A&D regulars will probably not be much surprised to learn that I’m something of a topic expert on the history of the duel of honor. This came up over on Slate Star Codex recently when I answered a question about the historical relationship of the duel or honor with street violence.
I’ve read all the scholarship on the history of dueling I can find in English. There isn’t much, and what there is mostly doesn’t seem to me to be very good. I’ve also read primary sources like dueling codes, and paid a historian’s attention to period literature.
I’m bringing this up now because I want to put a stake in the ground. I have a personal theory about why Europo-American dueling largely (though not entirely) died out between 1850 and 1900 that I think is at least as well justified as the conventional account, and I want to put it on record.
First, the undisputed facts: dueling began a steep decline in the early 1840s and was effectively extinct in English-speaking countries by 1870, with a partial exception for American frontier regions where it lasted two decades longer. Elsewhere in Europe the code duello retained some social force until World War I.
This was actually a rather swift end for a body of custom that had emerged in its modern form around 1500 but had roots in the judicial duels of the Dark Ages a thousand years before. The conventional accounts attribute it to a mix of two causes: (a) a broad change in moral sentiments about violence and civilized behavior, and (b) increasing assertion of a state monopoly on legal violence.
I don’t think these factors were entirely negligible, but I think there was something else going on that was at least as important, if not more so, and has been entirely missed by (other) historians. I first got to it when I noticed that the date of the early-Victorian law forbidding dueling by British military officers – 1844 – almost coincided with (following by perhaps a year or two) the general availability of percussion-cap pistols.
The dominant weapons of the “modern” duel of honor, as it emerged in the Renaissance from judicial and chivalric dueling, had always been swords and pistols. To get why percussion-cap pistols were a big deal, you have to understand that loose-powder pistols were terribly unreliable in damp weather and had a serious charge-containment problem that limited the amount of oomph they could put behind the ball.
This is why early-modern swashbucklers carried both swords and pistols; your danged pistol might very well simply not fire after exposure to damp northern European weather. It’s also why percussion-cap pistols, which seal the
powder priming charge inside a brass cap, were first developed for naval use, the prototype being Sea Service pistols of the Napoleonic era. But there was a serious cost issue with those: each cap had to be made by hand at eye-watering expense.
Then, in the early 1840s, enterprising gunsmiths figured out how to mass-produce percussion caps with machines. And this, I believe, is what actually killed the duel. Here’s how it happened…
First, the availability of all-weather pistols put an end to practical swordfighting almost immediately. One sidearm would do rather than two. Second, dueling pistols suddenly became tremendously more reliable and somewhat more lethal. When smokeless powder became generally available in the 1880s they took another jump upwards in lethality.
Moral sentiments and state power may have been causes, but I am pretty convinced that they had room to operate because a duel of honor in 1889 was a far more dangerous proposition than it had been in 1839. Swords were effectively out of play by the latter date, pistols no longer sputtered in bad weather (allowing seconds to declare that “honor had been satisfied”) and the expected lethality of a bullet hit had gone way up due to the increased velocity of smokeless-powder rounds.
There you have it. Machine manufacture of percussion caps and the deployment of smokeless powder neatly bookend the period of the decline of the duel. I think this was cause, not coincidence.
A clear case of technological victory over the vagaries of human competition.
Any chance of tying this to chess 100 years hence? If so, to where have today’s duels retreated?
Since it would be relatively easy to limit dueling to particular weapons, I am inclined to think the primary reason dueling ended was the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the bureaucrats.
Weren’t pistols from 1870 much more accurate than one from 1839 as well? Mass produced bullets with precussion caps are more accurate than muzzle loaded with powder?
Thank you, but it is the _second_ killing of the duel, I was personally more interested in the first killing of it. It got decriminalized / regularized in the 16th-18th century. But in the 9th-10th century the Scandinavian hólmganga was regular and legal enough, and we could more or less assume that the _comitatus_ cultures of Germanic Early Medieval period generally accepted duelling, because it matches their values really well. So something must have killed (banned, put out of custom) duelling somewhere between around the year 1000 and 1500, and then it was brought back as a way to curb street violence, only to be banned again in the 19th to 20th century. I suspect there must have been a period when the Church was really powerful, perhaps in the High Middle Ages, and perhaps a reduction of their power in the Early Modern period could have brought duelling back?
I once overheard a conversation about a set of old “duel pistols” between an antiques dealer and a seller, where the dealer said that the set of pistols in question were more likely sport pistols because they were rifled. Duel pistols were smooth bore – at least acoording to this antiques dealer.
So reduced lethality or a stronger influence of chance were probably a necessary part of duels.
Have you read The Honor Code by Appiah? It’s a book about how moral revolutions happen, and it covers dueling, abolitionism, foot-binding, and campaigns against honor killing.
As I recall, Appiah says that dueling ended once it was made to look ridiculous rather than high status, though your theory that dueling becoming more dangerous made lowering the status of it easier (possible?) is also plausible.
Is there any reason why people who wanted to duel couldn’t have insisted on using old-fashioned pistols?
> Swords were effectively out of play by the latter date
Why not go to knives? Because using a weapon that wasn’t routinely used as a weapon of war would have ruined the fiction that the duel was intended to almost certainly end with someone dying?
What was the geographical/religious distribution of dueling? Wasn’t it extinct or non-existent in some communities long before the 1800s, and so the cause of its final demise, which you convincingly explain, should be thought of as the last of a series of causes?
I think knife-fights may have been just as lower-class and low-status as today, the sword as a universal symbol of nobility, a knife was a peasant’s basic tool.
BTW the goal wasn’t to kill, the goal was to demonstrate courage by risking life, and as such, it was a balancing act, it had to be dangerous enough to be a plausible act of courage but obviously still as non-dangerous as possible. This is why it didn’t matter who won. Like if they both missed with a pistol, the second declared that satisfaction was done i.e. both demonstrated their courage, and that was it. There was no reward in actually winning. Hence, it was just a courage demonstration.
So this belongs to the many different forms of human virtue signalling behavior. Virtue signalling, and costly signalling at that, is one of the most fundamental recurring patterns of human behavior.
“Since it would be relatively easy to limit dueling to particular weapons, I am inclined to think the primary reason dueling ended was the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the bureaucrats.”
In order for that to happen, several people would have had to sit down and consciously analyze the problem, penetrate their own cultural ideas about the relationship between dueling and lethality in an absurdly timely manner, consciously form an understanding of their theory, and then choose to spend social capital on preventing a natural social change from occurring for what strikes me as very little gain for those involved. All this while duelers who had not performed this analysis, and still had naive beliefs about dueling being about reliably killing the other guy, and who are by definition inflamed with passion at the moment, would be reaching for the most lethal weapons available even so.
