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How The Civil War Brought An End To Kentucky Duels

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In the 19th century, duels were so commonplace in Kentucky that the state’s constitution was amended to include a provision that elected officials must swear they have never participated in a duel. That provision remains part of the oath officials take to this day.

I spoke with Jim Prichard of the Filson Historical Society about duels in Kentucky. We began our conversation discussing the particular duel that led to the amendment.

Listen to our conversation in the audio player above.

On how Henry Clay became involved in a duel:

“It was purely a political disagreement with Humphrey Marshall, also of Kentucky. And Mr. Marshall at one point in the Kentucky General Assembly, this is in 1809, gave Clay what was referred to in those days as 'the lie.' That was considered such a vile insult in Clay’s generation and subsequent generations that he had no choice but to challenge Marshall to a duel.”

On why the practice finally came to an end:

"It was probably the Civil War more than anything that brought an end to this custom of this ritualized form of violence -- dueling -- because of the vast bloodshed that took place at that time. And also, again, the nature of some of these duels were so tragic and almost in some instances so farcical that it eventually became something to be laughed at and considered sort of a relic of the past."

Jim Prichard of the Filson Historical Society will deliver a lecture Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Louisville Free Public Library, Iroquois (601 W. Woodlawn Ave.) titled, “Death Before Dishonor – Famous Duels in Kentucky.” More information can be found here

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.

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