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The Code of Honor, Or, Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Duelling   By: (1784-1849)

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by John Lyde Wilson


Originally this was published by the author (1784 1849), a former governor of South Carolina, as a 22 page booklet, in 1838. Before his death he added an appendix of the 1777 Irish duelling code, but this second edition was not printed until 1858, as a 46 page small book, still sized to fit in the case with one's duelling pistols. This code is far less blood thirsty than many might suppose, but built on a closed social caste and standards of behavior quite alien to today.

Transcriber's Note: In the appendix the term "rencontre" is used. In British law (then covering Ireland) this refers to an immediate fight in the heat of offense. A duel would be undertaken in "cold blood" if not cool temper. Killing a man in a rencontre counted as manslaughter; in a duel, as murder.

On more than one occasion, the author refers to "posting" an offender. This refers to posting to the public a notice as to his behavior in some central club or business spot frequented by all men of that level of society; exactly where varied from town to town. It was the ultimate sanction, making the challengee's refusal to either apologize or fight a public stain upon his character.


The man who adds in any way to the sum of human happiness is strictly in the discharge of a moral duty. When Howard visited the victims of crime and licentiousness, to reform their habits and ameliorate their condition, the question was never asked whether he had been guilty of like excesses or not? The only question the philanthropist would propound, should be, has the deed been done in the true spirit of Christian benevolence? Those who know me, can well attest the motive which has caused the publication of the following sheets, to which they for a long time urged me in vain. Those who do not know me, have no right to impute a wrong motive; and if they do, I had rather be the object, than the authors of condemnation. To publish a CODE OF HONOR, to govern in cases of individual combat, might seem to imply, that the publisher was an advocate of duelling, and wished to introduce it as the proper mode of deciding all personal difficulties and misunderstandings. Such implication would do me great injustice. But if the question be directly put to me, whether there are not cases where duels are right and proper, I would unhesitatingly answer, there are. If an oppressed nation has a right to appeal to arms in defence of its liberty and the happiness of its people, there can be no argument used in support of such appeal, which will not apply with equal force to individuals. How many cases are there, that might be enumerated, where there is no tribunal to do justice to an oppressed and deeply wronged individual? If he be subjected to a tame submission to insult and disgrace, where no power can shield him from its effects, then indeed it would seem, that the first law of nature, self preservation, points out the only remedy for his wrongs. The history of all animated nature exhibits a determined resistance to encroachments upon natural rights, nay, I might add, inanimate nature, for it also exhibits a continual warfare for supremacy. Plants of the same kind, as well as trees, do not stop their vigorous growth because they overshadow their kind; but, on the contrary, flourish with greater vigor as the more weak and delicate decline and die. Those of different species are at perpetual warfare. The sweetest rose tree will sicken and waste on the near approach of the noxious bramble, and the most promising fields of wheat yield a miserable harvest if choked up with tares and thistles. The elements themselves war together, and the angels of heaven have met in fierce encounter. The principle of self preservation is co extensive with creation; and when by education we make character and moral worth a part of ourselves, we guard these possessions with more watchful zeal than life itself, and would go farther for their protection... Continue reading book >>

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