Florida Repeals Anti-Dueling Law (1832)

On February 8, 1832, Florida’s Territorial Legislature repealed an anti-dueling law. This measure effectively legalized dueling in the Florida territory. The prevalence of dueling attests to the nature of violence and elite masculinity in the antebellum south.
Placard for duel
RC02619 Placard for a duel: Tallahassee, Florida (1839)

In the above placard, William Tradewell challenged rival politician Leigh Read to a duel. Read had previously made a series of inflammatory remarks about his opponent, causing Tradewell to demand an apology. Though the two never squared-off, both men became known for repeatedly resorting to violence as a means of solving disputes.

English dueling pistols used in the Senator William White, Abraham Bellamy duel
PR02841 English dueling pistols used in the Senator William White, Abraham Bellamy duel: Monticello, Florida (1836)

In the antebellum period, many elite southern men solved their differences by dueling. Duels usually involved firearms, but sometimes resulted in fierce hand-to-hand combat. By engaging in a duel, both participants hoped to restore honor, compromised by the real or perceived affronts of their opponent.

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5 thoughts on “Florida Repeals Anti-Dueling Law (1832)

  1. From the Acts of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida… (February 8, 1832), page 44:

    “Be it enacted by the Governor and Legislative Council of the Territory of Florida, [t]hat the act entitled an act to prevent dueling…is hereby repealed.”

  2. Great shots of old dueling guns! I love reading about stuff like this. Sounds just like Alexander Hamilton and his duel. I think it is funny that people actually respected the challenge and rules of a duel.

    • The rules for a duel varied on a case-by-case basis. Several things had to be determined, such as distance, weapons and location. We have a description from the Call-Brevard family papers of a proposed duel, written by Andrew Jackson in a letter to Richard Keith Call on September 9, 1819:

      “Captain Call: In prosecuting the business you have taken charge of, for your friend, Major Eaton. You must steadily keep in mind that the man you have to deal with is unprincipled. You will be guarded in all your acts, have everything in writing, and hold no conversation with him, unless in the presence of some confidential person of good character. He is mean and artful.

      It is possible from what I think of the man, that he will propose muskets or rifles. These are not the weapons of gentlemen, and cannot and ought not to be yielded to. Pistols are the universal weapons (with one solitary exception) of fire arms gentlemen use. These or swords ought to be selected, and as neither of those concerned are in the habit of using swords—the offending party will make choice of this weapon.

      The next choice in the opponent is distance—ten paces is the longest—and altho the defendant may choose as far as ten paces, still if the offended is not as good a shot as the defendant, custom and justice will bring them to a distance that will put them on a perfect level or equality position—To prevent accident—let them keep their Pistols suspended until after the fire word is given.

      The first rule is to let each man, fire when he pleases—so that he fires one minute or two after the word—Charge your friend to preserve his fire—to keep his teeth firmly clenched and his fingers in a position that if fired on and hit, his fire may not be extorted—sometimes when the distance is long it is agreed that both or either, may advance and fire. If this arrangement is made, charge your friend to preserve his fire until he shoots his antagonist through the brain, for if he fires and does not kill his antagonist, he leaves himself fully in this power.

      Have every rule written down and signed by his friend, receive none but written answers and all open, that you may inspect and see that they are decorous—for this is the friends duty to see that not paper that comes through him ought to contain indecorous expressions. I have been always of an opinion that a base man can never act bravely.

      The attack upon Major Eaton, was in the first place wanton, then throwing the author ship on a diminutive black guard printer, that not one could notice—only with a cudgel—shows a meanness and cowardice, with all his boasted courage, that induces me to believe that he will not fight.

      It may be—he may rather select me—as he may think that I will have nothing to do with him, and in this way get off—should he (by way of examples sake) just close with him—I then have a right of choice of distance—take him at seven feet—placed back to back—pistols suspended until after the word fire—and I will soon put an end to this troublesome scoundrel.

      It is possible from what I have heard and I charge you to agree on my part without hesitation—he is a man I cannot challenge—but if a villain will run from on danger, and hold out ideas of bravery—they ought always to be taken in.

      I pledge myself on the foregoing terms—if my Pistol fires, I kill him.

      Your friend,
      Andrew Jackson”

  3. There are some important nuances to be found in the prose of the placard. Following the perceived untoward remarks of General Reed, he was apparently confronted by Mr. Tradewell, who had taken offense at his “affrontery.” At that time, insults to the honor and character of a man and/or his family were not taken lightly, by either the individual or by “polite society,” and were considered to be “actionable.”

    The General then had the option of apologizing for his remarks, or accepting the demand for “satisfaction,” ie. the challenge to a duel. As he declined to do either, Mr. Tradewell followed the customary protocol of posting a placard in a public place and/or, placing a notice in the local newspaper.

    He thus labeled the General as a coward (the word “poltroon” was popular in those days) and a scoundrel (“rogue” was also used, often along with “cad,” especially if the honor of a lady was involved).

    At this juncture, the General might rethink his position and then either apologize or accept the challenge, rather than face public humiliation. In literally thousands of duels, most men preferred to face possible death “on the field of honor,” rather than face public shame and ridicule.

    Pistols, usually large caliber smoothbores, were the usual weapons of choice. In New Orleans, however, the use of swords persisted for many years.

    Rules for dueling can be found in the “Irish Code Duello” of 1877, and John Lyde Wilson’s “The Code of Honor,” 1838.

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