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Dueling Is Still Legal In These States

The code of honor also enabled dueling advocates to defend themselves from the charge that they were beneficiaries of a legal double standard. When opponents like Francisco Bulnes argued that there was no difference between a duel and a street fight, dueling supporters pointed to the code of honor as proof that the two had nothing whatsoever in common. One Argentine congressman in 1917 went so far as to argue that if ordinary citizens could be instructed in the “laws” of honor and dueling etiquette. In the event that the seconds failed to persuade their principals to avoid a fight, they then attempted to agree on terms for the duel that would limit the chance of a fatal outcome, consistent with the generally accepted guidelines for affairs of honor. The exact rules or etiquette for dueling varied by time and locale but were usually referred to as the code duello. In most cases, the challenged party had the choice of weapons, with swords being favored in many parts of continental Europe and pistols in the United States and Great Britain.

Many American men owned a pair of such pistols, and, from about 1750 to 1850, many were called to use them. If any person within this state shall fight a duel, or shall deliberately and maliciously challenge, by word or writing, any other person, to fight with sword, pistol, or other deadly weapon, or shall deliberately and maliciously i… 1866Offenses Against the Public Peace and Tranquility, § 4516.

The dueling tradition of posting was unique to the United States. A statement or accusation of cowardice would be hung in public places or be published as a handbill or appear in a newspaper. Tame language by today’s standards, such slurs as rascal, scoundrel, liar, coward, and puppy were considered extremely disrespectful and were sure to prompt a duel.

On the one hand, most agreed that it was a barbarous anachronism and a congenital weakness of their “race.” Yet, on the other hand, they continued to view it as the only available way to defend their honor in the face of an affront. All of us today share the same complicity, because no one sincerely sees as immoral or criminal men; nobody refuses to shake the hand of a duelist, or to invite one into his home, or to sit one down at his table. And therefore, to sustain criminality in a situation where society impels the crime and later abets the criminal, is purely and simply a true hypocrisy. It might be said that without the culture of honor which provided the psychological motivation for dueling in aristocratic Europe, there would be no rational reason for an individual to accept the risks that accompany a duel.

With improvements in gun manufacture came the advent of sleek dueling pistols. These instruments of death were made of the finest materials, often in England. The set at right belonged to the famous Virginia politician John Randolph of Roanoke.

If the recipient apologized satisfactorily, the problem was resolved. However, if the recipient decided to fight, he chose the weapons, the time and the place for the drosterhagen duel. Up until the time the duel began, apologies could be accepted and the duel stopped. Only gentlemen were thought to have honor, and therefore eligible to duel.