In the spirit of “the effects of change are overestimated in the short term but underestimated in the long term”, I’d suggest that people’s rationality is frequently underestimated but their rationalizations are frequently overestimated. Sheer darwinian forces tend to make many things like dueling more rational than a casual analysis would indicate (and especially an analysis by someone blinded by their own local irrational rationalizations of their locally-rational behaviors, such as someone who lives in a very safe area with reliable policing might have), but those forces only rarely operate on the rationalizations surrounding them; those end up much more haphazard and not necessarily connected to the real reasons a given behavior is rational. If Eric’s theory is true, and it certainly seems to me to be on the table, it seems to me very unlikely that very many people at the time would have understood it that way. Probably a few very thoughtful people, but they rarely drive social policy.
@esr: “There you have it. Machine manufacture of percussion caps and the deployment of smokeless powder neatly bookend the period of the decline of the duel. I think this was cause, not coincidence.”
I’d call it a contributing factor. I’m not sure it’s a cause.
If the source data exists, I’d be interested in various statistics, like dueling mortality rates. Did the spread of the percussion cap pistol dramatically *increase* the number of serious injuries/deaths in dueling? The percussion cap certainly made handguns more reliable, but in a formal duel, the classic notion was that seconds were chosen, duelists chose weapons, and loaded and fired when the dueling master said to. The chance of a failure of the weapon in such cases was far lower than in places like aboard ship at sea. (And the percussion cap and especially breech loading dramatically changed land combat – you no longer had to be standing up and a target to reload.)
The demise of dueling corresponded with the shift in Europe from “honor culture” to “dignity culture”, and the spread of the notion that dueling was a poor way to resolve disputes. Along that line, I’d also be curious to know what was considered sufficient provocation to merit challenging someone to a duel at various points, and how “serious enough to duel over” changed over time. The sorts of things fought ever shifted from the field of honor to the courts, and what might have been grounds for duel became grounds for lawsuit. You can argue over whether that’s an improvement…
Or longer ranges, or swords?
Well, the answer for “swords” might be the same as the answer for “old fashioned pistols” – if you aren’t practiced in and don’t own a certain kind of weapon, you might be less sanguine about betting your life on it, even if your typical opponent is likely to have the same handicap.
Wikipedia suggests that we should also ask “or fists?” – their theory (citation needed?) is that Marquess of Queensberry rules replaced the Code Duello.
It also occurs to me that some version of Russian roulette would work as a test of courage, but maybe they also wanted an element of skill.
Could the perceived removal of skill be an issue? It’s much, much, harder to accurately fire a flintlock pistol than a percussion cap pistol. There’s a greater lag time from the trigger pull to the ball exiting the muzzle: the trigger releases the hammer, which strikes the frizzen, which makes sparks igniting the primer stored, which then has to burn into the flash hole igniting the black powder. The shooter needs excellent follow through, and a shaky hand will cause an even poorer shot than with modern firearms. And the flash in the pan is very bright, and can surprise the shooter, causing a flinch, which would affect the shot, as it could happen before the powder ignites.
>Could the perceived removal of skill be an issue? […] And the flash in the pan is very bright, and can surprise the shooter, causing a flinch, which would affect the shot, as it could happen before the powder ignites]
All that would increase the chance of a miss, reducing the lethality of a duel. So, yes, I think so; this is part of the general picture of an increase in lethality changing incentives.
Jeremy, I don’t see why your particular line of thinking needs to happen at all. They are two different groups- the aristocrats were the ones who felt honor important enough to risk duels. The bureaucrats had been enjoying increased power since the 1600s and the absolute monarch nonsense. The monarch had to weaken aristocratic claims to authority, so the ‘expert’ bureaucrat was born. The bureaucrat is much more concerned with writing things down, and then hiring other bureaucrats to keep track of all the things written down. A duel is quite anathema to the bureaucratic mindset. By the revolutionary movements of the late 1800s, the bureaucrats had pretty much broken all shackles upon themselves and are now supreme. There’s not much of a need for any particular concerted action on the duel- it is simply not something a bureaucrat would do.
@Stefan- ‘Duelling pistols were smoothbore …reduced chance of lethality’
Half the recoil of a rifled gun comes from the twang of the bullet spinning in the grooves. Practical inaccuracy is strongly influenced by flinch from recoil. I’d want a smoothbore at ten yards.
I’d say duelling was a compromise between a full-on gang war between clans and just calling a lawyer. As the rule of law slowed down gang warfare, there was less need for a compromise.
Speaking of lawyers, John C. Wright’s novel Count to a Trillion, our protagonist at the start of his brief legal career was an out of court settlement specialist (duelist) for his Texas law firm. He specialized in ritualized duel to settle land dispute, and most of that, other than nerved involved in standing as a target to the other ‘lawyer’ is in calculating your projectile package (main projectile and escort projectile) and chaff pattern to deflect the projectile.
Since we’re on dueling … the Wiktenauer indiegogo campaign link below is still active (technically it’s over, but you can still donate and get perks, as I did so just last week), and one of the perks is the latest translation of Liechtenauer, aka German longsword, alongside the original German, with photos of the original drawings, organized by technique, laid out on 300 large pages. You can even get Fiore’s translation too, if you’re into the Italian style.
I believe that you are confusing metal percussion caps (which fit over a nipple in a muzzle loading loose powder pistol or rifle) and primers for waterproof center-fire brass casings (became practical around 1850, but for rifles mostly). A few pistols used brass rim (or other) fire cartridges at that time, but muzzle loading pistols were still very common. Other muzzle loading pistols were cap-and-ball revolvers/derringers/pepperbox with a paper or metal cap at the rear of the loose or paper cartridge powder charge.
I own a US marshall M-1840 pistol. It is muzzle loading, uses powder-patch-ball (no brass case or base), and has an external hammer to strike a percussion cap fit over a nipple.
The chief technical advantages of the metal percussion cap – the cap seals the body of powder from the elements, and no need to sprinkle loose primer powder into a strike hole which is exposed to the weather. Muzzle loaders could also use new (at the time) standardized paper cartridges containing the powder and ball, with the paper becoming the patch. Those improved accuracy and reduced reloading speed and complexity.
Linguistically, caps are primers, but they “cap” something – a nipple or the rear end of the powder charge in a cylinder or barrel.
I agree, the improved reliability and lethality of the pistols is a reasonable factor, but that wasn’t because of metallic cartridges in pistols. It was disuse of flintlocks in favor of cap and ball cartridges in common pistols.
Smokeless powder was probably not a factor – it came much later for pistols.
This particular memory is a bit foggy, but I read somewhere a couple years ago that honor/bravery associated with dueling was also a way to establish credit-worthiness, which was a big deal for a young noble, particularly a younger son. I wonder whether some change in the way loans were handled might also be an issue in the end of dueling.
My favorite duel weaponry is when Otto von Bismarck challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Herr Virchow got to choose the weapons, so he showed up with two sausages and said (translated):
“One of these sausages is filled with trichinae [or possibly chloera] — it is deadly. The other is perfectly wholesome. Externally they cannot be told apart. Let His Excellency do me the honor to choose whichever of these he wishes and eat it, and I will eat the other.”
Herr von Bismarck declined.
