second thought, never mind. Bad, bad idea.

You're not kidding. Lincoln at least kept his extracurricular.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:55 PM on April 24, 2006

That is fucking awesome. Broadswords? In a bit? That's just awesome. Actually, it sounds like the sequel to Snakes on a Plane: Broadswords In a Pit!
posted by unreason at 7:06 PM on April 24, 2006

Insert "Bush couldn't even lift a broadsword, let alone duel. He'd probably show up and shoot his rival in the back from a grassy knoll" "joke".
posted by shnoz-gobblin at 7:11 PM on April 24, 2006

Holy crap, ludflu, the school in your second link is where I went to high school.
posted by jmhodges at 7:16 PM on April 24, 2006

Er.. that town is where I lived while I was in high school. The "panther" at the top of the page was our school mascot and it confused me.
posted by jmhodges at 7:18 PM on April 24, 2006

It wasn't in a pit it was over a pit

The terms themselves were highly unusual. Shields was a military man; Lincoln was not. Lincoln had the choice of weapons, and instead of pistols chose clumsy cavalry broadswords, which both men were to wield while standing on a narrow plank with limited room for retreat. The advantage would obviously be Lincoln’s; he was the taller man, with memorably long arms. “To tell you the truth,” he told a friend later, “I did not want to kill Shields, and felt sure that I could disarm him . . . ; and, furthermore, I didn’t want the damned fellow to kill me, which I rather think he would have done if we had selected pistols.”

Which is, lets be honest, even more hardcore.
posted by Paris Hilton at 7:35 PM on April 24, 2006

Lincoln stated that the weapons he wished to use would be “Cavalry Broadswords of the largest size”. He figured that he could easily disarm Shields using the swords, whereas pistols would most likely lead to one of their deaths, if not both. He also added that he wanted the duel to be carried out in a pit 10 feet wide by 12 feet deep with a large wooden plank dividing the square in which no man was allowed to step foot over. [emphasis added]
posted by caddis at 7:46 PM on April 24, 2006

Further research shows the existence of a "Model 1840 Heavy Cavalry Saber" known as the "wrist breaker." Sounds like a beast from the stuff I've been reading. Would be right for the time period too.
posted by Mister Cheese at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2006

"Ok, any historic figure."
"I'd fight Ghandi."
"Good answer."
"How about you?"
"Big guy, big reach. Skinny guys fight 'til they're burger."
posted by mmcg at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2006

I can't believe no one's noted that Lincoln is king of the cage yet.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:57 PM on April 24, 2006

LOL...loved the picture, EarBucket.

Interesting post...funny comments...nice!
posted by taosbat at 9:00 PM on April 24, 2006

He doesn't have anything on Andrew Jackson, who challenged one of the best duelers of his time after the man insulted his wife. The duel went as follows: his opponent fired first and landed a bullet so close to Jackson's heart that it was never surgically removed in his lifetime. Jackson, returning fire, shot the his opponent in the groin (he died two agonizing days later).

Now that's hardcore.
posted by Ndwright at 9:23 PM on April 24, 2006

And let's not forget the controversy over Lincoln's possible homosexuality, how humiliating would that be to an upper class gentleman to lose one's life to an unholy buggerer!? Heavens!
posted by mk1gti at 10:05 PM on April 24, 2006

Sheesh Ndwright, that is hardcore. That story is so great I went and googled it up and thought I'd paste it here for anyone else who loved your comment:

In fact, Jackson was sensitive to anything he considered insulting, even as an attorney in the courtroom. He was involved in a number of brawls, but the most famous altercation involved Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson. Following a nasty argument over a bet on a horserace, which escalated out of control, Jackson and Dickinson agreed to a duel. Since the practice was illegal in Tennessee, they headed for nearby Kentucky. Dickenson preceded Jackson to the dueling spot and along the way thrilled observers with his skill as a marksman, shooting bottles off of fences with a pistol at a distance equivalent to that at which he would face Jackson.

On the morning of the duel Jackson was determined to dispatch his foe. Wearing loose clothing to hide the outlines of his slender torso, Jackson decided to let Dickenson have have the first shot, knowing that Dickenson would probably strike him, and not wanting to have his own name thwarted. Dickinson fired and the bullet struck Jackson in the chest near his heart, breaking two ribs. Never even wincing, Jackson coolly raised his pistol and fired, hitting Dickinson in the groin, a wound from which he bled to death within a few minutes. Jackson's wound was severe, and it took weeks for him to recover, but the charge of having murdered Dickinson followed him for the rest of his life, even though the duel was in theory a “fair fight.” Pain from the wound inflicted by Dickinson also followed Jackson to his grave.

from sagehistory.net

These stories deepen my preference for Lincoln.
posted by freebird at 10:07 PM on April 24, 2006

The Great Eviscerator.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:38 PM on April 24, 2006

Metafilter: Broadswords in a motherfuck'n pit.

This is a great Loncoln story, much better than some of the mythology that passes for personal anecdotes in Presidential history. The Jackson duel is just insanity, however.
posted by trigonometry at 10:48 PM on April 24, 2006

In a related story, Richard Nixon once keyed up a dude's car back in high school.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:57 PM on April 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

I am glad at least two people saw fit to use some variation of Motherfuckin' broadswords in a motherfuckin' pit.
posted by kenlayne at 11:09 PM on April 24, 2006

In Gore Vidal's historical fiction, Lincoln is described as quite a powerful man -- able to hold an axe outward at arm's length. I don't know how Vidal missed the story linked. Nice post!
posted by Aknaton at 11:21 PM on April 24, 2006

From the conclusion of the FailedSuccess.Com article:
In many ways, the duel prepared Lincoln for success as president. During his term, the country became engaged in the Civil War. Throughout that stressful time, Lincoln showed the same iron will and certainty of purpose that was evident during the duel.
With over 600,000 killed and over 400,000 wounded (on both sides), one wonders what might have happened with a lesser man in charge.
posted by cenoxo at 11:30 PM on April 24, 2006

“Lincoln demonstrated his obvious physical advantage by hacking away at some of the branches of a nearby Willow tree...
The two were civil with each other after this unfortunate incident and remained friends and political allies for the rest of their careers.”

In what way is Lincoln not totally the man?
Always admired him. Didn’t think I could admire the man more. Wow.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:15 AM on April 25, 2006

Someone just suggested that I post an article to the front page that I linked to on an AskMe question about presidential beards, and I thought, "Nah, there was such an awesome president post yesterday, that it would pale in comparison", which made me think that I should come back here and mention that this was an awesome post. Good job.
posted by ND¢ at 11:52 AM on April 25, 2006

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