Dueling/Fighting/Threatening Senators: Zachariah Chandler read Abraham Lincoln’s playbook

Zachariah Chandler from the Life of Zachariah Chandler book


Things had gotten “hot” in the United States Senate. The Civil War was clouding over the horizon. A man named Preston Brooks had physically assaulted Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. Mr. Brooks, a Southerner, had taken great offense to remarks made by the Radical Republican Sumner-a Northerner. The beating was brutal. Prior to that incident, Horace Greeley had also been assaulted in the Capital grounds by a Mr. Rust of Arkansas. Rust challenged a Mr. Dunn of Indiana following the Greeley episode. Other challenges of the same nature by men in public service ensued. Some of the Northern Senators made an agreement among themselves. The individuals involved included, Zachariah Chandler, Benjamin Wade, and Simon Cameron. The decision was made that, if necessary, any of the gentlemen would fight. That is, they determined that if confrontation were to occur-they would “do what they had to do” -and not seek to avoid the encounter.

Eventually a problem did occur. Senator Green of Missouri and Cameron had an argument in the Senate. An altercation between the two looked inevitable. However, Vice-President Breckenridge provided the “brakes.” He ordered the two to take their seats. Mr. Green made a threatening statement that he would continue the matter with Cameron outside the Senate chamber. Mr. Cameron, on the advice of Chandler, Wade and others- armed himself. The threatened fight did not occur when the Senate adjourned. Mr. Chandler accompanied Mr. Cameron to his lodging. Such were the passions of the times. Men were concerned with their “honor” as they defined it then.

Abraham Lincoln also had an incident involving honor. He had been challenged to a duel. Lincoln was a state legislator at the time. James Shields, an attorney, had been offended by statements published in the Sangamo Journal. Lincoln received the blame for what had been said, even though he may not have been the author. Mr. Lincoln chose the Broad Sword as the weapon for the duel. Mr. Shields quickly realized as the duel commenced that he was completely outmatched by Lincoln in his skill at Broad Swords. They made peace and ended the duel.

Getting back to Zachariah Chandler and the other Northern Senators. There is a story that Mr. Wade came to Mr. Chandler in regards to a proposed duel that was demanded of the Ohio Senator. Wade wanted the advice of his friend and colleague regarding the matter. Chandler must have known about Lincoln’s earlier duel incident. He had to know-because his advice to Mr. Wade was to make the choice of weapon- the broadsword. He had apparently read or heard about Lincoln’s earlier “playbook” on how he resolved his duel. Mr. Wade took the advice-and the duel ended before it began. Wade’s opponent didn’t consider the use of Broad Swords gentlemanly.  Bloodshed was avoided- and honor served.  Boy, those were interesting times!


Information partially gleaned from:  Life of Zachariah Chandler by the Detroit Post and Tribune, 1880

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2 Responses to “Dueling/Fighting/Threatening Senators: Zachariah Chandler read Abraham Lincoln’s playbook”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Hey Chris:
    Thanks for the great information. I also wasn’t aware that the site is underwater!

  2. Chris says:

    Makes today’s arguments in Congress look tame in comparison.

    Another interesting thing about the Lincoln/Shields duel was that it was actually fought on an island in the Mississippi across from Alton that was actually in Missouri. This is because dueling was illegal in Illinois. There is actually a park/nature preserve named for Lincoln and Shields in Missouri where the duel took place (the island is now underwater due to the mighty Mississippi’s changing course). The island was near where the bridge today crosses the river from Alton into Missouri.

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