A Return to Code Duello

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King, Alivin L. (1970). Louis T. Wigfall, southern fire-eater. Baton Rouge.

It is often claimed by anti-Southern historians that the only difference between the North and the South prior to the war for Southern Independence was slavery and reputed extensions of slavery. This lie is often repeated by those who would like to make it appear that Southern secession in 1861 was unnecessary. However, there were many other cultural/political differences, one being that of the art of Code Duello, aka dueling.

Prior to the early 1800s, dueling was widely considered a means of maintaining a well-mannered and honorable society among those of European stock. It was only in the mid-1800s, during the rise of modernistic “moral’ reform, that the tradition fell under attack, especially in the UK and Yankeedom. As proof of this, in 1804 the most famous duel between Aron Burr and Hamilton took place above the Mason-Dixon line. By the 1830s however, dueling became largely a Southern Tradition, as Yankee abolitionists of the day condemned it as “backwards.”

It should be argued this was not true at all. Dueling helped create a society of men rather than boisterous cowardly boys. Men like President Andrew Jackson, General Albert Sidney Johnston, Southern nationalists William Yancey, and General Louis Wigfall were veterans of duels and so were many Southerners. Dueling was a way to settle conflicts in the open and squash the womanly gossip. I will give an example of the mindset of the before-mentioned General Wigfall to show Antebellum’ s mindset on dueling.

To briefly cover Wigfall, one should know he was a Southern Nationalist aka Southern Secessionist in the 1850s, US/CSA Senator and native son of South Carolina. He was renowned for his penchant for dueling and his love of the Code Duello.

“Wigfall was so anxious to get [Preston] Brooks onto the field of honor that Thomas Player, Wigfall’s cousin, concluded that he had a monomania on dueling. Many southerners considered the practice of dueling to be ‘wholesome and meritorious’ but Wigfall’s extreme faith in the Code Duello as a governor of morals and manners of a society was at the least fanatical.” (King 30)            

Wigfall would indeed engage in a duel with Brooks in which both were injured and effectively buried grievances after the bloodletting. Wigfall did not back down from his stance on dueling despite taking a painful wound but instead continued to support dueling.

“His duel with Preston Brooks was Wigfall’s last, but he remained a firm believer in the Code Duello as a factor in the improvement of both the morals and the manners of a community.”

“Holding that it engendered courtesy in both speech and manner, he continued to encourage his friends to abide by the code. He urged one friend, John Cunningham, to duel a man by the name of McGowan. Wigfall seemed to delight in telling how he served as second to Cunningham, arranging for the weapons (rifles) and the number of paces, etc. He went into a particularly detailed description of how the rifle ball entered McGowan’s ear and how the lower part of his skull was “much fractured.” But he would recover, said Wigfall, and the duel had done much to raise Cunningham’s prestige” (King 35)

It should be realized that dueling was part of an honor system of the Old South which in and of itself still survives in pieces today. Duels at the time could be very officialized along the general lines of Code Duello with many times both parties deciding to purposely miss or shoot in the air. The point was that one would not let one’s name and reputation be dragged in the mud by another man or even woman. The people of the Old South carried themselves like men and demanded respect. In many aspects, it is the exact opposite of modern America where online personalities have massive feuds where they heap attacks on one another with no real fear of retribution. American society has become a place where people think they are free to say whatever they want about others no matter how false and damaging to the said person’s reputation it may be. Modern American society believes that violence in and of itself is evil despite constantly displaying it in their movies, music and shows.

Part of the cultural Southern independence stance of the League is that we must stand for the total eradication of all hostile foreign cultural influences on Dixie. The elimination of dueling is a yankee cultural move that aimed to “civilize” the Southern people during Reconstruction and beyond. It is worth noting most officialized dueling ended after Reconstruction largely due to the occupation which changed Southern laws and caused many Southern leaders to try to conform to Yankee’s legalisms to avoid further colonization. However, fighting in the South continued with many courts dismissing whatever charges were attached thus allowing men to be men.

Today neither dueling nor fighting is tolerated for the most part regardless of how one might slander you. Our society now seeks to cradle dishonorable cowards who get out of line. The League saw this at Charlottesville when those courts defended the thugs who physically attacked our peaceful activists. The act of fighting, in this case explicitly in self-defense, was prosecuted as a crime leading to the incarceration and imprisonment of several innocent men. It must be the mission of Southerners that we return to an honorable society that values reputation and defending one’s honor. Unlike the haughty Yankee modernist, we acknowledge that honor matters and is worthy of defense. Such laws that attempt to thwart our right to self-defense should be relegated to the trash can with all other anti-white legislation, and will be mercilessly repealed in a Free South.

Article Written by a Georgia League of the South member