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- The Code of Honor - 1/4 -

former governor of South Carolina, as a 22-page booklet, in 1838. Before his death he added an appendix of the 1777 Irish duelling code, but this second edition was not printed until 1858, as a 46-page small book, still sized to fit in the case with one's duelling pistols. This code is far less blood-thirsty than many might suppose, but built on a closed social caste and standards of behavior quite alien to today.

Transcriber's Note: In the appendix the term "rencontre" is used. In British law (then covering Ireland) this refers to an immediate fight in the heat of offense. A duel would be undertaken in "cold blood" if not cool temper. Killing a man in a rencontre counted as manslaughter; in a duel, as murder.

On more than one occasion, the author refers to "posting" an offender. This refers to posting to the public a notice as to his behavior in some central club or business spot frequented by all men of that level of society; exactly where varied from town to town. It was the ultimate sanction, making the challengee's refusal to either apologize or fight a public stain upon his character.


by John Lyde Wilson


The man who adds in any way to the sum of human happiness is strictly in the discharge of a moral duty. When Howard visited the victims of crime and licentiousness, to reform their habits and ameliorate their condition, the question was never asked whether he had been guilty of like excesses or not? The only question the philanthropist would propound, should be, has the deed been done in the true spirit of Christian benevolence? Those who know me, can well attest the motive which has caused the publication of the following sheets, to which they for a long time urged me in vain. Those who do not know me, have no right to impute a wrong motive; and if they do, I had rather be the object, than the authors of condemnation. To publish a CODE OF HONOR, to govern in cases of individual combat, might seem to imply, that the publisher was an advocate of duelling, and wished to introduce it as the proper mode of deciding all personal difficulties and misunderstandings. Such implication would do me great injustice. But if the question be directly put to me, whether there are not cases where duels are right and proper, I would unhesitatingly answer, there are. If an oppressed nation has a right to appeal to arms in defence of its liberty and the happiness of its people, there can be no argument used in support of such appeal, which will not apply with equal force to individuals. How many cases are there, that might be enumerated, where there is no tribunal to do justice to an oppressed and deeply wronged individual? If he be subjected to a tame submission to insult and disgrace, where no power can shield him from its effects, then indeed it would seem, that the first law of nature, self-preservation, points out the only remedy for his wrongs. The history of all animated nature exhibits a determined resistance to encroachments upon natural rights,--nay, I might add, inanimate nature, for it also exhibits a continual warfare for supremacy. Plants of the same kind, as well as trees, do not stop their vigorous growth because they overshadow their kind; but, on the contrary, flourish with greater vigor as the more weak and delicate decline and die. Those of different species are at perpetual warfare. The sweetest rose tree will sicken and waste on the near approach of the noxious bramble, and the most promising fields of wheat yield a miserable harvest if choked up with tares and thistles. The elements themselves war together, and the angels of heaven have met in fierce encounter. The principle of self-preservation is co-extensive with creation; and when by education we make character and moral worth a part of ourselves, we guard these possessions with more watchful zeal than life itself, and would go farther for their protection. When one finds himself avoided in society, his friends shunning his approach, his substance wasting, his wife and children in want around him, and traces all his misfortunes and misery to the slanderous tongue of the calumniator, who, by secret whisper or artful innuendo, has sapped and undermined his reputation, he must be more or less than man to submit in silence.

The indiscriminate and frequent appeal to arms, to settle trivial disputes and misunderstandings, cannot be too severely censured and deprecated. I am no advocate of such duelling. But in cases where the laws of the country give no redress for injuries received, where public opinion not only authorizes, but enjoins resistance, it is needless and a waste of time to denounce the practice. It will be persisted in as long as a manly independence, and a lofty personal pride in all that dignifies and ennobles the human character, shall continue to exist. If a man be smote on one cheek in public, and he turns the other, which is also smitten, and he offers no resistance, but blesses him that so despitefully used him, I am aware that he is in the exercise of great Christian forbearance, highly recommended and enjoined by many very good men, but utterly repugnant to those feelings which nature and education have implanted in the human character. If it was possible to enact laws so severe and impossible to be evaded, as to enforce such rule of behavior, all that is honorable in the community would quit the country and inhabit the wilderness with the Indians. If such a course of conduct was infused by education into the minds of our youth, and it became praiseworthy and honorable to a man to submit to insult and indignity, then indeed the forbearance might be borne without disgrace. Those, therefore, who condemn all who do not denounce duelling in every case, should establish schools where a passive submission to force would be the exercise of a commendable virtue. I have not the least doubt, that if I had been educated in such a school, and lived in such a society, I would have proved a very good member of it. But I much doubt, if a seminary of learning was established, where this Christian forbearance was inculcated and enforced, whether there would be many scholars.

