A US President Kills Charles Dickinson

On your first reading, you might have read that incorrectly. No, this isn’t a story about the great author Charles Dickens, but is instead about the death of an obscure and little-known man in history – Charles Dickinson.

However, his death was what made him famous or more importantly, who killed him. His killer was Andrew Jackson, who later went on to become the President of the United States and the murder was in fact committed in the middle of a duel.

The Contenders

Charles Dickinson and Jackson both came from families who were career horse breeders and rivals of one another. In 1805, Jackson placed a bet with Captain Erwin (who was Dickinson’s father in law) worth two thousand dollars over a horse racing event. The terms of the bet were that the winner of the bet receives two thousand dollars from the other, however if one of the horses couldn’t run in the race due to some unforeseen circumstance, then that horse’s bet-er would have to pay the other eight hundred dollars.

As it turned out, the horse that Erwin had bet on could not take part in the race because of an injured foot and according to the rules of the bet, he now had to give Jackson eight hundred dollars. The initial disagreement, however, began when Erwin and Jackson argued about what denomination of currency would be used to pay Jackson his winning sum.

The Argument Escalates

While Charles Dickinson himself was still un-involved on what transpired between his father in law and Jackson, he overheard one of Jackson’s friends talking about the argument and ended up picking a fight with this friend over the matter.

aEventually, all this resulted in a series of note-sending back and forth between Jackson and Dickinson where insults were flung at between the two of them including Dickinson calling Jackson’s wife a bigamist (which was true in fact because she had married Jackson while she was still married to her previous husband).

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“Stupid Meddler” and “Coward and an Equivocator” were some of the insults that they personally hurled at each other through the means of sending letters. However, this did not stop here; over the course of a year, they had even published several articles and letters in local Newspapers and magazines including the National Review.

In one of them Jackson called Dickinson a “worthless drunken blackguard” to whom Dickinson responded to Jackson by calling him a “worthless scoundrel, a poltroon and a coward”.

Eventually, after having spent a year quarreling through the means of the written word, Jackson decided to take it a step further. It is important to remember however that Dickinson was a famed marksman all over Tennessee, regardless of which Jackson challenged him to a duel. Since dueling was illegal in the state, they decided to travel to Kentucky and pursue their duel on the shores of the Red River instead.

The Duel

It was on May 30, 1806 that the two decided to meet at their assigned spot. Even though Dickinson was known to be the better marksman, Jackson allowed him to have the first shot. He seemed to have made the decision based on the hope that Dickinson would miss which would then give Jackson the chance to aim carefully and plan his shot.

So when the two men turned, Dickinson got his chance to fire at Jackson and as expected got him on the chest. However, he managed to miss Jackson’s heart by only a couple of inches but did break a few ribs nonetheless.

Jackson nevertheless was still alive. This gave him the chance to take his aim and carefully shoot at Charles Dickinson, using the one bullet that he would have remaining in his gun. Badly injured and weak, Jackson took aim and shot Dickinson in the heart. Dickinson, only 26, died a few hours later due to the damaged artery caused by Jackson’s bullet.

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Related: Did Alexandre Dumas’ Pants Really Fall off during a duel?

The Aftermath

The young Dickinson died and left a younger widow behind, and all over a silly squabble that actually didn’t even concern him as much as he made it out to be. On the other hand, Andrew Jackson eventually went on to become President of the United States. The bullet that was shot by Dickinson, however, was never removed because of how close it was to his heart and is believed to have caused him constant discomfort for the rest of his life.

Not very many people were in support of Jackson’s actions, however. It was considered to be dishonorable of him to have shot at Dickinson after one of the bullets had already been shot. In their eyes, Dickinson would have won the duel based on the fact that he had been the first one to fire a shot after the two men turned.

They believed that the honorable thing to do would have been for Jackson to simply shoot at Dickinson to injure him or just shoot at the sky to indicate that he was still alive – which would have been a more civilized way to end the duel. Nonetheless, the most badass thing that could have perhaps happened to Charles Dickinson was that he was killed by a US President.

Related: Learn about Owen J Bagett the soldier that shot down a plane with only a handgun

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Andrew Jackson Loved a Good Fight

It is believed that Andrew Jackson was involved in at least one hundred duels, or at least a hundred fights in his life and people joked that he had too many bullets in his body that could not be extracted from him.

Clearly, the man loved a fight and seemed to pick battles of his own with anybody who offended him, including his political competitors. There is also a story about how he charged a man with a stick after he had failed in an attempt to assassinate Jackson. People had to literally pull Jackson away from the man who was insistent on beating him to death with a cane instead of taking a proper recourse for the attempt on his life.