This is one of those instances where reality is funnier than comedy.
“You could have put the poison into your own sausage knowing that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool so I can clearly not choose the sausage in front of you. But you would have known I wasn’t a great fool — you would have counted on it — so I can clearly not choose the sausage in front of me.”
That whole scene would me much funnier with sausages than with wine.
The demise of dueling also eliminated one of pathways for Darwinian selection in our species.
If duelling started with swords, was it lethal then? If so, then “better guns make duelling more dangerous” seems insufficient. It could be a contributing factor.
Another piece of evidence to throw into the pot…
Sword dueling, and other less than lethal contests of honor, did become more popular in the late 19th century, particularly in german universities where whole dueling fraternities developed and students proudly displayed their scars. In America, boxing was posited as a proper gentlemanly way of settling disputes.
The army of the Autro-Hungarian Empire preserved pistol dealing until 1914, with considerable fatalities. The practice was completely illegal, and utterly impossible to be refused if you wanted promotion.
“There isn’t much”
Thanks, a few of those look like they might be worthwhile.
I’ve only found two book-length treatments in English, and own both of them.
You may be pleased to know that your theory receives support from a Mark Twain satire published between 1839 and 1889, in 1880. It’s titled The Great French Duel. It also suggests an explanation how the French kept the duel sort-of-alive until World War 1: Elaborate rituals to keep the fight non-lethal.
Here’s the core passage where I think Twain makes your point. After the duelists have made their wills and said their last words — I die so that France may live! — it falls upon Mark Twain as one duelist’s second to choose the weapons and the distance. The following dialogue unfolds:
A long quote, to be sure, but I thought it was worth posting in full, and hope it’s worth your while to read.
>A long quote, to be sure, but I thought it was worth posting in full, and hope it’s worth your while to read.
So, you had no reason to be aware of this, but I own a set of the collected works of Mark Twain because I wanted to and thought I had read all of them. Either I plain missed this or read it so long ago I had forgotten it. It is indeed brilliant.
“The conventional accounts attribute it to a mix of two causes: (a) a broad change in moral sentiments about violence and civilized behavior, and (b) increasing assertion of a state monopoly on legal violence.”
I believe that (a) is worth a closer look. In particular, I would argue that what really killed the duel was the increasing feminization of morality.
Consider that the period we are discussing, 1850 – 1900, is precisely the period of Victorian morality. It’s tied up with rising pressure for anti-slavery (very strong in the 1850’s), women’s rights (Seneca Falls convention 1848), and temperance (Maine liquor law passed 1851). All three of these were heavily driven by women activists in their new role as angels who would be moral leaders to everyone else.
What makes this particularly suggestive to me is that the duel declined in *precisely* those regions and cultures (England, eastern United States) where the Victorian female morality was strongest, and lasted longer in other areas (western United States, Latin cultures) where the new feminist activism didn’t reach immediately.
Furthermore, the decline of the Western gun duel around 1890 – 1900 lines up with the closing of the Western frontier — in other words, it happened when the new dominant force was women and families, rather than lone male trappers, traders, hunters, or miners.
Eric’s theory may be part of the answer, but I don’t believe it can readily account for the regional differences in decline rates and time periods.
>Eric’s theory may be part of the answer, but I don’t believe it can readily account for the regional differences in decline rates and time periods.
I think your first argument is stronger than your second. The Western gun duel would probably have declined anyway as the U.S. legal system asserted itself in the new West.
Your feminization hypothesisis has some plausibility for explaining East-West differences in the U.S., but I’m not so sure it does a good job of North-South. The code duello survived longer in the South, but if anything the idea of women as moral angels meant to uplift beastly men took earlier and stronger root in the South than in the North.
“Since it would be relatively easy to limit dueling to particular weapons, I am inclined to think the primary reason dueling ended was the decline of the aristocracy and the rise of the bureaucrats.”
The bureaucratic state was well-developed during the Renaissance, a time when duels were common. I don’t think this hypothesis fits the facts.
“Wikipedia suggests that we should also ask “or fists?” – their theory (citation needed?) is that Marquess of Queensberry rules replaced the Code Duello.”
Possibly true during the transition period. But today, I would argue that what has replaced it is nothing. There is no longer a culturally-approved way for a young man to signal his courage when challenged.
>Possibly true during the transition period. But today, I would argue that what has replaced it is nothing. There is no longer a culturally-approved way for a young man to signal his courage when challenged.
The ‘nothing’ is a very recent (as in a generation) development, signalled by the concept of ‘zero tolerance’. That development may serve to explain why we have fewer schoolyard fistfights and more school shootings, nowadays.
> if anything the idea of women as moral angels meant to uplift beastly men took earlier and stronger root in the South than in the North.
I don’t think so.
Women as angels is associated with divorce on female demand (because women would never frivolously or lecherously divorce), rising age of consent (because little girls would never genuinely consent to having sex with David Bowie), allowing women to meet men without supervision (they would never get up to mischief – see David Bowie), the marital contract not being enforced against women (does not need to be), and all that new age progressive feminist stuff. Florence Nightingale gets to spend a lot of time in private with old rich men to which she is not married, and no one is allowed to make the usual jokes about camp followers having one job by day and one by night because a respectable woman would never …
Not seeing that sort of nonsense in the American South. Seems to me that Southern controls on Southern Belles presupposed that they would bang like a dunny door in a high wind the moment your back was turned.
>In order for that to happen, several people would have had to sit down and consciously analyze the problem, penetrate their own cultural ideas about the relationship between dueling and lethality in an absurdly timely manner, consciously form an understanding of their theory, and then choose to spend social capital on preventing a natural social change from occurring for what strikes me as very little gain for those involved.
I seriously don’t understand why you say this. Human group dynamics are far more instinctive and easier. Say you are a bureaucrat in the 19th century. You know there is a group called gentleman and you know they still live according to what could be called post-knightly morals, or in Haidt’s excellent categorization, they live in a culture of honor, a culture that is still masculine and martial and dominant. While you also know that you as a son of a bourgois trader yourself live in something that is more of a culture of dignity, and if you are a bureaucrat you have probably also internalized idealistic, liberal ethics that generally look down on this kind of gung-ho machismo and value non-violence and pacifism. From this very basic instinctive outlook, striking at duel as a SYMBOL of the values of the outgroup is just as easy and straightforward as today striking at gun rights. Same basic symbolic instincts, in both cases, your outgroup accepts certain forms of violence, your ingroup doesn’t so you just strike at the symbols thereof, easy.
To give you a different example. What is the first thing a Communist does the early 20th century when he takes over a country? Remove crosses from school classroom walls and put there red stars. Again, it is not a complicated idea. It is just removing the symbols of the competing outgroup and putting your own there. Like a dog marking territory with pee. It is a very instinctively human thing to do, does not require a complicated conspiracy.
@James A. Donald
>Seems to me that Southern controls on Southern Belles presupposed that they would bang like a dunny door in a high wind the moment your back was turned.
