While in my Jefferson-Jackson class this morning, I was told a story that I’ve never heard before and now it is one of my favorites! This is the tale of the duel between Henry Clay and John Randolph.
As the election of 1828 is underway, there were two viable political parties that are fighting for control of the presidency. John Quincy Adams is the incumbent National Republican candidate and his active Secretary of State is Henry Clay. Andrew Jackson is the Jacksonian Democrat candidate, and he is looking for revenge against Adams and Clay for the election of 1824. There was an enormous amount of support from Jacksonian Democrats who seemed to be a majority south and west of the Delaware river. One of these supporters is John Randolph, a Virginia congressman in the House of Representatives. What the election of 1828 was famous for besides the election of Andrew Jackson was the “mudslinging” that occured, which mainly was a ploy by both parties to get more men to vote. John Randolph was not above this tactic and his comments of the election of 1824 became particularly famous. He labeled the victory of J.Q. Adams as a “Corrupt Bargain” referring to the deal he made with Henry Clay to be Sec. of State in return for his support. Among this statement he also was publicly bashing Henry Clay, who at this point in his life was on a down hill slope. He had recently suffered the death of two of his six daughters within a month. Eventually Clay would outlive all of his 10 children (6 girls and 4 boys). Needless to say, the attacks by Randolph upset Clay much more than he already was and Clay challenged Randolph to a duel. Randolph wanted the duel to take place in Virginia, stating, “If I’m going to die, I want to die in my home state”. Randolph also told senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri (who is to be the moderator of the duel) that he did not intend to kill Clay. The duel took place on April 8, 1826 and the two men met and agreed to the terms of the duel. Both took their paces and Clay fired first missing, Randolph then fired his gun up into the air. Benton asked if both men were satisfied with the duel and they both said “no”. They both reloaded and again Clay fired first, hitting Randolph’s coat but not Randolph. Randolph then pointed his pistol in the air and fired. Randolph then said to Clay, “Mr. Clay, you owe me a new coat”, to which Clay replied, “I’m glad the debt isn’t more”. They both met in the middle and shook hands, and all was done.
This story just showed me that some politicians back then were honorable, but I can’t really speak for ones today. Also I just loved Randolph’s comment afterwards! I mean if you can joke after being shot at twice, then you’re a cool guy in my book.