AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The fighting of two persons, one against the other, at an appointed time and place, due to an earlier quarrel. If death results, the crime is murder. It differs from an affray in this, that the latter occurs on a sudden quarrel, while the former is always the result of design.

In dueling, the use of guns, swords (rapiers), or other harmful weapons resolves quarrels through trial by combat. Duels used to occur commonly between opposing individuals seeking restitution or satisfaction outside the court system. In early U.S. history, some members of law enforcement attempted to treat dueling as a crime, but the practice went mostly unpunished. However, with the results of one duel especially?between AARON BURR and ALEXANDER HAMILTON?the practice lost prestige in the northern states. Along with growing public sentiment against dueling, new laws in the mid-1800s finally treated the form of confrontation as outright or attempted HOMICIDE. In states that have not incorporated dueling into their homicide statutes, dueling is now a crime punishable by a fine or imprisonment, or both. It is also an offense in some states merely to give or accept a challenge to engage in a duel.

Around the time of the Revolutionary War, dueling occurred in every state of the nation?in some areas, regularly?for even relatively slight offenses, such as insults, or to resolve gambling disputes. Few laws prohibited this tradition inherited from the Old World, which continued to evolve, even in Europe. Although no binding set of rules governed the proceedings of a duel in the United States?largely, no doubt, because dueling was outside the law?U.S. citizens adopted the European rules from their ancestors.

U.S. citizens based their dueling codes on the Code Duello of Ireland. This Irish code of 1777 contained twenty-six commandments covering all aspects of a duel. It included ways to avert a duel, such as the manner in which to apologize when one had committed a duel-provoking

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A depiction of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr on July 11, 1804. Hamilton intentionally missed Burr, but Burr's shot wounded Hamilton, who died the next day.


offense. If a duel could not be avoided, the scenario was a familiar one: usually, opponents would stand back-to-back, then pace a set number of steps away from each other, turn, and shoot. The Code Duello declared, "The aggressor must either beg pardon...

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