Wait, Jim, standard RP theory is female hypergamy, not generic female promiscuity – i.e. that women become promiscuous and rack up a high partner count only when a sufficiently large number of top-class alpha males are around. If there is only one alpha around, women are super monogamous and virtuous in his harem: they won’t screw mediocre betas just for notches: that would be masculine behavior, not feminine, as women are always quality > quantity, men are always quantity > quality. So if you ever make such a model, you should also explain why the South would have had so many alpha-males around so that female promiscuity would have been even feasible. Today you only see high female promiscuity because there are places, like expensive first-world bars, where there are really a lot of Zyzz type alpha-males around. But in a town with a lot of boring beta peasants women find it rather easy to be monogamous and chaste, no tingles.
>The Western gun duel
Dunno if it was anything like in the movies, but if it was, then I think the idea is that if you have to pull really fast, your first shot will not be too accurate (unless you practiced fast-draw firing-from-the-hip for countless hours), so it could be a way to reduce its lethality.
>Wikipedia suggests that we should also ask “or fists?” – their theory (citation needed?) is that Marquess of Queensberry rules replaced the Code Duello.
Good point, European novels from around 1920 already romanticized (fair, boxing-like) fist-brawling roughly the same way novels like Monte-Cristo romanticized duels earlier. You can observe the transition in Karl Mays Kraut-Westerns, around 1880, Old Firehand was still a gunslinger but Old Shatterhand already fist-hero. A generation or two before, a fist-fighter would have been seen as crass and lower-class.
>My favorite duel weaponry is when Otto von Bismarck challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Herr Virchow got to choose the weapons, so he showed up with two sausages
European novels from the early 20th century describe a concept called an “American duel” where there is a white and a black ball hidden in an urn and he who pulls the black one must commit suicide. I strongly suspect it must have been just an urban legend, perhaps, based on the above-average number of gun suicides in the US?
>European novels from the early 20th century describe a concept called an “American duel” where there is a white and a black ball hidden in an urn and he who pulls the black one must commit suicide.
Utter fabrication, and doesn’t even remotely fit American cultural psychology.
>Utter fabrication, and doesn’t even remotely fit American cultural psychology.
He seems to be talking about the novel “eyes like the sea” (https://legalerudites.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/eyes-like-the-sea.pdf)
Written by this Hungarian: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%B3r_J%C3%B3kai
It mentions the humorist having their arm sliced open by a doctor, a bullet inserted and removed, and then the wound to be sewn up. With the whole point of the exercise being to fulfill their wounded honor.
I believe that this is not the case; accounts of both the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny indicate that the sword was still a useful sidearm (having six shots available does not, of course, guarantee six kills or even six hits). In the American Civil War both sides seesawed as to arming their cavalry with sabers or pistols, and subsequent to it the saber was replaced…but by a specialized thrusting sword that was effectively a small lance.
I think that improvements in firearms technology played but a negligible role in the demise of dueling.
Sorry, Jeff, the sausage story appears to be anecdotal, made up long after the event it describes.
There are some interesting lines in the period letters quoted at this link, such a “A man is the guardian of his own honor.”
Cathy, to my mind the time frame is what makes the hypothesis plausible. The underlying fight here is the bureaucrat’s rise and successful supplanting of the aristocrats. Since dueling was a completely aristocratic thing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it increasing in some cases, as a way to express class and identity while one’s traditional position in society was being destroyed elsewhere. Only when the aristocratic class was truly broken does the duel disappear.
>Since dueling was a completely aristocratic thing
This is not so. In the early modern period dueling spread downward from the high aristocracy into the emerging middle class. The military, training commoner officers but still dominated by aristocrats, seems to have been a major vector of this transmission.
It is very, very clear from the literary sources that dueling became aspirational behavior for middle-class men (and women; the “petticoat duel” was uncommon but a thing…), including civil servants, who wanted to achieve the social status of gentlemen.
So the theory being kicked around here that the end of dueling was some kind of tribal assertion by the bureaucrat class against rivals for influence is actually backwards, cod-Marxist nonsense; in period, the striving bureaucrat imitated the dress and manners of the lesser nobility, including dueling. So did the upwardly-mobile doctor, lawyer, and merchant.
This was particularly so towards the end of dueling’s span. I’ve been pointed at a book titled The Last Duel: A True Story of Death and Honour which delves into the circumstances of the last recorded fatal duel of honor in Scotland, fought in 1826 between a merchant and his former banker.
As I understand it, the initial idea of women reforming men was that a good woman could cause a bad man to reform by softening his heart through her virtue, and virtue meant consistent generosity and kindness. From an unfriendly point of view, she could be described as a cooperatebot.
In this model, the woman has no direct power of any kind.
Prohibition and abolition are things that happen when people who believe it’s important to be moral get some political power. (For purposes of this argument, it doesn’t matter than I’m against the former and in favor of the latter.)
Part of prohibition being a woman’s issue was that woman weren’t allowed to own property. Think about that. Being married to an alcoholic is bad enough now, but imagine what it would be like if the alcoholic has the legal right to all the property in the household. To put it another way, the angel in the house idea of improving a bad man by being nice to him doesn’t work reliably in the real world.
James, why do you think women are worse than men?
Now I’m wondering– might acceptance of dueling for aristocrats only look a lot like aristocrats not being considered to be worth much?
Nancy…”James, why do you think women are worse than men?”
Remember who you’re asking that of…
This reminded me of the great service that Aaron Burr did for the United States. I only wish he had done it several decades earlier.
Jay, I’m quite aware, and I was careful in how I phrased the question.
Nonetheless, I was curious, and it seemed to me that asking the question was unlikely to make anything worse. We’ll see how it works out.
While recognizing that it is irrelevant to your original point, I’m a little curious why you would be for abolition when you’re against prohibition. What, to you, is the distinguishing factor?
David, freedom for individuals. People should be allowed to own themselves *and* have alcoholic beverages.
Do you think it’s plausible to be against both abolitionism and prohibition? Or in favor of both of them?
It took me a bit to figure out that I needed to hit the unmarked dark gray rectangle to the upper right of the comment preview in order to comment. I succeeded in posting a few times before I realized what I’d done to make it work.
Would something like putting the word “post” on the rectangle be feasible?
I’m to understand that the adversarial justice system came about as a substitute for the judicial duel.
At least in a duel the weapons were supposed to be equal. In the USA justice is approaching perfect commodity status: pay more money, get more justice.
I’ve never heard of this myself, but it sounds like an old voting tradition used by fraternal organizations and the like to vote for the admission of a candidate or ouster of an existing member, involving each member dropping a white or black ball into an urn or box. The plunk of the ball is audible, confirming the member voted, but you can’t see who voted for what, only the total count of white and black balls at the end. Often as few as one or two black balls may suffice to exclude the candidate/member. But this isn’t an American thing, really (though American Masonic lodges and university fraternities, for instance, do use it).
