Ben Johnson: Bring Back the Duels?
Ed Schultz, host of MSNBC’s “The Ed Show,” asked John Nichols of Nation and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek if Rep. Alan Grayson (whom he’d interviewed earlier) was “out of bounds” for likening opposition to socialized medicine with the Holocaust. Alter said this hate speech was appropriate on outlets like “The Ed Show” (in fact, it seems to be Ed’s only form of discourse) but Congressmen should “try to keep it civil on the floor. That’s the way the Founders wanted it, and that’s consistent with the traditions of the American republic.” He added Grayson need not apologize, since Republicans were vastly more guilty of hate speech than Grayson (without offering any examples).
John Nichols said Democrats “need a lot more of this” kind of rhetoric, then cited the murder of one of America’s great Founding Fathers, saying:
Nichols: Let me remind Jonathan Alter as regards the Founders that the third vice president of the United States was in a duel and shot the secretary of the Treasury, I believe.
Alter: Yeah, but that wasn’t good! We’re not for that!
Nichols: That wasn’t good, Jonathan, but the Founders were not that into civility. And the fact of the matter is, there’s not only no need for apology, I think this is what you take to the floor.
The reference is bizarre on any number of fronts, which is presumably the reason Alter is so taken aback by it. The duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton was not only anomalous but one of the most tragic events in the Founders’ era. Aaron Burr was hardly a “Founding Father”; he was an egomaniac whose contributions to American life include the political campaign and perhaps an early seccessionist movement. By all accounts, Hamilton, who wrote most of The Federalist Papers, went to the duel under duress. He knew Burr to be an ambitious scoundrel who had trapped him, by the conventions of the day, into facing him in a duel or renouncing his most deeply held political convictions. (Think of it as a more extreme form of refusing to settle out-of-court.) In a letter to be delivered if he died, Hamilton wrote to his wife, Eliza, “If it had been possible for me to have avoided the duel, my love for you and my precious children would have been alone decisive. But it was not possible, without sacrifices which would have rendered me unworthy of your esteem.”
Hamilton deliberately wasted his opening shot, firing the first of two rounds above his head into a tree. This was the ritualistic way of denoting one had too much honor to contest a duel to the parting of soul and body. Burr aimed, fired, and killed Hamilton...
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Arnold Shcherban - 10/5/2009
Millions are killed and other millions' life is destroyed at the wishes (not even real needs) of the few, so why not let people to stand for their core principles up to death?