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Title: "Is Duelling Justifiable?" Composition of Daniel Forney for the Dialectic Society, August 29, 1804: Electronic Edition.
Author: Forney, Daniel, 1784-1847
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann and A. Timothy Spaulding
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Sarah Ficke
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 22K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-03-15, Sarah Ficke finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Is Duelling Justifiable?" Composition of Daniel Forney for the Dialectic Society, August 29, 1804
Author: Daniel Forney
Description: 8 pages, 8 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Social and Moral Issues/Other Social and Moral Issues
Social and Moral Issues/Women and Women's Roles
Editorial practices
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Letters, words and passages marked as deleted or added in originals have been encoded accordingly.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Forney's composition argues that dueling is an abominable practice that does not curb indecency toward women or prevent people from transgressing on the rights of others, as its proponents claim. These goals are best reached by observing the laws and cultivating one's self-respect.
"Is Duelling Justifiable?" Composition of Daniel Forney for the Dialectic Society, August 29, 18041
Forney, Daniel, 1784-1847

Page 1
Is duelling justifiable?
Notwithstanding what have has been said in favour of duelling by many persons of great litterary talents, I cannot be induced to embrace a subject so repugnant to the dictates of sound reasoning & argumentation. As yet I have not heard arguments or proofs in the affirmative sufficient to convince me of the propriety of this abominable & most2 execrable of all practices. Gentlemen who have so warmly espoused the cause of dueling must search out for more forceable & cogent reasons; those which they lay the most stress upon, & upon which they build the3 foundation of their arguments, will bear least inspection & appear most easy to be overturned and confuted. It is but too much to be lamented, that we suffer prejudice, superstition, & custom

Page 2
to gain such an ascendancy & influence over our minds & our actions. Man is naturally an imitative being not only in action but in mind & sentiment. For this reason we see the son imbibing the sentiments of a father, a daughter possessing a predeliction for the accustomed way of a mother, & students acquiring the principles of their teachers. Thus by degrees the mind is imperceptedly4 diverted from its right channel, it looses every particle of its natural state & often times, when tinctured by the fascinating wiles of a base wretch usurps sentiments attended with the most dangerous and pernicious consequences. No person can justly and impartially discuss or illuminate a question while his mind is fettered with the shackles of custom,– Therefore let us divest ourselves of every prejudice that can sway or incline our mind in preference to one side or the other, let us lay open our hearts to conviction &

Page 3
commit ourselves under the auspicious influence of sound reasoning & argumentation, laying aside the laws of our country & the laws of the gospel, as well aware that the promoters of dueling dare not approach their sacred bar to vindicate their cause.
It has been said, that the laws of our country were inadequate for the redress of wrongs, were it not for dueling. But instead of being applied & used for the protection of persons, it is made the creature of his will, appropriated solely for the purpose of gratifying ambition, for we often find it arising from the most trivial circumstances, taking place from the midnight-expedition, or over the bottle or gaiming table. It cannot be argued, upon the grounds of truth, to have any tendency over the reformation of manners, for experience

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daily proves it to have quite the contrary effect. It is probable this practice might have some influence over society & manners in a degenerate age, when laws become too feeble to restrain the actions of men, & cowardice gained5 the primary seat in the human breast.6 But as long as every heart glows with a generous ambition, so long dueling will be the bane of society.–
Moreover the boasted advantages, are to restrain any violence or indecency7 to the female sex, and to curb that insolent haughtiness so repugnant to the feelings of every good & virtuous man. But what are these? Is there one person in this enlightened body who can say with candour, the fear of a challenge would restrain him from any violence or indecency8 to the fair sex, provided he was so disposed, or has prevented him from speaking his sentiments in a free & unreserved manner?