>But this isn’t an American thing, really (though American Masonic lodges and university fraternities, for instance, do use it).
They inherited it from Victorian gentlemen’s clubs in Great Britain. To have been “blackballed” was still live slang when I lived there in the late 1960s; it might still be today.
Wikipedia gives the following, which I have every reason to believe is representative, from the rules of election to the Travellers Club in 1879:
“The members elect by ballot. When 12 and under 18 members ballot, one black ball, if repeated, shall exclude; if 18 and upwards ballot, two black balls exclude, and the ballot cannot be repeated. The presence of 12 members is necessary for a ballot.”
I think the increased lethality of firearms goes part of the way toward explaining the duel — but that doesn’t explain why sword duelling dropped out of fashion as well. With improvements in sanitation, anesthesia, etc., a sword fight in 1910 would have been considerably _less_ likely to be fatal than one in 1810.
The reference above to Haidt’s theory about Honor culture giving way to Dignity culture is a good one, though one might argue about which way the causality runs: is the decline in dueling a symptom of the shift or part of the process?
I also wonder if the decline in duelling (and the concept of personal honor) in the late 19th century might also be linked to the rise of the Progressive movement and the “moralization” of politics. When Burr and Hamilton were political opponents, they still considered each other to be honorable gentlemen, and respected each other enough to meet on the field of honor. But by the time of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, politicians had begun to consider their opponents to be not only wrong but _evil_. Not even the pugilistic TR would have considered meeting one of his adversaries for a friendly boxing match because being political adversaries swamped all other factors.
>I think the increased lethality of firearms goes part of the way toward explaining the duel — but that doesn’t explain why sword duelling dropped out of fashion as well.
I think that’s pretty simple. Sword dueling was doomed the generation after sword ceased being a practical art, because custom could no longer assume that gentlemen (even military gentlemen) would train in it.
With the moment of obsolescence in the early 1840s, you’d expect martial sword to have faded out of general view about 30 years later, relegated to a form of display behavior for conservative aristocrats. And indeed this matches the historical record; by the time of the American Civil War wearing a sword was already an obvious anachronism and mainly one indulged in by general officers as a sign of rank.
A commenter on G+ pointed out that martial sword lasted a bit longer in colonial warfare, but not very; you’d be hard put to find a use of it after 1880. Richard Francis Burton’s 1884 Book of the Sword was an elegy.
In the early U.S. (the “Federal Era”, 1788-1820), there was a very strong dueling culture in… New York. Not in Pennsylvania, not in New England, and not as much in the South. (Many prominent New Yorker politicians fought multiple duels, but I don’t know of even one duel involving a prominent Virginian.)
It survived despite pretty fierce ridicule of the participants (by opposing factions). I’ve seen one cartoon from the period which portrayed one political duelist as shitting with fear, while another knelt behind him catching the feces in his hat.
But the Burr-Hamilton duel seems to have discredited the practice; it soon disappeared in New York. It persisted in the west; there was a famous duel in 1859 between the former chief justice of the California supreme court and a U.S. Senator, who was killed.
German student dueling was more for sport than killing. The duellists wore protective masks and padding to limit the damage to scars, and were expected to fight several duels a year.
>It persisted in the west; there was a famous duel in 1859 between the former chief justice of the California supreme court and a U.S. Senator, who was killed.
Right, the Broderick-Terry duel. That was one of the last. The “classic” American duel of honor (conducted with seconds and according to one of the generally accepted codes duello such as the the Wilson or Clonmel, rather than a catch-as-catch-can frontier gunfight) fell off drastically in frequency after the American Civil War. Web search finds only one after 1865, in New Orleans in 1882.
One other note – the stuff about dueling in New York came from a book on the political culture of the nascent United States. It’s worth noting that New York was the capital of the U.S. for a couple of years. (Then Philadelphia, until “Federal City” in DC was ready circa 1800.) So the first Congress was held in that milieu.
> James, why do you think women are worse than men?
What gives you the idea that I think that women are worse than men? I am sure my wife is a nicer and kinder person than I am.
Obviously women are less smart than men, both slightly less smart than average, and considerably less smart at the smarter end of the bell curve. If you look at the minority of very smart men, there are no or very few comparable women. And obviously they are weaker than men, and less brave than men, and less loyal to the larger group than men, in the sense that every normal healthy man is stronger than every normal healthy woman, with zero or near overlap.
But we were discussing the women as angels theory. Obviously women are nicer than men, kinder, more willing to sacrifice themselves for those closest to them. And whereas a man would enthusiastically fuck every fertile age women he met if he could, a woman would not fuck every man she meets, or even very many men. But the central claim of the women are angels theory is that women can be trusted to not fuck around, and not destroy their family and their children for sexual reasons. Obviously women are more likely to do stupid self destructive and wicked things for sexual reasons than men are, and, like male homosexuals, will do so if permitted.
“In the early U.S. (the “Federal Era”, 1788-1820), there was a very strong dueling culture in… New York. Not in Pennsylvania, not in New England, and not as much in the South.”
I’m currently reading an excellent biography of Ethan Allen, founder and leader of the Green Mountain Boys militia. This unit got its start not in the American Revolution, but in the pre-Revolutionary years (1750s and 1760s), when New York was trying to assert control over settlers from Connecticut who had received land grants from New Hampshire in what is now modern Vermont.
The book makes it very clear that New York was one of the most aristocratically-dominated colonies. They wanted to charge quitrents as much as four times those of New Hampshire, and their plans for settling the “Hampshire Grants” (Vermont) involved a few large grants to senior military officers and other aristocrats, who would then subdivide their land and rent it on feudalistic terms. This was radically different from Connecticut or New Hampshire, which often sold rights to small amounts of land to commoners. Much of the interest in New York was from tenants who realized they would never own their own farms, while in Connecticut many farmers owned their land in fee simple.
In short, New York was culturally and governmentally very aristocratic, and it makes perfect sense for it to be a center of aristocratically-derived behaviors such as duelling.
One step towards the abolition of dueling in the US was taken when a politician, tired of constant criticism from a newspaper editor, challenged him to a duel. The editor replied, “OK….shotguns at two paces.”
That ended the matter.
I see now. I was reading abolition as “abolition of drugs” not “abolition of slavery”. Of course, with the latter interpretation, your stance makes perfect sense.
Swords stayed around in tropical places in the form of machetes, to cut a path through the jungle. I wonder if machete-duels stayed around for longer in Central or Southern America. Fun fact: in the Anglo-Caribbean, machetes are often still called “cutlass”. So its weapon, not tool origins are not forgotten.
As I recall reading dueling was not intended to be to the death, dangerous yes. When swords were chosen it was till first blood.
The fact that Burr actually killed Hamilton during their duel was scandalous and harmed Burr’s reputation. This duel outcome was given credit by historians for the decline of the popularity of dueling in the Eastern USA.