I would not wish to be understood to say, that I do not desire to see duelling to cease to exist entirely, in society. But my plan for doing it away, is essentially different from the one which teaches a passive forbearance to insult and indignity. I would inculcate in the rising generation a spirit of lofty independence; I would have them taught that nothing was more derogatory to the honor of a gentleman, than to wound the feelings of any one, however humble. That if wrong be done to another, it was more an act of heroism and bravery to repair the injury, than to persist in error, and enter into mortal combat with the injured party. This would be an aggravation of that which was already odious, and would put him without the pale of all decent society and honorable men. I would strongly inculcate the propriety of being tender of the feelings, as well as the failings, of those around him. I would teach immutable integrity, and uniform urbanity of manners. Scrupulously to guard individual honor, by a high personal self respect, and the practice of every commendable virtue. Once let such a system of education be universal, and we should seldom hear, if ever, of any more duelling.

The severest penal enactments cannot restrain the practice of duelling, and their extreme severity in this State, the more effectually shields the offenders. The teaching and preaching of our eloquent Clergy, may do some service, but is wholly inadequate to suppress it. Under these circumstances, the following rules are given to the public, and if I can save the life of one useful member of society, I will be compensated. I have restored to the bosoms of many, their sons, by my timely interference, who are ignorant of the misery I have averted from them. I believe that nine duels out of ten, if not ninety-nine out of a hundred, originate in the want of experience in the seconds. A book of authority, to which they can refer in matters where they are uninformed, will therefore be a desideratum. How far this code will be that book, the public will decide.



RULES for Principals and Seconds in Duelling. _____________________

CHAPTER I. The Person Insulted, Before Challenge Sent

1. Whenever you believe that you are insulted, if the insult be in public and by words or behavior, never resent it there, if you have self-command enough to avoid noticing it. If resented there, you offer an indignity to the company, which you should not.

2. If the insult be by blows or any personal indignity, it may be resented at the moment, for the insult to the company did not originate with you. But although resented at the moment, you are bound still to have satisfaction, and must therefore make the demand.

3. When you believe yourself aggrieved, be silent on the subject, speak to no one about the matter, and see your friend, who is to act for you, as soon as possible.

4. Never send a challenge in the first instance, for that precludes all negotiation. Let your note be in the language of a gentleman, and let the subject matter of complaint be truly and fairly set forth, cautiously avoiding attributing to the adverse party any improper motive.

5. When your second is in full possession of the facts, leave the whole matter to his judgment, and avoid any consultation with him unless he seeks it. He has the custody of your honor, and by obeying him you cannot be compromitted.

6. Let the time of demand upon your adversary after the insult, be as short as possible, for he has the right to double that time in replying to you, unless you give him some good reason for your delay. Each party is entitled to reasonable time, to make the necessary domestic arrangements, by will or otherwise, before fighting.

7. To a written communication you are entitled to a written reply, and it is the business of your friend to require it.

Second's Duty Before Challenge Sent.

1. Whenever you are applied to by a friend to act as his second, before you agree to do so, state distinctly to your principal that you will be governed only by your own judgment,--that he will not be consulted after you are in full possession of the facts, unless it becomes necessary to make or accept the amende honorable, or send a challenge. You are supposed to be cool and collected, and your friend's feelings are more or less irritated.

2. Use every effort to soothe and tranquilize your principal; do not see things in the same aggravated light in which he views them; extenuate the conduct of his adversary whenever you see clearly an opportunity to do so, without doing violence to your friend's

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