I saw a different question that sparked my interest in this subject. Several important people in American history have died dueling, so my question is how widespread was duelling in the U.S until 1860?

It seems that dueling could just be a upper class activity since until the western expansion only the rich land owning class seemed to die dueling, or was it that the lower classes would have dueled too, especially in the west? Was dueling in the U.S. more or less confined to some regions or classes?

  • Define "common". Does getting beat up by a schoolyard bully count as a "duel"? Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 22:42
  • 1
    Depending on your definition of duel, this is (essentially) an un-answerable question. Not every duel (where they were actually called duels) that ended in a death was recorded and past the 'age of dueling' when we move into the "Wild West" where a gun fight might be called 'dueling', most gunfights weren't recorded, only those by the famous, or infamous, and most of those weren't very accurate in their descriptions.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 23:52
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    AFAIK, "Duel" is intrinsically an upper class activity; lower class people may have settled conflict through martial activity, but the concept of a duel is high class. The wikipedia entry on duel is instructive. Also dueling was illegal fairly early (the Burr Hamilton duel was illegal), so records may be incomplete.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 13:20
  • I would say, in the United States, by the time of the Civil War it was in decline - which is slightly later than it went out of fashion in Britain, though I believe it had become illegal in both countries well before that. In continental Europe it continued into the 20th century. Benito Mussolini, as a young man, fought several duels. This may help.
    – WS2
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 18:04

2 Answers 2


According to this website http://www.artofmanliness.com/2010/03/30/famous-duels-from-american-history/ duels were common among politicians.

Longtime political opponents almost expected duels, for there was no way that constant opposition to a man’s political career could leave his personal identity unaffected.
- Joanne B. Freeman, in Affairs of Honor

Refusing to accept a duel would effectively end a man's political career.


It seems that Americans were somewhat ambivalent about dueling. Many upper-class people participated in duels, but they were also considered an uncivilized practice. For instance, by the time Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, public opinion was largely against duels. See this article: http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/dueling.html

His duel with Hamilton helped doom Burr's political career, while later dueling was part of Andrew Jackson's fame and renown.

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