Jackson's Duel

Shortly after his marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards in 1791, Andrew Jackson was dismayed to learn that she was still technically married to her first husband. Though a legitimate divorce was eventually obtained and the Jacksons remarried, the scandal elicited much discussion and more than a few jokes -- including one from a certain Charles Dickinson. Though Dickinson was famed for his marksmanship, Jackson, bent on defending his wife's name, immediately challenged him to a duel. Though Dickinson took aim quickly and fired first, the impact of his bullet was blunted by Jackson's loose coat and merely broke one of his ribs. When Jackson attempted to return the favor, he misfired.

Unfortunately for Dickinson, the rules required that he stand his ground while Jackson tried a second time. He could only watch in horror as his rival reloaded; Jackson then carefully took aim, and promptly shot and killed him. "I intended to kill him," Jackson later declared. "I would have stood up long enough to kill him if he had put a bullet in my brain."

[Were he alive today, Jackson would pose a quandary for airport security: the bullet which wounded him lodged near his heart and could not be removed. He carried it in his chest for the rest of his life.]

[Jackson might have dueled with John Quincy Adams (his predecessor in the White House) too. Adams was not impressed when Harvard, his alma mater, conferred upon Jackson a doctor of laws: "I would not be present to witness her disgrace," Adams declared, "in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name."]

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