On This Date in 1806, Andrew Jackson Killed Someone

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

Time has a way of enhancing public opinion of politicians. Andrew Jackson, on the other hand, seems to be regarded more and more as an insane jerk as the decades distance us from his unhinged, cane-wielding wrath. He can't find us and beat us up now, so it's time we acknowledge what a wacko he was. An example? His duel with Charles Dickinson, which transpired 209 years ago today.

Now, Dickinson was a grade-A schmuck in his own right. He was a plantation owner and horse breeder who insulted Jackson's wife in print—calling her a bigamist for marrying Jackson while she was still legally married to Captain Lewis Robards—and then got in a dispute with him over a horse race. (The order of these two events is disputed—some say the race came first.) Jackson challenged him to a duel, which had to be held in Kentucky, as Tennessee banned the practice.

So on May 30, 1806, the two met at Harrison's Mill on the Red River. Dickinson was renowned for being a great shot, and as soon as the signal was given, he fired and hit Jackson square in the chest. According to the rules of dueling, Jackson was allowed a retaliation shot at Dickinson, who had to stand still and wait for it. Wounded, Jackson steadied himself, raised his pistol and fired it square at Dickinson's chest, killing him.

Jackson bled plenty, but survived the gunshot. The bullet stayed lodged in his chest for decades and caused him chronic pain, but he clearly didn't regret the duel—he reportedly later said, "I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain."

At the time, many considered Jackson's actions cowardly. Duel "etiquette" leaned towards firing in the air or aiming not to harm if you got shot first. His reputation wasn't permanently damaged, though. By 1829, he had earned more than enough good will to become the President of the United States (where he would murder again, albeit through policy).