Description

    Jackson Challenges the Governor of Tennessee to a Duel

    Andrew Jackson Autograph Letter Signed as justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. One page with additional address leaf, 7.75" x 9.25", [Knoxville], 1803. Jackson was well known for his explosive temper and his aggressiveness. This volatile mix led him to oftentimes rub people the wrong way. Jackson loved to fight and, while he was not a great marksman, would often enter into duels.

    One such duel involved John Sevier (1745-1815), Revolutionary War hero and governor of Tennessee. The disagreement between Jackson and Sevier began in 1797. Jackson, angry at his loss during an election to become major general of militia, was convinced that Sevier was its root cause. The two men battled first through letters and friends of the men tried to make peace between them, but Jackson "continued to harbor the suspicion that Sevier was bent on injuring his reputation." (Robert V. Remini. Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Empire, 1767-1821. p.102)

    Sevier was a popular man with the people and Jackson, with political ambitions of his own, had no wish to provoke such a man, at least in public. Following Sevier's third term as governor, he decided to step down and join the militia which, as the former governor, he felt suited to command. However, Jackson had an ace in the hole. The new governor, Archibald Roane, was a friend of Jackson's and cast the deciding vote in the manner. Jackson, who had no military experience, was chosen to lead the militia, much to Sevier's chagrin. On October 1, Sevier confronted Jackson in Knoxville; accusing him of adultery (Jackson had married his wife, Rachel, while she was still married to another man). Jackson flew into a frenzy and drew his pistol, Sevier following suit. Each man fired and missed and, before either could renew their assault, were restrained.

    The following day, Jackson sent Sevier this letter, challenging him to a formal duel. It reads, in full: "The ungentlemanly expressions and gasgonading [gasconading] conduct of yours relative to me yesterday was in true character of your self, and unmasks you to the world, and plainly shews [sic] that they were the ebulitions [sic] of a base mind goaded with stubborn prooffs [sic] of fraud, and flowing from a source devoid of every refined sentiment, or delicate sensation. But Sir the Voice of the people has made you a Governor, this alone makes you worthy of my notice or the notice of any Gentleman. To the office I have respect, to the Voice of the people who placed it on you I pay respect, and as such I only deign to notice you, and and [sic] call upon you for that satisfaction and explanation that your ungentlemanly conduct & expressions require, for this purpose I request an interview, and my friend who will hand you this will point out the time and place, when and where I shall expect to see you with your friend and no other person. My friend and myself will be armed with pistols; you cannot mistake me, or my meaning."

    Jackson arrived at the appointed place and time, waiting several hours for the arrival of Sevier, who had been detained. Believing that Sevier had refused to show, he rode back to Knoxville. Along the way, he met Sevier and his men, traveling to the dueling ground. After a brief exchange, Jackson attacked Sevier with a cane. According to reports, Jackson drew his pistol as Sevier ran off, chasing his horse. It seems his horse had his firearms. Jackson continued the pursuit and Sevier hid behind a tree. Of the affair, Remini says: "It was quite ridiculous. Jackson's second was aiming at Sevier's son, who was aiming at Jackson, who was aiming at Sevier, who was hidden behind a tree" (p.123). Eventually, Jackson's anger subsided and the group parted ways without further incident, though the two hated each other for the remainder of their lives.

    Unevenly toned. Four spots of lightening from previous mounting (as seen on the verso). Text is faded slight in places, though it is still entirely legible. Lower edge is lightly chipped.

    Provenance: Paul Richards, 1983; Forbes Collection, 2002.




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    Auction Dates
    April, 2013
    11th Thursday
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