Abraham Lincoln nearly fought a duel. The history of the United States could have been much different if he had fought the duel and lost - or won. There are numerous accounts of this episode - what follows is my summary of many of the different accounts.
In 1842 a scurrilous letter to the editor was published mocking the State Auditor Democrat James Shields. It is not
Mary Todd -she turned so many heads that as her brother-in-law put it, “she could make a bishop forget his prayers.”
certain who actually wrote the letter - some think it was Mary Todd, not yet married to Lincoln. Or Lincoln may have written the letters himself - sources vary. In any event Shields accused Lincoln of writing the letter.
After some give and take Lincoln would not apologize. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel. Dueling was not legal in Illinois. But on the American frontier to refuse to respond to the duel challenge was the same as admitting you were a coward.
As the challenged party Lincoln chose the weapons and rules. Lincoln chose the largest cavalry swords available. He also stipulated that both men would face each other in a small space divided by a board. They could not cross the board or retreat from the board.
Lincoln was six feet four inches tall. Shields was a small man who would be at a great disadvantage in what would likely be a one strike fight. But Shields did not back down.
The two men and their seconds traveled by wagon from Springfield towards an island in the Mississippi River. The seconds ran back and forth between the two wagons in an effort to reach an agreement before the duel.
They eventually reached an agreement. Lincoln did not
exactly apologize but did express regret that anything he may have written could have been construed to be an insult.
Shields and Lincoln were friendly before and after this event. Shields became a General in the Civil War. Shields also went on to be a US Senator representing three different States.