Nice analysis, I’m no expert on this subject so here are two questions I wouldn’t be surprised to see you satisfactorily answer:
1. Did mortality rates really go up much due to pistol etc. technology? I can well imagine that the maximum lethal distance of a pistol went up a lot but at 10 paces I am not sure there was such a difference and a large, slow lead ball at such ranges may well have been more lethal than a small, overpenetrating bullet.
2. I don’t fully understand the relevance of the unreliability of pistols. Sure, if the party that doesn’t want to duel gets to choose the time and date, weather can turn it more into Russian roulette than a guaranteed kill for at least one side. But if the party that wants the duel gets to choose? Unless they’re usually deliberately choosing times and places where the pistols are likely to misfire – in which case they are treating the duel as ceremonial to some extent anyway – I don’t see this as being a major protection for the weaker party.
Some things that might lend credibility to this argument would be e.g. prohibitions (or at least social conventions against) bringing back up pistols, reloading if they misfire, etc. etc. at the time when dueling was legal. Did such prohibitions or conventions exist?
3. I understand your theory explaining dueling disappearing in the English-speaking world first – it was richer and had first access to new military technologies, at least on the private market – but not why dueling survived on the continent until 1914. That’s plenty long enough for every lower middle class subaltern to have a smokeless powder pistol. So what’s up with that? (notable of course the “monopoly on violence” theory also has problems here, because anglo states were weaker or at least more permissive than the continental states; only moral shift against contractual violence explains it).
>1. Did mortality rates really go up much due to pistol etc. technology?
I cannot definitively say that they did. I can say that the dueling codes and surrounding body of custom seem very concerned with reducing the lethality of pistol duels, and that the strictures increased over time – a development parodied in the Twain satire quoted upthread.
>2. I don’t fully understand the relevance of the unreliability of pistols.
It was often deemed, especially later in the period, that “honor had been satisfied” if a misfire occurred, the point being that the other party has exhibited creditable bravery in standing to take a bullet. This meant that unreliable pistols reduced the incentive for a challenged party (presumably the less motivated) to refuse – it lowered the risk of gaining or maintaining status.
>Did such prohibitions or conventions exist?
Very much so. See, again, the Twain satire. Or find a copy of the Clonmel Code and read it.
>3. I understand your theory explaining dueling disappearing in the English-speaking world first – it was richer and had first access to new military technologies, at least on the private market –but not why dueling survived on the continent until 1914.
I don’t completely understand this myself. Nor do I expect to yet; sources on Continental dueling customs are thinner in English. But I do note that the Continent seems to have gone further and faster down the road of nerfing the duel with restrictive customs than the Anglosphere did; this is why Twain’s satire was funny in period and retains much of its humor today. The extreme end of that road is visible in German academic fencing as still practiced.
So what we seem to have is two different adaptations to rising lethality: in the Anglosphere the duel was banned, on the continent swaddled and nerfed.
“The editor replied, “OK….shotguns at two paces.”
I am unable to find a source for this story. Where did you read it? It sounds very anecdotal.
There is weak evidence that dueling had a tendency towards the ceremonial from Italian Rapier.
In the middle of 16th century “Duels of Honour” transitioned towards being less about actually fighting with their rapiers and more akin to a legal squabble of whether the forms were followed. According to Paul Wagner and Stephen Hand “One typical account from 1618 tells how two gentlemen conducted a quarrel ‘most correctly’ over the subject of windows, arranged a duel, and executed a couple of fencing figures, ‘but no one was touched because people ran to separate them … and so the story ended'”. (They attribute this to “Hale” but I can’t find any more context to give that an actual publication name) Wagner and Hand attribute this to the 1563 Council of Trent’s edict banning duels from all of Christendom.
Yup. Challenging or accepting a duel was one of the things that could trigger a latae sentenciae excommunication, until the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law, which dropped that and a bunch of other things that aren’t relevant any more.
>The book makes it very clear that New York was one of the most aristocratically-dominated colonies. They wanted to charge quitrents as much as four times those of New Hampshire, and their plans for settling the “Hampshire Grants” (Vermont) involved a few large grants to senior military officers and other aristocrats, who would then subdivide their land and rent it on feudalistic terms. This was radically different from Connecticut or New Hampshire, which often sold rights to small amounts of land to commoners. Much of the interest in New York was from tenants who realized they would never own their own farms, while in Connecticut many farmers owned their land in fee simple.
Yes it most definitely was. It was a legacy of the Dutch settlement, and it’s been a malign influence on local politics ever since.
The Dutch effectively granted landowners in their New Netherlands colony the rights and powers of the aristocracy, IIRC to encourage them to bring more settlers (as a bribe, basically- bring over a certain number of bodies, you get an enormous land grant and lordly powers). That landowner/lordly class lingered (was allowed to linger) after the English takeover, and was known as the patroon class, and their power structure the patroon system.
When one of the richest, most powerful patroons (name of Rensselaer, might be familiar) kicked the bucket it led to a tenant uprising known as the Anti-Rent War, as well as a regional political movement.
Oh and I might add, I’ve never been a fan of rich Dutch aristocratic families from NY. Bad influences, all. ;)
“A commenter on G+ pointed out that martial sword lasted a bit longer in colonial warfare, but not very; you’d be hard put to find a use of it after 1880. Richard Francis Burton’s 1884 Book of the Sword was an elegy.”
See the French for this. French army officers carried revolvers made for left-handed operation because they were supposed to carry their swords in their right hands. I believe that World War I had something to do with ending the practice.
>French army officers carried revolvers made for left-handed operation because they were supposed to carry their swords in their right hands.
Might have been more general. In Richard McKenna’s The Sand Pebbles, set in 1926 but reflecting the author’s own experience in on the Yangtze River in 1936, an American officer in China goes into melee with a pistol in his left hand and a sword in his right.
@Cathy: The story was told to me by a coworker from Nevada, where the event supposedly took place.
>The book makes it very clear that New York was one of the most aristocratically-dominated colonies.
In the north – but could they be really more aristocratic that the Cavalier planters in the South? Highly recommended article: https://popehat.com/2014/10/10/strange-seeds-on-distant-shores/ (@ESR I’d be especially interested in your opinion about this article, it is either extremely important and puts everything about US politics into perspective, or completely bunk.)
>(@ESR I’d be especially interested in your opinion about this article, it is either extremely important and puts everything about US politics into perspective, or completely bunk.)
Somewhere between. I’ve read Albion’s Seed and I think the basic idea that regional cultural differences in the U.S. are partly heritage from different English immigrant groups is sound – and that this does extend into our politics.
That said, the idea that the U.S.’s current politics are a straight replay of the English Civil war is pretty silly. You can only get there by attributing a degree of homogeneity to the English Civil War factions that they did not possess, similarly oversimplifying current U.S. politics, and then ignoring the huge upheaval of the Industrial Revolution.
> Wait, Jim, standard RP theory is female hypergamy, not generic female promiscuity
The problem is that a woman will crawl nine miles over broken glass to fuck her demon lover.
I’m not a historian, but it makes sense to me that the rise in capability of lawsuit in the court gave an alternate means of dispute resolution. You can’t get your money from and/or inflict painful damages on a dead man.
