Manuscript/Mixed Material Image 1 of Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916: Abraham Lincoln to Elias H. Merryman, [September 19, 1842] (Dueling instructions)
Abraham Lincoln, Memorandum of Dueling Instructions to Elias H. Merryman1, [September 19, 1842]
1 Lincoln was challenged to a duel by Illinois State Auditor James Shields, over an alleged aspersion on Shields's character in a satirical letter Lincoln contributed under a pseudonym to Springfield's Whig newspaper, the Sangamo Journal, in September of 1842. The document shows that Lincoln dictated special conditions that would greatly favor the combatant with the longest arms (himself) and presumably discourage his opponent. Their friends eventually succeeded in resolving the quarrel without fighting, but reconciliation only took place on the dueling ground itself, on an island in the Mississippi River. As the endorsement indicates, this document was found by Thomas S. Pinckard in 1862 and sent to Lincoln' s White House secretary John G. Nicolay.
In case Whitesides 2 shall signify a wish to adjust this affair without further difficulty, let him know that if the present papers be withdrawn, & a note from Mr. Shields 3 asking to know if I am the author of the articles of which he complains, and asking that I shall make him gentlemanly satisfaction, if I am the author, and this without menace, or dictation as to what that satisfaction shall be, a pledge is given made, that the following answer answer shall be given—4
2 ID: John D. Whiteside was James Shields' second. He was a Democratic politician who had served in the General Assembly.
3 ID: James Shields had known Lincoln in the General Assembly. In 1842 he was state auditor, and in that capacity the object of ridicule in the “Lost Township” letters, one of which Lincoln admitted to writing. Shields later was a brigadier general in the Mexican War and the Civil War, and served in the United States Senate from Illinois, Missouri and California, thus becoming the only man ever sent to the Senate from three states.
4 Elias H. Merryman was a Springfield physician and Lincoln's second in his duel with Shields.
“I did write the “Lost Township” letter which appeared in the Journal of the 2nd Inst but had no participation, in any form, in any other article alluding to you— I wrote that, wholly for political effect— I had no intention of injuring your personal or private character or standing as a man or a gentleman; and I did not then think, and do not now think that that article, could produce or has produced that effect against you, But, as you construe it differently, I will say that and had I anticipated your construction, such an effect I would have forborne to write it— And I will add, that your conduct towards me, so far as I knew, had always been gentlemanly; and that I had no personal pique against you, and no cause for any—”
If this should be done, I leave it with you to arrange what shall & what shall not be published—
If nothing like this is done — the preliminaries of the fight are to be—
1st Weapons — Cavalry broad swords of the largest size precisely equal in all respects — and such as now used by the cavalry company at Jacksonville—
2nd Position — A plank ten feet long, & from nine to twelve inches broad to be firmly fixed on edge — on the ground, as the line between us which neither is to pass his foot over upon forfeit of his life— Next a line drawn on the ground on either side of said plank & paralel with it, each at the distance of the whole length of the sword and three feet additional from the plank; and which lines the passing of his own such line by either party during the fight shall be deemed a surrender of the contest— The fight in no case to last more than fifteen minutes— 5
5 Why Lincoln struck out this condition is not clear, though after fifteen minutes of wielding the heavy broadswords, both contestants would have been hard pressed to continue.
3- Time — On thursday evening6 at five o,clock if you can get it so; but in no case to be at a greater distance of time than friday evening at five o,clock—.
6 September 22, 1842. This is, in fact, the day on which Lincoln and Shields met on the “field of honor,” at which time their friends resolved the difficulty without fighting.
4th Place — Within three miles of Alton on the opposite side of the river, the particular spot to be agreed on by you—
Any preliminary details coming within the above rules, you are at liberty to make at your discretion; but you are in no case to swerve from the above those these rules, or to pass beyond their limits—
[Endorsed on Envelope:]
About this Item
- Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916: Abraham Lincoln to Elias H. Merryman, [September 19, 1842] (Dueling instructions)
- Contributor Names
- Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865
- Created / Published
- September 19, 1842
- Subject Headings
- - United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865
- - United States--Politics and government--1861-1865
- - Presidents--United States
- - Manuscripts
- - Dueling instructions
- Call Number/Physical Location
- series: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833-1916
- Source Collection
- Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress
- Manuscript Division
- Digital Id
- Online Format
- online text
- IIIF Presentation Manifest
- Manifest (JSON/LD)
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Chicago citation style:
Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Abraham Lincoln to Elias H. Merryman,Dueling instructions. 1842. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/mal0003800/.
APA citation style:
Lincoln, A. (1842) Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Abraham Lincoln to Elias H. Merryman,Dueling instructions. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/mal0003800/.
MLA citation style:
Lincoln, Abraham. Abraham Lincoln papers: Series 1. General Correspondence. 1833 to 1916: Abraham Lincoln to Elias H. Merryman,Dueling instructions. 1842. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/mal0003800/>.