Dueling Kentucky

Rand Paul is clearly stung by accusations that he’s been plagiarizing parts of his speeches. In the grand scheme of things this is a minor charge, but the insult is in what sources he’s plagiarizing. If he stole from politicians of the past he could laugh it off, but swiping lines from Wikipedia is just too low-brow.

Reacting to the charges, Paul recently said the following:

“I take it as an insult, and I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting — I have never intentionally done so and like I say, ‘If dueling were legal in Kentucky, if they keep it up, you know it’d be a duel challenge,’ ” Paul said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Dueling. Really. First, let’s remind the senator of this little section of the Kentucky Constitution:

Members of the General Assembly and all officers, before they enter upon the execution of the duties of their respective offices, and all members of the bar, before they enter upon the practice of their profession, shall take the following oath or affirmation: I do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth, and be faithful and true to the Commonwealth of Kentucky so long as I continue a citizen thereof, and that I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of …. according to law; and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.

It may seem odd to place that line in a state constitution, but dueling was a serious problem for America for many years. Men would challenge one another over petty slights. While most duels ended without death (particularly when using 19th century handguns, which were nowhere near accurate), enough people did die that it destabilized the nation. Particularly since public figures like politicians and lawyers were favorite targets.

As an example, one of the reasons that America did so poorly during the War of 1812 was because our officers kept challenging each other to duels. Apparently there was a serious shortage of surgeons in the army camps, and no sooner would one be hired than he would be killed in a duel. When a general attempted to put a stop to duels he was roundly criticized for interfering in matters of personal honor.

(In reaction to the proposed moratorium on dueling, two officers snuck so far away from the camp to duel that they were captured by British troops. Honestly, we deserved to lose that war.)

This understanding of honor is as stupid as it is dangerous. It makes a person’s social status something to fight, kill and die for. This is not something we need to romanticize. So to Rand Paul, if you can’t take the ribbing from the press without reaching for your revolver, find a new profession.

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