Today’s partisan bickering seems mild compared to the political roiling of the early Republic, where policy differences could end up with bullets being exchanged in the early morning hours.
John Randolph was a Virginia Congressman who was one of the primary spokesmen of a faction of the Democratic-Republican Party founded by Thomas Jefferson.
faction wanted to ensure social
stability with minimal government interference, and decried “creeping
nationalism”. He once said, "I am
an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality." In 1825 he entered the Senate. In 1826 Randolph made a fiery speech in the
Senate denouncing the foreign policy of President John Quincy Adams. Specifically he was against the President
sending a delegation to the Panamanian Congress of Latin American
Republics. Randolph railed against the
President and the Secretary of State, Henry Clay, intimating that Clay was a
scoundrel. The Secretary of State took
offense at this insinuation and challenged Senator Randolph to a duel.
Both Clay and Randolph had been involved in previous duels. Clay fought a duel while a member of the Kentucky state legislature. Randolph fought a duel while a student at the College of William and Mary and again in 1815 while in the House of Representatives. By 1826 dueling was illegal in Virginia where the duel was to be fought, but a little matter of the law was not about to deter lawmakers Clay and Randolph from fighting.
Dueling politicians were not rare in the young republic. Andrew Jackson fought over one hundred duels before becoming President. In those days, if you called the President a liar you were likely to have to back up your words with a sword or a dueling pistol. Dueling in America flowed down from the ancient practice of trial by combat developed in the Middle Ages. A test of arms between two opponents was deemed the surest way of knowing which party God favored in a dispute.
These are the often overlooked stories of early America. Stories such as the roots of racism in America, famous murders that rocked the colonies, the scandalous doings of some of the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the first Emancipation Proclamation that got revoked, and stories of several notorious generals who have been swept under history’s rug.