>I’m not a historian, but it makes sense to me that the rise in capability of lawsuit in the court gave an alternate means of dispute resolution.
Yes. This is part of the standard account of the function of the duel. That is, that it flourishes when other means of conflict resolution are unavailable or unreliable.
That wasn’t its only function, however. It also enforced behavioral norms of good manners and upright conduct that the judicial system cannot effectively address. For some of those we have yet to come up with a better check than the duel, which is why there is some remnant nostalgia for the code duello even today.
> That wasn’t its only function, however. It also enforced behavioral norms of good manners and upright conduct that the judicial system cannot effectively address.
Will not, not cannot. It would be entirely possible to design a judicial system which allowed you to be sued or imprisoned for being rude. The reason we do not have such a system is that rudeness (as part of free speech) is regarded as a fundamental human right.
Any system which allowed (i.e. without prosecuting the “offended” party who makes the challenge for assault/intimidation/etc) a duelling code that made such things punishable would likewise violate that right.
> For some of those we have yet to come up with a better check than the duel, which is why there is some remnant nostalgia for the code duello even today.
I’m skeptical as to the social benefits though. I don’t think deuling has gone away. Think of the confrontation scene in “Rebel without a cause” at Griffith Park. It seems like victories in deuls go to whomever can be the most hardened sociopath, not the one who is on the moral high ground. I’m sure incidents like that play out all the time on the streets of South Central LA. Not something I wish to see emulated in larger culture.
>I’m sure incidents like that play out all the time on the streets of South Central LA.
You’re probably right. Now ask why that is.
Wherever and whenever it happens, the invention or revival of the code duello is functional; it’s a way to exert social control on what would otherwise be bloodier and more indiscriminate violence. If you think South Central is bad with its rude version of the code, you don’t want to see South Central without it.
This is why I originally became interested in the history of dueling, and am also interested in other forms of customary law regulating violence such as the Albanian Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit on clan feuds. While moderns consider them barbarous, it is well to remember that in the absence of a functioning judicial system they actually had an effective role in reducing bloodshed. The Anglo-American common law originated as the most successful of these non-state regulatory systems.
> Any system which allowed (i.e. without prosecuting the “offended” party who makes the challenge for assault/intimidation/etc) a duelling code that made such things punishable would likewise violate that right.
The fundamental problem is of being punished (in this case, being forced to – “ceremonially” or otherwise – fight for your life) when you have done no wrong (whether that is because A] your accuser has made a mistake, or B] they have acted out of malice, or C] what you have done is not actually wrong) is an injustice. And for all that the legal system is imperfect, the dueling system doesn’t even bother to concern itself with case “C” at all*, and case “A” and “B” are only dealt with by the fact that the accuser also has to risk his life… which is incidentally also an injustice when you are the one who has been wronged.
*That’s not fair, I suppose. But the point is that your claims about the “function” of the dueling system in enforcing “manners” is in fact an imposition of the value system that some particular set of manners ought to be enforced on those who do not share the same value system. A value system not in fact shared by mainstream modern society.
>But the point is that your claims about the “function” of the dueling system in enforcing “manners” is in fact an imposition of the value system that some particular set of manners ought to be enforced on those who do not share the same value system. A value system not in fact shared by mainstream modern society.
This may be a mistake that we need to unlearn.
I could rant at length about this, but I’ll just point out that manners create social trust and let you figure it out. And…consider the downside of not having a “common value system”. And then consider the death of Detroit, carefully.
The whole idea, when you think about it, seems very “let God sort them out” – i.e. there’s an implicit notion that divine justice will make sure that the innocent will win duels and that malicious accusers will lose. Not surprising, since this is explicit in the older systems of trial by combat and trial by ordeal.
>I could rant at length about this, but I’ll just point out that manners create social trust and let you figure it out.
Too many people have forgotten that social trust is a survival characteristic. Communities and populations that have it, live through things that communities and populations that don’t have it, don’t.
They’re also a luxury good. I know I would go to some effort to live where people have manners, if presented a choice of living somewhere with or without them. (And have in fact recently done so.) And it’s a luxury good that you can create out of nothing and share with everyone you come into contact with, just by being less of an asshole.
>And…consider the downside of not having a “common value system”. And then consider the death of Detroit, carefully.
‘Common value system’ is most of what defines us as a nation. No accident who opposes the concept…..
BTW – thanks for making me have to reinforce my Suspenders of Disbelief ffor the next time I re-read the Honorverse books. :P
(Though, to be fair, the duelling codes in that series have explicitly chosen a less-lethal arm than is commonly available. It is not anything like less lethal enough).
>This is why I originally became interested in the history of dueling
Sounds like you are researching ancap options i.e. how to maintain order and civilization without even a smallish nightwatch type minarchist government.
If yes, then consider this: it is not individual but intergroup violence that is the real trouble e.g. the equivalent of the religious civil wars of France, St. Bartholomew’s Day etc. generally these are the problems that require a strong central peacekeeper. Not individual violence, that is a small problem in comparison, that has even easier solutions: weregild.
> And…consider the downside of not having a “common value system”.
I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a common value system. I’m saying that a value system which punishes verbal rudeness with physical violence is the wrong value system, and the people who are nostalgic for it rightly lost out.
And you didn’t even address my other point – that a major problem with the dueling system is that there is as far as I can tell absolutely no attempt to determine whether someone is actually in fact guilty of the offense for which they are to be punished by being required to appear for a duel. I actually meant this as part of a more substantial point – that maybe declining faith in direct divine intervention may have played a role. Once people realized that the outcome of a duel was decided by random chance (and/or martial skill) instead of God making sure the right person always wins, suddenly the odds don’t look so good.
Really? Happens all the time. Refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings, refusing to stock certain pharmaceutical goods, asking a co-worker who doesn’t return your affections out on a date, etc. All fairly rare now in the US, but becoming increasingly common in Canada and Europe. I know of priests being fined for teaching that homosexual activity was a sin.
Cathy & Greg (1-12 about 21:00) – Fistfights were not common, but did happen, in my white, suburban, middle-class middle school in California in the late 70s. I was involved in one when the school bully pushed a little too hard at me, and I actually fought back. Really, the fight was a draw, but everyone told me I won it, which, since I never got bothered by the bully again, I suppose is actually true.
I moved away from Delaware in elementary school shortly before they “desegregated” the schools; friends who stayed behind reported that “whole”-school fights still occurred into the early 80s, with the suburban kids fighting each other with fists and the urban kids fighting each other with knives and chains.
> I was involved in one when the school bully pushed a little too hard at me, and I actually fought back.
I had a similar experience in, hm, 1971. Middle school. Called the bully out publicly to a stand-up fight – you could do that in those days, there was a kind of code duello to it. He crawfished; I didn’t actually have to fight. Huge loss of face for him, and I learned one of the most important life lessons: in the face of bullying, push back hard. They often crumple.
