Crime History, Feb. 20, 1839: Congress outlaws pistol dueling to stop lawmakers from killing each other

On this day, Feb. 20, in 1839, Congress prohibited pistol dueling in the District of Columbia after one Congressman killed another.

Dueling was not an uncommon way to settle disputes of honor during the 19th century America. President Andrew Jackson is said to have fought in a dozen duels, and including one that left a bullet in his chest until his death 19 years later.

Jonathan Cilley

Jonathan Cilley

The pistol duel that finally prompted the congress to outlaw the violent practice featured Kentucky Representative William Jordan Graves and Maine Representative Jonathan Cilley.

Buy the rules of the duel, Graves was allowed to stand-in for New York newspaperman James Webb, who was inexperienced with guns. Cilley critized Graves’ political ally and alleged that Webb was corrupt.

The two sides met at the Bladensburg dueling grounds on the MarlboroRoad in Maryland. The grove near the Dueling Creek, a tributary of the Anacostia River, had been the site of at least 50 shoot-outs, most famously the killing of Navy hero Stephen Decatur, of the Decatur House.

After stepping off eight paces, Graves shot Cilley in his leg, causing him to bleed to death in 90 seconds.



  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    (…Repeal the 1839 law)

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