‘Utter stupidity’: Missouri Republican bids to bring back dueling for senators

<span>Photograph: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy</span>
Photograph: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy
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A Missouri Republican’s proposal to reintroduce dueling to solve statehouse differences was branded “utter stupidity” by a leading historian of political violence.

Related: ‘The goal was to silence people’: historian Joanne Freeman on congressional violence

“Back in the day,” Joanne B Freeman of Yale tweeted, “they were smart enough to take dueling OUTSIDE. The draft that I saw suggests doing it in the chamber. This doesn’t show guts or bravery or manhood – if it’s supposed to. It shows utter stupidity.”

Freeman is the author of The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War.

The state senator behind the proposal said he was making a point about the breakdown of regular order in Missouri politics.

The draft rule change came to national notice when it was posted to social media by Democrats in the state senate.

“The Missouri Republican civil war continues to escalate as a member of the Freedom Caucus faction has filed a proposed rule change to allow senators to challenge an ‘offending senator to a duel’,” they wrote.

The Missouri Freedom Caucus is a hardline rightwing group on the lines of the group of the same name in the US House of Representatives and with a similarly fractious relationship with party leaders, impeding political business.

The draft rule read: “If a senator’s honor is impugned by another senator to the point that it is beyond repair and in order for the offended senator to gain satisfaction, such senator may rectify the perceived insult to the senator’s honor by challenging the offending senator to a duel.

“The trusted representative, known as the second, of the offended senator shall send a written challenge to the offending senator. The two senators shall agree to the terms of the duel, including choice of weapons, which shall be witnessed and enforced by their respective seconds.

“The duel shall take place in the well of the senate at the hour of high noon on the date agreed to by the parties to the duel.”

The author, Nick Schroer, represents District 2 in the Missouri senate. According to his biography, he is a lawyer, specialising in family law and criminal defence.

His chief of staff, Jamey Murphy, told Newsweek that Schroer was “deeply committed to restoring a sense of honor in the Missouri Senate” but suggested “the idea of a duel … in a metaphorical sense”.

Schroer told the Kansas City Star: “The behavior that we’ve seen on the floor, lack of communication from leadership, politics as a whole just eroding … If we’re going back in time and acting like an uncivilized society, I think we need to have discussion.”

Dueling was long part of the American political scene, famously resulting in the killing of the US founder Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in 1804. It had largely died out by the 1850s but other forms of political violence continued.

Freeman has illuminated how incidents of political violence – including the South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks’ caning of Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery senator from Massachusetts, in 1856 – paved the road to conflict.

In 2021, after Donald Trump incited the January 6 Capitol attack and amid fears of rising violence, Freeman told the Guardian of the incidents she studied: “Depending on how it’s acted out and the language that’s used and the posturing that’s taken by the members of Congress, it’s deliberately intended to rile up Americans, which it does.

“That kind of violence can encourage violence, intensify political rhetoric [and] seemingly justify extremism and violence. It has an impact on the public. If the public gets riled up, they’re going to demand more things from their representatives – more violence, more extremism.”