Six-page handwritten letter by Andrew Jackson—his opening salvo in the prelude to a duel: "It is difficult to find an appropriate epithet for a character who descents to stoke falsehoods in a situation, where the honour of a man is at stake"
ALS, six pages on three sheets (including two adjoining), 8 x 13.25, February 6, 1806. Lengthy handwritten to newspaper editor Thomas Eastin, regarding the dispute over a gambling debt that led to Jackson's infamous duel with Charles Dickinson-in which Jackson took a bullet to the chest, and Dickinson was killed. Jackson responds to a letter published by Thomas Swann, who had intervened on behalf of Dickinson in the matter. Jackson had set up a horse race with Dickinson's father-in-law, Captain Joseph Erwin, on the grounds that a forfeit fee of $800 would be paid to the injured party if a horse had to withdraw. When Erwin's horse had to drop out, a quarrel ensued over how the debt was to be repaid and a flurry of insults were exchanged back and forth. At one point, Swann confronted Jackson, who struck him with his cane and called him a 'stupid meddler.' In this lengthy letter, Jackson questions Swann's honesty while offering his own views on the controversy; enclosed statements, certificates, and witness affidavits (not present), which Jackson refers to throughout, provided further evidence for Jackson's point.
In small part: "To impose upon the public attention, through the medium of your usefull paper, is not my wish, but as Mr. Swan[n] has endeavoured to exhibit to the public eye, a statement of his case, and character, and impartial public, will indulge such supplementary remarks, as may be necessary to complete the caricature…To a perfect understanding of the case of the complainant, let it briefly be premised, that a course race was made between Captain Erwin, and myself, for $2000 in cash notes, payable at the day of the race…Mr. Charles Dickinson is the son-in-law to Captain Erwin, and was interested in the race, as it is understood. This race was afterwards drawn, on account of the indisposition of Capt. Erwin's horse, upon an agreement to pay $800 as a forfeit. The payment of this forfeit, is the circumstance, which gave rise to the conduct of Mr. Swann…Mr. Swann, in his letter and publication in your last, states 'that the notes offered by Capt. Joseph Erwin at the time of paying the forfeit &c were different from those Genl. Jackson agreed to receive.' What does Dickinson, his informant, state? That Swann said a different list was produced. Mr. Swann should have recollected that the list of notes and notes offered were different…
Mr. Samuel Jackson is next referred to. Mr. Swann has not been so obliging as to give any certificate, nor even a quotation from Mr. Jackson, of whom he was so polite, as to say in the presence of Major Purdy, that he was a damned rascal…Mr. Jackson flatly calls Mr. Swann a rascal. That they have confidence in each other, we have no doubt. Mr. Jackson in his opinion of Mr. Swann has disclosed the ground on which this good understanding rests. Upon principles of reason, and of law, a man cannot discredit his own witness…Mr. Nathaniel A. McNairy is quoted by Mr. Swann in support of his assertion of my inconsistency. This young man has industriously acquired such a reputation as to make it an arduous task to add to it….This hopeful youth, who forgets to-day what he has uttered yesterday, thinks himself secure; but read Messrs. Baird and Purdy's certificates and Mr. Coffee's affidavit, and see what credit can or ought to be attached to the statement of such a character. Mr. Coffee states in substance, that I would cane Mr. Swann if he attempted to support the statement he had made: that he understood Mr. Swann afterwards wrote me that the statement was substantially correct: that agreeable to promise, Swann was caned: that Swann said after this chastisement, that he had wished, to pave the way for an explanation…
This young man has either a vicious habit of deviating from the truth, or a natural weakness of memory, either of which is equally pernicious to society, and renders him a fit compeer for his friend. It is difficult to find an appropriate epithet for a character who descents to stoke falsehoods in a situation, where the honour of a man is at stake; where truth and justice ought to be the order of the day, with a person chosen to accompany another on the field of honor; and, in many cases, where integrity is the only shield of innocence." In very good to fine condition, with professional repairs and reinforcements to areas of paper loss. Accompanied by a handsome custom-made finely bound full morocco leather case.
A slightly revised version of this letter, dated February 10th, is what was ultimately published in the Impartial Review and Cumberland Repository. Dickinson, returning from New Orleans, would respond in kind in May, publishing a letter that called Jackson 'a poltroon and a coward.' After reading the article, Jackson sent Dickinson a letter requesting 'satisfaction due me for the insults offered'-and a duel was scheduled for May 30, 1806. Dickinson fired first, hitting Jackson in the chest-by a stroke of luck, and perhaps influenced by Jackson's stance and heavy coat, he was merely wounded. Under the rules of dueling, Dickinson had to remain still as Jackson took his shot. Jackson's pistol stopped at half cock, so he drew back the hammer and aimed again, this time hitting Dickinson in the chest. Dickinson bled to death on the spot.
Doctors determined that the bullet lodged in Jackson's chest was too close to his heart to operate; Jackson carried it for the rest of his life, suffering much pain from the wound. His reputation also suffered, as some locals questioned the application of the rules of dueling as well as his honor in shooting to kill. A fascinating and important early Jacksonian letter.