In the article, “In search of the Phantom Misnamed Honour: Duelling in Upper Canada” by Cecilia Morgan, the author shows two different opinions on duels while educating the reader on the history of duels and gives insight as to who participated in them.
Morgan opens the article by discussing the “Jarvis-Ridout duels”[i] stating it is “one of the best known in Upper Canada”[ii] because the winner of the duel was tried for murder and acquitted. The reason for the acquittal was based on the fact that the duel had followed the “code of honour” which was a list of rules established in 1777 by a “group of Anglo-Irish gentlemen”.[iii]This sparked political debates, as both individuals who participated were from prominent York families some of who thought the death to be murder. [iv]
In most cases, the purpose of the duel was to re-establish honour. If an individual felt they has been offended in any way, be it their wife or family or personal, and there are no words to fix it; a duel could be called.[v] Most of the people who participated in duels were of upper middle class social groups or higher. They were more often than not, wealthy, from family wealth of personal wealth, or held some sort of power resulting in their honour needing to be kept.
While many people believed in the power of the duel, others were not so inclined to participate. This refusal often resulted in being honour being stripped though publicly shaming or, in some cases, getting assaulted. [vi]The reason people did not want to participate was simple, the men did not want to die, as they had to take care of their families. These people did not buy into the value of the duel, as the rules were not completely clear. There power to call a duel was up to the individual and was no properly regulated except for the fact it was meant to be done by the elite versus just any one.
This article is very telling of the 1800’s where honour is an important part of everyday life. Honour is tied to manliness, wealth, social status and ones ability to protect themselves and his family.
In conclusion, the article, “In search of the Phantom Misnamed Honour: Duelling in Upper Canada” by Cecilia Morgan discusses the different opinions of duels Upper Canada, the history and the individuals who participated in them. By using a variety of primary and secondary sources, Morgan was able to create fact-based article complete with many different examples of duels and the eventual decline of the practice.
[i] Cecilia Morgan, “In search of the Phantom Misnamed Honour: Duelling in Upper Canada” The Canadian Historical Review, Vol 76 No.4 (Dec 1995)529
[iii] ibid 535
[iv] ibid 530
[v] ibid 536
[vi] ibid 555