Open main menu

The New International Encyclopædia/Dueling

DUELING (Fr. duel, from Lat. duellum, a contest between two, duo). A duel is a prearranged combat between two persons, in which deadly weapons are used. It generally takes place in the presence of witnesses (called seconds), who regulate the mode of fighting, place the weapons in the hands of the combatants, and enforce rules agreed upon. While dueling prevailed in antiquity, there is no doubt that the modern private duel grew out of the judicial duel. (See Battle, Trial by, or Wager of.) In France it became very common after the famous challenge of Francis I. to his rival Charles V., in 1528. After this every man of France seemed to think that he was called upon to use his sword in defending his honor against the slightest imputation. Some kings endeavored to suppress, while others promoted dueling. Within eighteen years, in the reign of Henry IV., it is said, no less than 4000 persons fell in duels. Rigid measures were passed, but were rarely enforced. Up to the present time duels are much more common in France than elsewhere, but fatal results are infrequent.

In Germany dueling prevails but little outside the army, navy, and the universities. In the students' contests the vital parts of the contestants are so protected that serious injury seldom occurs. In but few places do the laws permit duels, but in a number of university cities there is no pretense to enforce the laws. In every German regiment there is a court of honor, to determine all involved points of personal or regimental honor, and to decide upon the procedure demanded by the circumstances. Where the result is a duel, and the civil authorities do not take any cognizance of the affair, the military authorities themselves rarely act. It is a point of honor, however, with the individual officer to satisfy the regimental code, regardless of any punishment, civil or military, that may afterwards he meted out to him. The practice of dueling is common throughout all the armies of Continental Europe, although in most countries it is prohibited hy law.

From the time of Queen Elizabeth various legislative attempts have been made in Great Britain to put an end to dueling, but without avail. Under the common law, the act of killing in a duel is regarded as murder, however fair the duel may have been; but so long as public opinion approved the duel it was generally found impossible to induce a jury to convict. In 1844 rigid army rules were established to prevent dueling, and within the last half-century but few duels have occurred in England.

How common dueling formerly was, both in Great Britain and America, may be inferred from the number of prominent political leaders who participated in duels. The dukes of York, Norfolk, Richmond, and Wellington, lords Shelburne, Talbot, Lauderdale, Townshend, Paget, Londonderry. Castlereagh, and Fox, Pitt, Sheridan, Canning, Hastings, Grattan, Curran, and O'Connell all fought duels. In the United States, Charles Lee and John Laurens, Cadwallader and Conway, General McIntosh and Gwinnett, of the Revolutionary period, and Burr and Hamilton, Jackson and Dickinson, Benton and Lucas, Clay and Randolph, De Witt Clinton and Swartout, and Cilley and Graves, fought duels. In no part of the world was dueling so earnestly engaged in as in America. Combats under all sorts of conditions, and with every conceivable variety of weapon, and in the great majority of instances fights fatal to one or both combatants were of frequent occurrence, and largely because of this was precipitated the legislation which finally succeeded in stamping out the custom.

Laws now exist in all States of the Union against dueling. In some cases the punishment is death, in others imprisonment, and in others disqualification to hold office. A bill prohibiting dueling in the District of Columbia was passed in 1839.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the custom was almost universally prohibited by law, although countenanced, if not actually demanded, by officers, both naval and military, professional men and the upper circles generally, of Continental European society. Organized efforts are now being made, however, to attack the custom in its own stronghold and among the people who still practice and cherish its traditions.

The International League, inaugurated in 1900 by Prince Alfonso of Bourbon and Austria-Este, has been organized with the declared intention of “setting right in the acceptation of society the sense of the words cowardice and courage, when used in connection with dueling.” The French branch of the league is under the direction of M. Joseph du Bourg, and although its influence is as yet very limited, it has had the support of M. Paul de Cassagnac, formerly a well-known duelist, and was considerably aided by the refusal, in 1901, of Lieut.-Col. the Marquis d'Elbée to accept the challenge of the Marquis de Chauvelin. Early in 1902 the league succeeded in forming a tribunal of honor in Paris, which consists of fourteen members, six of whom are military or naval officers, and whose duties are to decide all disputed points without recourse to the duel. In the French provinces similar tribunals have also been organized, and have already justified their existence. The anti-duelist movement in Germany is under the active direction of the Prince of Löwenstein, and is very strong numerically and influentially. Its membership includes noblemen, soldiers, civilians, and university professors and students. The league publishes a representative periodical, and is championed by nearly every prominent newspaper in the Empire. In Italy, the Marquis Crispolti has been intrusted with the leadership of the movement, which, however, was not commenced until late in 1902. On February 14, 1902, the Spanish Republican Fusion Party, at Valencia, passed a resolution condemning the duel as contrary to civilization, and forbidding members of the party from taking any part in a duel, either as principal or second.