Suppressing Speech and Suppressing Dueling

Of late I have been doing some research on the relationship between dueling and litigation in the 18th and 19th centuries. An integral part of the Code Duello was the practice of “posting someone a coward.” If a gentleman refused to give satisfaction on the field of honor to a gentleman he had offended, then the victim would print broadsides or take out newspaper advertisements announcing that so-and-so, previously thought a gentleman was in fact a coward. In an effort to suppress the practice of dueling, the Texas legislature adopted the following law:

If any person or persons hall, in any newspaper, or handbill, written or printed, publish or proclaim any other person or persons as a coward or cowards, or use other opprobrious and abusive language for not accepting a challenge, or fighting a duel, such person or persons so offending shall, on conviction, be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, and imprisonment in the common jail of the county not exceeding sixty days, at the discretion of the court.

I haven’t seen anything about convictions under this law. Notice, that it is drafted so that it probably sweeps up more than simply “posting” someone for refusing a challenge. Journalists wishing to comment on the courage of Texas politicians refusing a challenge should proceed cautiously.

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Gray says:

    I wonder: are statutes such as this one of the sources for the exclusion of “fighting words” from protected classes of speech?