Wednesday, February 20, 2013

This Day in History

On this date in 1839, Congress prohibits dueling in the District of Columbia
Sometimes, when pondering what to write about, I will wander out to the Internet and type in random date or topic related ideas. Just to see what comes up. Sometimes I will be presented with a topic upon which I can expound and perhaps entertain my vast audience of readers.

For those who are wondering, I define "vast" as any number larger than three. I base this on the old saying "two's company, three's a crowd". Now a crowd can be large, in fact a crowd could be "vast". Now I'm not claiming that I have a "multitude" as my readership, nor am I making any claims as to having a "horde" or "host" of readers. I'm happy with "vast". For the moment.

(Yes, you've just been through a tangent. Once we reach altitude the cabin attendants will circulate and see to your needs. We have snacks available for purchase but as change is limited, please try to have exact change. A very tiny bag of peanuts is $350.00. A can of Pringles which an average adult could inhale in five seconds is also available. That will run you $500.00. There are no beverages on this flight, but paper cups are available for rent in the galley for $19.95. Act now and we'll throw in a second paper cup for free. You just pay the extra shipping and handling. Approximately $55.95 for each cup.)

(Yes, that was yet another tangent...)

So back in 1839, Congress decided that dueling was to be, henceforth, an activity not allowed within the confines of the District of Columbia. Here are some more interesting tidbits regarding the practice of dueling (from the OAFSSRFTOTN) - 

State and territorial laws prohibiting duelling 
20 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have some statute(s) (including constitutional provisions) specifically prohibiting dueling. The remaining 30 states either have no such statute or constitutional provision, or limit their dueling prohibition to members of their state national guard. This does not necessarily mean, however, that dueling is legal in any state, as assault and murder laws can apply. 
States which specifically prohibit members of the state national guard from dueling are Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Hawaii, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and New York. 
States and territories which have statutory prohibitions on dueling for all citizens are Colorado, District of Columbia, Idaho, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Utah. 
California previously prohibited dueling, but this was repealed in 1994. 
Virginia passed the Anti-Dueling Act in 1810, creating civil and criminal penalties for the most usual causes of duelling, rather than for the act itself. It is still on the books. Virginia Code §8.01-45 creates a Civil Action for insulting words. Virginia Code §18.2-416 makes it a crime to use abusive language to another under circumstances reasonably calculated to provoke a breach of the peace. Virginia Code §18.2-417 makes certain slander and libel a crime.
I also saw this in the OAFSSRFTOTN under dueling, note the caption.

A fictional pistol duel between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky.
My first thought was "Really? A painting of a fictional duel, which these guys never fought. What the...?"

Then I followed a link to discover that these guys were fictional characters, who apparently fought a duel in a work of fiction. And Repin decided to do a painting of it. (I wonder if paintings of duels are prohibited in DC as well?)

Back to the anti-dueling in DC thing. In the same place where I found those references above, I looked around to see whether or not dueling was allowed outside of DC. I wonder if Congress enacted the law because many constituents were wandering into Washington and challenging their Representatives/Senators to duels.

I need to research this further. Were there a number of congress-critters shot down (or sabered maybe) in the years leading up to 1839? What sparked this particular piece of legislation I wonder?

Or were things back then something like they are now? That is, most congress-critters are either anti-firearm or seem to be deathly afraid of firearms, so they don't now how to use them. Therefore, challenging a congress-critter to a duel would be like shooting fish in a barrel, so in order to preserve the legislative branch of our government dueling had to be prohibited. Wouldn't be sporting otherwise, would it?

Otherwise no one would want to be a congress-critter. Or they'd have to do a better job.

And those other notes on dueling? I really liked the statement "This does not necessarily mean, however, that dueling is legal in any state, as assault and murder laws can apply." That tells me that in many places in the US, dueling is okay. As long as no one gets hurt. Or something like that.

No wonder lawyers require so much education!


  1. well this link is not exactly or at all in line with your post of today but I think you will find it thought provoking

    Dying gods

    1. That was a pretty heavy link, jib. I'm actively involved in trying to resurrect a few gods who have passed on... specifically Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus. There may be more, too. ;-)

  2. I would think that the Hamilton/Burr duel was part of the catalyst for the Virginia law. I like the duel painting.

    1. Except Hamilton and Burr fought the duel in NJ.

    2. Yes, I liked the painting as well.

      Also the Hamilton/Burr duel was in 1804.

  3. I am amazed that California ever repealed any law.

  4. Just maybe the law should be modified to allow duels again....the duelers would be selected according to had said/done the most offenses against American public. I've got a few in mind for the first match-ups....but I guess thats a little over the top...oh well

    1. Just think how much money you could make from televising those duels. Not that I would watch, well maybe a little.

  5. Well, dang. I gotta go out o' state if I wanna duel. That sucks.


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