Ever since…well, I attack when I fear. Heinlein was right; there’s a weird sense in which it’s easier to be a brave man than a coward. Riskier, but a coward hurts inside and dies a little every time he crumples; the brave man sleeps better at night and doesn’t have to hate his own inadequacy. That’s what I learned in 1971.
>I had a similar experience in, hm, 1971. Middle school. Called the bully out publicly to a stand-up fight – you could do that in those days, there was a kind of code duello to it. He crawfished; I didn’t actually have to fight. Huge loss of face for him, and I learned one of the most important life lessons: in the face of bullying, push back hard. They often crumple.
It was mostly a pecking-order thing (we were part of the same social group) but once in grade school I got bullied by 2 kids – one day after school they started with a little pushing and shoving and I responded with real punches. Knocked them both down. After that, for some reason, they wanted to be friends on my terms not theirs and we got along great. Sometimes a little bit of fisticuffs clears up potentially years of backstabbing and general abuse in the ‘primate pecking order games’ department.
>Ever since…well, I attack when I fear. Heinlein was right; there’s a weird sense in which it’s easier to be a brave man than a coward. Riskier, but a coward hurts inside and dies a little every time he crumples; the brave man sleeps better at night and doesn’t have to hate his own inadequacy. That’s what I learned in 1971.
Anger is very useful. Like fire. Great servant, terrible master.
Why dueling perished is a question that’s been of interest to myself as well for decades, but I’ve had too many other things to research to investigate. A few more factors have occurred to me that have to be taken into consideration, however, IMHO:
Increased velocity also means greatly increased accuracy, smooth bore or no. Which also raises lethality, obviously.
What greatly increased lethality ended, was a form of mutual punishment that anyone could invoke – something that’s very common – perhaps uniform – in societies without good working systems of justice; or re crimes that are very difficult to prove. By mutual punishment I mean that it was a form of Mutual Russian Roulette. Sure, better marksmanship would help your kill/incapacitate rate, but there was still a great chance you’d miss, so no-one had a guarantee of survival. Anthropologically mutual punishment is often masked as a (often magical) sort of “trial” ritual that is very painful and often conveniently scarring to visible areas of the body, making anonymity difficult for repeat criminals. Generally both accuser and accused are “tried” (this is the root of that word, after all) whatever the traditional form of torture or peril is.
Not inconsistent with the above, to attain any real chance of doing damage in a black powder duel, you’d need to be awfully well off, a poacher/hunter whose shots paid for themselves, or a soldier whose shooting was subsidized. Practice shooting may not be expensive now, but it was then. Once manufacturing drops the price, of course, you don’t need to be from the upper classes in order to pay for enough practice to be useful with a gun at a distance. Similarly, in World War Two Japan couldn’t afford to spend enough aviation fuel to properly train pilots during the war, and once its stock of pilots trained before the war declined, it began to lose the Air War in the Pacific badly. It was easier to build good fighter aircraft in numbers than to train the pilots properly.
Percussion caps as a manufactured item – ensuring a uniform burn for black powder is a problem. Ensuring uniform granularity, chemical proportions, degree of compression or packing over time or due to vibration, water vapor absorption… all part of that problem, and I’m sure that list could be extended. More uniform methods introduced by manufacturing would strongly tend to address that, again greatly increasing accuracy. These problems couldn’t be ignored by manufacturers since manufactured percussion caps would have to be stored for longer periods just to get to the customer necessitating attention to quality and packaging. Uniform, predictable burns mean better accuracy, of course.
The degree to which the guns themselves became manufactured items of more uniform and predictable quality is another, similar, question; but some degree of mass production of firearms had been underway for a while by then I believe.
Re mutual punishment, it’s not impossible that the institution of local police (in place of the King’s soldiers), better science and technology, etc. raised chances of conviction by the State for most crimes to the point where mutual punishment was no longer an attractive form of redress; but personally I wouldn’t bet too much of my money on that.
Three days hence;
Is this a fortunate coincidence?
i think there was a second development in the same time period that probably has as much impact as percussion caps. Rifling. Yes it was available earlier but was generally confined to long arms of the period and it was an incredibly expensive proposition compared to the musket. When it became possible to reliably rifle short arms in mass quantities the ability to ‘hit what you aim at’ was a certainty.
Not uncommon of the period for two duelists engage each other and BOTH miss due to that terrible accuracy of the weapons. At which point one or the other contestants came to the ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ frame of mind. When you know you won’t survive, the ardor of engagement wanes.
>When it became possible to reliably rifle short arms in mass quantities the ability to ‘hit what you aim at’ was a certainty.
Er, you didn’t know that scratch-rifled dueling pistols were common before rifled longarms? I just did a little Googling to check and it was so. Wikipedia reports (with source) that smoothbore dueling pistols were considered cowardly on the Continent – that I didn’t know.
I don’t believe your theory holds water. It seems more likely that the reverse is true – smoothbore dueling pistols survived longer than they technologically should have in the Anglosphere because duelists were trying to minimize lethality, and that continued to be the case until mass production of the percussion cap upped the stakes in a different way.
I can’t find any “quote” or “reply with quote” button*, so I’m faking it:
>Random Observer on 2016-01-13 at 11:46:12 said:
>This reminded me of the great service that Aaron Burr did for the United States. I only wish he had done it several decades earlier.
. . . . .
I couldn’t agree more. I can’t help but wonder whether the recent pop Hamilton-idolatry (on Broadway forsooth!) isn’t a nervous left-wing response intended to counter the influence of Prof. DiLorenzo’s “Hamilton’s Curse”.
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>Troutwaxer on 2016-01-12 at 16:16:15 said:
This particular memory is a bit foggy, but I read somewhere a couple years ago that honor/bravery associated with dueling was also a way to establish credit-worthiness, which was a big deal for a young noble, particularly a younger son. I wonder whether some change in the way loans were handled might also be an issue in the end of dueling.
. . . . .
Indeed, that idea is elaborated upon quite interestingly in the Wikipedia article
The tldr summary:
“Dueling in the U.S. virtually disappeared by the start of the twentieth century with the rise of modern banking institutions and commercialized lending in the South, which were characterized by greater transparency and lower transaction costs.”
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Another Wikipedia article, “Duel”, mentions non-fatal duels fought with blades in France in 1967 and pistols in Uruguay in 1971. Both involved politicians. Which brings 2 hypotheses, not mutually exclusive, to mind:
-They did it for the publicity – politicians are all drama queens.
-Political types have ALWAYS been more likely to be involved in duels, possibly because so many of them are con-artists who, for the soundest reasons of art, must pretend to be men of honor.
I wound up here because I was looking for any evidence that pistol dueling as a non-lethal sport (which was at the Olympics once or twice) was still practiced anywhere. This seems to be such a delightfully erudite crowd of iconoclasts, I thought it would be a good place to ask. Anybody know of any modern practice of this?
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*Despite turning off FF extension Stylish and setting NoScript to allow all on this page.