Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Do you enjoy listening to or reading about campaign rhetoric and haranguing? I don’t.
Campaign season is upon us once again. The candidates sound like they couldn’t possibly be friends. More like mortal enemies.
These days, they assassinate each other’s characters with words. That’s an improvement. They used to kill each other.
In colonial days, if an opponent slandered you, you challenged him to a duel or retired in disgrace as a coward. Honor was deemed more important than life.
The New England states outlawed dueling in the 1720s, but it was popular in the South, Mid-Atlantic, and West. The most famous duel may be that between Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Vice President Aaron Burr. Less known is a duel between Hamilton’s 19-year-old son, Philip. He and a friend had called a New York lawyer a liar and a fake. The lawyer challenged them to a duel. Neither the friend nor the lawyer was shot in their duel. Alexander wanted Philip to allow his opponent the first shot, then fire into the air. This tactic, called the delope, implied the duelist was morally superior. Before Philip had a chance to do so in his duel, the lawyer shot and killed him.
Alexander had intended to sue the delope in his own duel, but Burr’s first shot killed him.
Duels weren’t always the primary mode of revenge. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate saw members attacked with canes for their words.
Federalist Roger Griswold of Connecticut and Jeffersonian Matthew Lyon of Vermont exchanged insults in 1798. Lyon spit tobacco juice into Griswold’s face. Two weeks later, Griswold attacked Lyon with a cane. Lyon grabbed a fire tongs and fought back. Other House members cheered for their favorites.
In 1856, a time when the issue of slavery whipped up deep sentiments and slanderous remarks, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner vilified South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, in a rant in the senate. Three days later, Representative Preston Brooks viciously caned Sumner for his libel of Brooks’ uncle. It took Sumner three years to recover from the attack.
The violence of the Civil War brought an end to physical revenge. Anyone care to return to the “good ole days”?