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Andrew Jackon and Charles Dickinson's Duel

The duel between Charles Dickinson and Andrew Jackson centered around horse racing and loose tongues. There was a wager of $2000 involved along with an “appearance bond: eight hundred dollars, payable to Jackson in the event Ploughboy [horse against Jackson’s] failed to make the starting line.” (1) As Ploughboy’s practice runs were not up to par, the owner, Erwin, decided to just give Jackson the appearance bond and “substitute different notes for the promissories Jackson had inspected and approved at the time of the original agreement.” (2) Thus, the stage was set for the duel. According to the horse’s owner and Jackson, all was fine and agreed upon between the two. Rumors rose up stating that Jackson questioned Erwin integrity and honor along with that of Charles Dickinson who was a partner of Erwin as well as related. Other people got involved and began putting accusations in Jackson’s mouth. He denounced them and tried to take the higher road by ignoring the rash actions of the younger men. (3) In the process, Jackson made it appear that Dickinson was behind the actions with more words being exchanged escalating the event. This led to a planned duel between Jackson and a man named Nathaniel McNairy which was settled before it led to an exchange of fire. (4) This was not satisfactory to Dickinson who then demanded satisfaction. Jackson accepted, and the two men along with their seconds met in Kentucky. Duels were considered “a test of will” and involved strategy instead of speed. (5) It has been noted that Jackson was determined to take his time as he felt confidence in “his capacity to get off a shot even with a pistol round in his own body.” (6) Jackson was deliberate and not rash. He preferred to “take the blow, recover one’s balance, and return a careful shot.” (7) He was not a man to rush in without thinking of the strategy and the consequences. Dickinson got the first shot off leaving Jackson still standing though secretly shot in the chest. Jackson had a clear chance to take Dickinson completely out, but the gun did not fire until he fixed the hammer to fire into Dickinson’s gut. Jackson’s injury was minor while Dickinson’s took his life. (8) Jackson had to establish himself as a man not to be messed with. He had tried diplomacy which did not work as those around him were determined to take him down. Someone was to die in that clearing. Jackson took a slow and methodical approach which proved to be the right way. This would also be a hint as to his character as a military man and a politician as he thought out his actions and moved confidently behind them. He was a man determined to come out on top.

(1) H.W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, (Westminster: Doubleday, 2005), 131.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid, 132.
(4) Ibid, 134.
(5) Ibid, 136.
(6) Ibid, 137.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid, 138.





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