Young Abraham Lincoln’s Deadly Sword Duel

Chuck Banner | August 16th, 2018

At a young age in 1842, Abraham Lincoln was publicly berated by James Shields during a debate about banking in Illinois. The humiliation in public led to James Shields challenging Lincoln to a duel. This was a duel to the end, where the victor would take both the life and the pride of his opponent.

You see the Illinois State Bank went bankrupt in August 1842 and advised it would no longer accept its own paper currency from citizens to pay off their debts: they had to use gold or silver. Gold or silver was a rarer commodity so most of the citizens could not repay their debts. The state auditor, Shields, supported the decision to close the bank. And Lincoln at the time known as a “prairie lawyer” wrote a scathing editorial that he published in the Sangamo Journal.

The published letter saw Lincoln assume the role of an Illinois farmer and signed it as “Rebecca” unfortunately Shields did not take too kindly to what he called slander. And demanded the newspaper give up who this person was, they obliged. Shields then went on to demand Lincoln retract his statement, which he refused to do so. Shields then challenged Lincoln to a duel, it would happen in Missouri where dueling was still legal.

The rules at the time allowed the challenged to pick the weapon, Lincoln felt he would have no chance with a pistol and did not want to die, he also had no intention of killing Shields but felt he would easily be able to disarm him with a blade. Therefore, he decided on dueling with the broadsword planning to use his superior height and easily beat Shields.

September 22 and they met on Bloody Island to fight to the death, Lincoln swung his sword high about Shields and cut through a nearby tree. This was enough for Shields to understand he was at a fatal disadvantage and promptly called a truce.

They met again during the civil war, President Lincoln and Brigadier General Shields, Shields was one of the only men to deliver a defeat to Stonewall Jackson during the Battle of Kernstown. And President Lincoln promptly promoted him to Major General, symbolically burying the hatchet!

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