Political Duels: Bad Ass U.S. Politicians
Unless you live under a rock, you might have noticed that there is some political turmoil in the United States, today. Things are getting pretty nasty, but nothing compared to what used to happen in the day, it is pretty minor. When men had a disagreement, they challenged each other to a duel. This would entail agreeing upon a weapon and fighting it out. These political duels weren't a shootout like in the days of the Old West. They were more civil affairs that often didn't end in death. Probably the most famous of these was the duel between Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Aaron Burr, the Vice President. Hamilton lost that fight and his life. There were other politicians that settled their differences with the prospects of a duel. You might be surprised by these names!
This could be the only name on this list that you don't know. Clay was the Speaker of the House three times and was Secretary of State at the time of his duel with a loudmouth by the name of John Randolph. This guy was a Congressman from the state of Virginia and he liked to cause trouble. He fought his first duel at the age of 18 a mispronounced word and would often call people out to fight him. After calling the President a traitor and accused Henry Clay of “crucifying the Constitution and cheating at cards,” he got a surprise. Clay called him out. Randolph wasn't quite sure what to do. He was a better shot than Clay and could easily beat him. However, killing the Secretary of State would also kill his career in politics just like it did for Aaron Burr. He planned on purposefully missing and keeping his honor. The day of the duel, both men showed up and took their places. Randolph accidentally had a misfire. But Clay allowed him to have another bullet. This time, he shot Clay through his jacket. Clay missed, but was determined to shut Randolph up once and for all. They went at it a third time and this time, Randolph shot into the air. Clay missed a third time and called it a day. Both men walked away still breathing. [Source: Andrew Burstein, America's Jubilee (2001)]
Well before Washington was President or even a general, he was in command of the Virginia Rangers and fighting for the British. At the time, Virginia's local government was run by an assembly called The House of Burgesses. After one certain election, Washington got into an argument with a politician named, William Payne. The two met in the public square and Payne confronted Washington. The argument became heated and Payne threw a punch at George, knocking him to the ground. Payne had a hot head, but he wasn't a soldier. Washington wasn't known for taking a slight and stood up, dusted himself off, and challenged Payne to a duel the next morning. This should have been enough for Payne to leave Virginia because he had no chance against the seasoned warrior. However, he showed up the next day, ready to die...but instead of pistols, he found Washington with two glasses and a decanter of wine. 'Mr. Payne,' said Washington, 'to err is human. I was wrong yesterday, but if you have had sufficient satisfaction, let us be friends'. From that day on, William Payne considered George Washington to be the epitome of manhood and followed him until the day he died. [Source: Mason Locke Weems, God's Revenge Against Dueling (1820)]
Old Hickory was possibly one of our most bad ass presidents. Among being a soldier, he was a no nonsense kind of guy. He also prized his honor. Prior to becoming President, he fought in thirteen duels and he always didn't win. Jackson walked around with several bullets still in his body. His most famous duel came about before he became president. It was between him and Charles Dickinson, a professional duellist and possibly the best shot in the country. Dickinson complained that Jackson had cheated his father-in-law in a horse race. The argument started and then Dickinson went to far. He dissed Jackson's wife! The duel was on. Jackson knew his only chance was to take careful aim and shoot. They turned and Dickinson shot first. The bullet hit Jackson in the chest, but he didn't move. He took aim and fired back at Dickinson and killed him. The bullet that hit Jackson barely missed his heart and couldn't be removed. He had it in his body the rest of his life. [Source: Chris Wallace, Profiles of Presidential Courage (2005)]
Yes. You read that right. Dubya was challenged to a duel - when he was President! In October of 2002, on the eve of the Iraqi war, Bush 43 was challenged to a duel by Iraqi Vice President, Taha Yassin Ramadan. The suggestion was for him to fight Saddam Hussein in a Presidential Death Match. He also suggested that Dick Cheney fight Ramadan and other cabinet members fight similar Iraqi government figures. The duels were supposed to be held in a neutral country and judged by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. Each side would have weapons and would fight to the death. Iraq was worried that war with the United States would severely destroy their infrastructure. Obviously, this suggestion was too ridiculous for words and the White House politely declined. However, if they had taken Iraq up on their offer, how many lives and dollars would have been saved? [Source: BBC Article: "Bush Challenged to 'Duel' with Saddam" (October 3, 2002)]
When I saw Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I never suspected that Honest Abe might actually have been a bad ass. It turns out I was wrong! Before Abraham Lincoln became President of the United States, he was caught up in an argument with the Democratic State Auditor from Illinois, James Shields. Shields was a 5'2" tall Irishman who was quick to anger. He was mad at Lincoln because he thought that Abe was writing defamatory letters about him. In fact, it was Mary Todd Lincoln (Abe's wife) who was writing the letters. He challenged the 6'4" future President to a duel and Lincoln accepted. By the rules of dueling, Lincoln had the choice of place and weapons. Realizing he was over a foot taller than Shields, who was an excellent marksman, Lincoln used the height to his advantage - he chose to fight with 5 foot broad swords! Shields was dumbfounded and realized that Lincoln had a huge advantage since the smaller man had never picked up a sword. Eventually, he was talked out of the fight and the duel never commenced. [Source: "Abraham Lincoln Prepares to Fight a Saber Duel", published by Civil War Times magazine.]