David Harsanyi argues here quite eloquently that we should bring back dueling.
I think we can all agree dueling would be a much-needed corrective.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying violence is the answer. I’m saying violence is an answer. Because sometimes a witty retort on Twitter simply can’t recapture your lost honor. Dueling would confer consequences onto all the ugly, dishonest, uncouth, untrue, and defamatory things people say about you or your family. Yes, some politicians might be struck down if we allowed this ancient combat to reemerge in contemporary society. But I’m sure that’s a sacrifice most of us would be willing to make.
Hmmm. He might be onto something.
On a more serious note, dueling was amazingly popular in the United States from the country’s birth until about the 1860s. Before taking office, Andrew Jackson fought several duels, almost all with pistols, and lived to tell the tale. One book, British Dueling Pistols, by John Atkinson, details that only some 6% of pistol duels ended in fatalities.
National anthem composer Francis Scott Key, naval hero Steven Decatur, and the first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton all died from pistol shots received in duels. Hamilton, who had fought in 11 previous honor trials, fired first and into the air while then-Vice President Aaron Burr returned fire and mortally wounded the man who now graces the $10 bill. Celebrated Russian author Alexander Pushkin, survived 29 previous duels before being killed in his 30th encounter.
By the 1860s, dueling had largely been regulated away but this did not stop it from becoming a sport in the 1906 and 1912 Olympics—with the shooters firing at mannequins dressed in frock coats.
The key to understanding the specialized dueling pistol weapons (and 18th century dueling) is that the guns were made for honor and not accuracy. Almost invariably smoothbore guns of a large caliber, the idea was that if a gentleman needed them for defense, they would be lethal at a very short range but couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn at 20 paces—the customary distance in duels. This was by design: since honor did not require the death of either of the duelists to be satisfied, it was common for the shooters to fire into the ground, the air, or simply to the side of their opponent. Seconds were known to stay well away from the peripherals of the line of fire because of this.