JACKSON, Andrew (1767-1845), President. Autograph letter signed ("Andrew Jackson") as Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, to Tennessee Governor John Sevier, [Knoxville, TN, 2 October] 1803. 1 page, 4to (9¼ x 7¾ in.), integral address leaf detached, minor browning, traces of mounting.
JACKSON CHALLENGES THE GOVERNOR OF TENNESSEE TO A DUEL: "YOU CANNOT MISTAKE ME, OR MY MEANING"
A letter which speaks volumes about both Jackson's character and the frontier code of honor which prevailed at this period. Here, the 21-year old Jackson, a justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court, challenges Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, to a duel. "It could only happen in the west," Jackson's biographer has written, "that the governor of the state and a justice of the supreme court would end up shooting at one another" (Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, p.117). The quarrel between the future President and Revolutionary War hero Sevier (1745-1815) dated back to 1797, when Jackson became convinced that Sevier had thwarted his election as major general of militia. After an angry exchange of letters, mutual friends intervened, but Jackson "continued to harbor the suspicion that Sevier was bent on injuring his reputation" (ibid., p.102).
Relations between the two remained outwardly cordial for several years, partly because Jackson was reluctant to openly antagonize a figure who remained popular with voters. But after stepping down at the end of his third term as Governor, Sevier himself sought the position of militia commander. The new Governor, Archibald Roane, a friend of Jackson, cast the deciding vote which gave Jackson the appointment. Sevier, deeply offended that a lawyer with no military experience should have obtained the post in preference to him, also learned that Jackson had published information on Sevier's involvement in an allegedly fraudulent land speculation. Sevier, who intended to challenge Roane for the post of Governor, accosted Jackson in the street in Knoxville on 1 October. He mocked Jackson's public service and taunted him by alluding to the scandal of Jackson's unwitting cohabitation with his wife Rachel before she was officially divorced. Jackson flew into a rage, pistols were drawn and wild shots fired, but the two were restrained before either suffered injury.
The next day, Jackson formally challenged Sevier with this note: "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 that they were the ebulitions 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" (quoted in Remini, p.121).
After a further exchange of insults the two agreed to meet (on Indian lands outside of Tennessee jurisdiction). Jackson was present at the appointed time, Sevier was not. Riding back to Knoxville, Jackson met Sevier and a party of mounted supporters. After brandishing pistols and verbally abusing each other, Jackson lunged at Sevier with a cane. The governor drew a sword and Jackson again drew his pistol, only to find Sevier's son aiming at him. "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" (Ibid., p.123). Finally, friends intervened to end the stand-off. Although the idea of a duel was forgotten, the bitterness engendered by the feud never faded, and, according to Remini, the incident proved damaging to Jackson's reputation.
Provenance: Paul Richards, 1983.