Saturday, September 12, 2009

Did the Civil War start in CA

Interesting article from Yahoo.

Senator's death in duel prefaced Civil War carnage
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press Writer Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press Writer
Sat Sep 12, 10:32 am ET

WASHINGTON – Nearly two years before the first shots were fired in the Civil War, simmering hostilities over slavery erupted on a "field of honor" in California, where a pro-slavery judge mortally wounded an anti-slavery senator in a duel.

The duel showed how political disagreements over slavery had become increasingly violent, culminating in 1861 when the war broke out.

On Sept. 13, 1859 — 150 years ago Sunday — Sen. David Broderick, D-Calif., and Chief Justice David Terry of the California Supreme Court faced off at 10 paces near the San Francisco-San Mateo County line at Lake Merced. Broderick fired first, but his hair-trigger pistol went off prematurely and the bullet landed in the ground. Terry then fired a bullet into Broderick's chest; Broderick, 39, died a few days later from the wound.

"They have killed me because I was opposed to slavery and a corrupt administration," Broderick said from his deathbed.

The Senate's historian, Don Ritchie, said that as Northerners and Southerners settled in California, the tensions over slavery spilled over into the free state.

Terry was from Kentucky; Broderick was born in Washington, D.C., but his family later moved to New York City. He went to California for the gold rush and wound up making it rich in real estate.

Although the Republican Party had emerged as the national abolitionist political movement, the California Democratic Party had an anti-slavery wing, with Broderick as its chief. This enraged Terry, a pro-slavery Democrat. He leveled a personal attack on Broderick at a political convention, a few months before the fateful duel, that eventually led to their fateful encounter.

Terry charged that the anti-slavery Democrats "have no distinction they are entitled to; they are the followers of one man, the personal chattels of a single individual, whom they are ashamed of. They belong, heart and soul, body and breeches, to David C. Broderick."

Terry mocked them for claiming the support of Sen. Stephen Douglas, an Illinois Democrat who tried to straddle a middle ground on slavery and went on to lose the presidential race to Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

"Perhaps they do sail under the flag of Douglas, but it is the banner of the black Douglass, whose name is Frederick, not Stephen," Terry said to cheers at the convention. Frederick Douglass was a former slave and abolitionist, and invoking his name was meant as a slur, historian Ritchie said.

The next day, Broderick told friends at a San Francisco hotel that he once considered Terry "the only honest man on the Supreme bench, but I take it all back."

This led to a series of notes between the two men, starting with a demand from Terry for a retraction and ending with a challenge from the judge for "satisfaction usual among gentleman." That meant a duel, which Broderick accepted.

California was a "a wide-open world where newspapers carried announcements of upcoming duels as if they were street fairs," wrote Barbara Holland in her 2003 book, "Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling."

Broderick and Terry, who had resigned from the state court, met early in the morning on Sept. 12, but were arrested and brought before a judge in San Francisco. The judge released the men, ruling that while dueling was illegal, an attempt to duel was not, according to David Williams' 1969 book, "David C. Broderick: A Political Portrait." Williams wrote that several of Broderick's friends were disappointed in the ruling.

The next morning, the two men met around 7, drew lots for the pistols and then threw off their overcoats as dozens of people watched.

"Mr. Broderick seemed a little nervous, and as he received his pistol, gripped it with a convulsive grip," reported the San Francisco Bulletin, adding that the senator's nervousness "was the result not of fear, but of intense resolution, or, perhaps, deadly hate. Judge Terry, meanwhile, stood erect, without a wink or a motion, like a man accustomed to such a position."

After Broderick misfired, Terry shot back and shouted, "The shot is not mortal; I have struck two inches to the right." Broderick lowered himself, and then keeled over. He was taken by wagon to a friend's home, and died three days later, on Sept. 16.

"The sad intelligence was immediately conveyed to the city, and produced a deep and settled gloom on the community," reported the San Francisco Herald. Thousands of people came to his funeral. He was the only senator to have died in a duel.

Terry was tried for murder but quickly acquitted.

"Very few duelers were ever convicted of murder," said Charles Fracchia, founder and president emeritus of the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society.

Terry left politics and joined the Confederate Army. In 1889, after striking Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field, who once served with Terry on the California Supreme Court, Terry was shot and killed by Field's bodyguard.

Williams wrote that although Broderick had a history of not backing down from a fight, he had tried to avoid the duel with Terry. But had he refused the challenge, he would have been seen as cowardly.

"At the time, dueling was illegal but was tolerated by a large segment of the public, which accepted it as a part of the world of politics," the biographer wrote.

But others were horrified by the practice. On the day of the duel, the San Francisco Bulletin editorialized: "We cannot refrain from indulging, once more, in some expressions of sorrow and disgust at the barbarous practice of dueling which still seems to be tolerated among us."

Dueling, which had been mostly a southern tradition as a way to defend a man's honor, pretty much died out in this country after the Civil War.

"There was enough bloodshed," Ritchie said.


On the Net:

San Francisco Museum and Historical Society:

Museum of the City of San Francisco:

Senate Historical Office:

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