View single post by Widow
 Posted: Sat Dec 9th, 2006 10:10 pm
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Joined: Tue Sep 19th, 2006
Location: Oakton, Fairfax County, VA
Posts: 321

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Hi, again, Home School Teen,

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Dan Sickles' murder of Philip Barton Key.

It was a big scandal in Washington.  Not because Mrs. Sickles was having an affair with another man.  Not because her husband killed him.  The scandal was the WAY it was done.  The traditional way was for the husband to challenge the lover to a duel.

It was a formal procedure, called the Code Duello (I think that's from the Italian).  The challenger chose a friend, called a second, to make the arrangements with the other man's second.  They set the time and place, and checked the weapons to be sure everything was done fair and square.  Sometimes a doctor was present to treat any wounds.  Killing a man in a duel was not considered murder, it was an affair of honor, and there was no trial.

Dan broke the unwritten rules by just walking up and shooting Key to death in broad daylight.  That's why he was charged with murder.  No duel, no honor.  So how could he be acquitted?  Stanton came up with the temporary insanity defense.

Only men sat on juries, and they had to consider if Sickles was justified in killing his wife's lover.  Well, of course, he had the right to do it, to defend his honor!!  But not that way.  If it was killing in cold blood, malice aforethought, planned and carried out, that was first-degree murder, subject to hanging.  But if it was a moment of passion, where his reason left him out of control, then he couldn't be held responsible.  So the theory went.  And so the jury was persuaded.  And so he lived to fight another day, and lose a leg at Gettysburg.

That's a serious injury and he could have died of infection.  But he didn't.  In later years he worked hard to save the battlefield as a national park.  For that we can thank him.  For the rest, we can only shake our heads.


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