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No—a more9 noble & much more commendable principle actuates, the human breast, self reputation the fountain of every generous & patriotic action. But grant that any person, so vile & base as to be guilty of such conduct, who would be so regardless of his own reputation as to enter the lists with a seducer, a ravisher or a murderer? I can confidentially answer in the negative.
For the better investigation of this subject, permit me, my audience to call your attention a few moments to the rise of duelling I must confess the origin of single combats is some what obscure; but it is evident from the historic page, they did not become common in resentment of private or personal injuries until the sixteenth century. Francis the first & Charles the fifth 10 set the example—like an electric spark flased across the Eastern hemissphere & involved all Europe in private quarrels & single combats. Hence every person thought himself intitled to call upon his advi ersary to make reperation for an affront11 or injury that seemed to touch his honour. It is easy to conjecture

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what would be the effects of the introduction of such an opinion among men of ferocious & barbarous manners, feirce courage & lofty sentiments. A contemptuous look, a disrespectfull word, nay even a haughty12 stride was sufficient, was sufficient to occasion a Challenge
Nevertheless the practice of duelling, has been considered to be attended with some beneficial consequences.13 But what these are, the promoters of duelling leave us to find out—As for myself I have been so unfortunate as not to discover any of those excellencies, & am a declared and an inveterate enemy to the practice. But these advantages are, the promoters of duelling Their boasted advantages are, as I have had occasion already to observe, to restrain men from transgressing the rights of one another, & to prevent any indency to the female sex. These arguments are too futile to be confuted, they only deserve to be mentioned that they may be dispised. The violations of the laws of the land, public justice sufficiently punishes the aggressors14 —And as for the violations of the rules of decorum & breaking the bounds of modesty & dencency as it respects15 the female sex, the contempt & abhorrence in which he is held by

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by every good man is sufficient chastisement for his insolence. It is probable it might have such a tendency when the minds of men are overwhelmed with superstition ignorance & bigottry & de debased & poluted with superstition & bigottry—But when a pure & undefiled religion is rightly16 appreciated & understood, the rights of man unfolded to our view with philosphical enquiry & research, no such practice is necessary to restrain our actions or meliorate our manners.
I should be truly afflicted, to think that the people of the United States have degenerated17 so much as to require the18 fear of a challenge to urge us to a niceity of conduct towards our fellow[men]—And that ambition & a love of liberty which impelled to the late glorious contest have deserted the American breast. But for the consolation of every true lover of his country, we have no reason to entertain such a suspecion.
Duelling has already become odious & despicable in the eyes of every great

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and good man,19 but they are forced by the shackles of custom to participate in this inhuman & unchristian practice or forfeit their fortitude & bravery. How miserably interpreted by the promoters of duelling!—Does not experience convince us it by no means tries the courage of a man, for the most cowardly person may be induced to fight a duel. A person of great erudition says, he is a man of the greatest resolution & fortitude who declines the combat, for he has not only to defend his character from the reproach of cowardice but also to overcome the prejudicial sentiments of the times

Danl Forney

August 29th 1804.


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. Despite the title and internal evidence suggesting that this essay is a debate speech, Forney submitted it as a composition on August 30, 1804. Dialectic Society minutes record that "The Composition of Green H. Campbell on motion of James Martin, and that of Daniel Forney on motion of S. M. C. Osborn was filed away" (4:27, UA). The composition consists of eight unnumbered pages that once were bound but now are unbound. A second hand has written "[Aug. 29, 1804]" in the upper right corner of the first page.

2. Forney wrote must on top of much.

3. A partially formed character following the makes the word appear as they.

4. Forney wrote e on top of i before d.

5. Forney wrote gained on top of gains.

6. Forney wrote breast on top of heart.

7. Forney wrote indecency on top of indency.

8. Forney wrote indecency on top of indenc.

9. Forney wrote more on top of most.

10. Francis I (1494-1547), King of France from 1515 to 1547, publicly challenged Charles V (1500-1558), Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 to 1556, to a duel during the years that the two powers were at war. Though the duel never took place, the practice of dueling gained notoriety in Europe as a result.

11. Forney wrote "an affront" on top of "injury that."

12. Forney wrote hyt on top of unrecovered characters.

13. Forney wrote consequences on top of tendencies.

14. Forney wrote ors on top of ions.

15. Forney wrote "as it respects" on top of towards.

16. Forney wrote tly on top of ly.

17. Forney wrote degenerated on top of beco.

18. Forney wrote the on top of unrecovered characters.

19. Forney wrote man over men.