Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Duel of the Month Club: Clay v. Randolph

Senator Henry "Blackleg" Clay (at left) v. Representative John "Crackshot"Randolph of Roanoke (at right).

In 1826 one of the worst names you could call someone was a “Blackleg,” a cheater. That is just what John Randolph called Senator Clay when he implicated him a “corrupt bargain” with John Q. Adams. Ever the hotheaded southerner, Senator Clay called Randolph out, much to the horror of Washington. After all, Randolph was known for his aim, as well as his alcohol and opium induced erratic nature. No one thought Clay stood a chance. Senator Thomas Hart Benton attempted to mediate. But it was no “sticks and stones” for these gentlemen; they chose pistols and set a date for April 8, 1826.

Randolph insisted that the duel be fought in his native Virginia, the only place worthy of his blood. The two men, along with their seconds and Benton as their witness, met a half mile north of the Chain Bridge at Pimmit Run in Arlington. Despite Randolph’s earlier promise to Benton that he had no intention of shooting at the distinguished Clay, you just never knew with Randolph. He could go either way.

So there they were at Pimmit Run ready to duel, when the second loading Randolph’s pistol accidently fired it due to a hair trigger. Randolph was furious; this was a breach of the code duello and an embarrassment to his honor. Clay was angry too, but since it was clearly an accident, he was willing to overlook it. The two counted their paces, turned and fired. Both bullets had missed. Randolph had clearly fired at Clay! The bullet just barely missed!

In keeping with dueling protocol, Benton asked both men if they were satisfied. Both Clay and Randolph declared that they were not satisfied and had their seconds reload. This time Clay shot first. After the echo of the first shot, Benton raised his pistol above him, fired and shouted, “I do not fire at you, Mr. Clay.” The two met halfway and shook hands. A visibly relieved Senator Clay asked if Randolph had been wounded. John Randolph replied, “You owe me a coat, Mr. Clay.” Henry Clay replied, “I am glad the debt is no greater.”
Footnote: Thomas Hart Benton once shot his friend Andrew Jackson in the shoulder, servering an artery, after a dispute in a bar. Jackson survived. The two reconciled and remained friends.
Source: Thomas Hart Benton in, G.E. Rule, “The Brown-Reynolds Duel”, edited by Walter B. Stevens, 1911.

1 comment:

  1. Great post -- I'm linking it a blog post I'm working on at