The Dark Truth Behind The Time Andrew Jackson Killed A Man

President Andrew Jackson apparently had a really short temper and liked to resolve his disputes with a pistol. He may have been involved in up to 100 duels during his lifetime (via Britannica). In many of these controlled confrontations, Jackson was trying to defend the reputation of his wife, Rachel. The timing of his marriage to Rachel and the ending of her first marriage to Lewis Robards didn’t quite sync up, jeopardizing her good name. She didn’t know that the divorce wasn’t final when she wed Jackson in 1791, so she was accidentally a bigamist for a time.

Preserving honor was definitely part of Jackson’s deadly duel with Charles Dickinson in 1806, more than two decades before Jackson served as president. The whole feud started over a bet on a horse race (via History). Both Jackson and Dickinson owned plantations and bred horses, but it was Dickinson’s father-in-law, Captain Joseph Erwin, who challenged one of Jackson’s horses to a competition. He wanted Jackson’s horse Truxton to race against his horse, named Ploughboy (via the Library of Congress). As Erwin’s horse went through training, Erwin noticed a decline in performance and decided to forfeit the race. There were some issues on how to financially settle the matter, but the two parties eventually reached an agreement. The whole situation would have soon been forgotten except that someone told Erwin and Dickinson that Jackson had been talking badly about them to other people. Dickinson stepped in to defend his and his father-in-law’s reputations.

Andrew Jackson broke the rules to shoot his opponent

Soon a war of words began between Jackson and Dickinson. Dickinson called Jackson “a worthless scoundrel, a poltroon, and a coward” (via the Library of Congress). He also insulted Jackson’s wife, calling her a bigamist (via History). These final insults proved too much for Jackson to bear and he challenged Dickinson to a duel. It didn’t seem to matter to Jackson that duels were illegal by this time in American history. He pressed ahead with his fateful meeting with Dickinson on May 30, 1806.

The deadly standoff took place at Harrison’s Mill, Kentucky. Jackson strategized this gunfight, letting Dickinson have the first shot. Jackson also wore an oversized coat to confuse his opponent about where to aim for the best target, Jackson’s heart. His attempt at deception worked, and Dickinson’s bullet struck Jackson in the breastbone, not the heart. Jackson took his time to aim at Dickinson, but his gun misfired. According to duel rules, that should have been the end of the match. But instead Jackson re-cocked his weapon and fired again at Dickinson, inflicting what proved to be a fatal wound. Jackson faced no legal consequences for killing Dickinson, and the whole affair seemed to have no impact on Jackson’s run for the presidency in 1829. The press was more concerned about his wife’s past than the fact that he shot a man dead in a duel.

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