In the early 1800s gentlemen who felt they had been offended or insulted resorted to issuing a challenge to a duel, and the result could be gunfire in a rather formal setting.
The object of a duel was not necessarily to kill or even wound one’s opponent. Duels were all about honor and demonstrating one’s bravery.
The tradition of dueling goes back centuries, and it is believed the word duel, derived from a Latin term (duellum) meaning war between two, entered the English language in the early 1600s. By the mid-1700s dueling had become common enough that fairly formal codes began to dictate how duels were to be conducted.
Dueling Had Formalized Rules
In 1777, delegates from the west of Ireland met at Clonmel and came up with the Code Duello, a dueling code which became standard in Ireland and in Britain. The rules of the Code Duello crossed the Atlantic and became the generally standard rules for dueling in the United States.
Much of the Code Duello dealt with how challenges were to be issued and answered. And it has been noted that many duels were avoided by the men involved either apologizing or somehow smoothing over their differences.
Many duelists would merely try to strike a non-fatal wound, by, for instance, shooting at their opponent's hip. Yet the flintlock pistols of the day were not terribly accurate. So any duel was bound to be fraught with danger.
Prominent Men Participated in Duels
It should be noted that dueling was almost always illegal, yet fairly prominent members of society participated in duels both in Europe and in America.
Notable duels of the early 1800s included the famous encounter between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, a duel in Ireland in which Daniel O'Connell killed his opponent, and the duel in which American naval hero Stephen Decatur was killed.