Releasing in Spring 2018: Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

(Peachtree, 2018)

Coming in April 2018Peachtree Publishers. illustrated by S.D. Schindler)

Jacket copy:

Long before he was our beloved president, Abraham Lincoln was known for his smarts and his knee-slapping humor. In 1842, that got him into a heap of trouble. When he clashed with James Shields, a political rival, Lincoln came up with a rascally plan.
          It was silly.
          It was clever.
          It was a great big mistake.
          Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel!
          Lincoln would need his wit and a healthy dose of humility to save his career—and even his life.
          A rare look at the more human side of Abraham Lincoln and how the lessons he learned made him a better man.

How I found the story of Lincoln’s duel:

It always happens that, when I’m researching for one book, ideas for other books pop up. That’s what happened in 2012 when I came across a one-line mention of Abraham Lincoln’s duel. At first, my brain couldn’t register that our most revered, monumentalized American figure did something so controversial and dangerous. The research journey that followed revealed a great deal about the evolution of Lincoln’s character. He was a real, fallible, sometimes-naughty guy, just like the rest of us. How refreshing! Lincoln could have allowed his great big mistake to define him, but he chose instead to learn from them. Now that is something to admire, isn’t it? How lucky for our us that he survived his scrape with James Shields. Imagine what our country would be like if Abraham Lincoln had never been president!

Want to know more about the Lincoln-Shields Duel? In the months leading up to the book’s release, I will add new blog posts—linked from here— about the expanded story, including these topics:

  • The history of Bloody Island—the Mississippi River location of the Lincoln-Shields duel
  • The Code Duello. And Lincoln’s terms #3 and #4 from his scrape with James Shields
  • The gentleman’s code of conduct. There was a reason for all that hat-tipping and formality.
  • The two duels that were sparked by the Lincoln-Shields affair of honor
  • An abbreviated history of American currency and the Illinois banking crisis in 1842.Boy was it complicated!
  • An abbreviated history of the Whig, Democrat, and Republican parties
  • Conversation starters about character and integrity
  • My physical and digital research journey

You won’t see a full bibliography in the back matter of Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. Wanna know why?

Simply put, even my super-whittled-down select sources resulted in a book that was too long to fit the standard 32-page format. So my editor and I made the difficult decision to direct readers here, to the book page of my website. Below, you will see the slightly-expanded Select Sources that would have appeared in the book if I’d had more space. What does appear in the book’s back matter are the following three very cool links that I encourage you to visit:

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, where you can see old issues of the Sangamo Journal and the actual Rebecca letters

Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Association, where you can see modern transcripts of the Rebecca letters

The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress, where you can see the only surviving note/letter related to the duel—Lincoln’s handwritten note to his “second,” Dr. E.H. Merryman,with terms for the duel.

Now, without further Ado…

Select Sources for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words:
(Yep, this is a partial list!)

Abbatt, William. “The Lincoln-Shields Duel.” Magazine of History with Notes and Queries. New York, 1906.

Basler, Roy P. “The Authorship of the ‘Rebecca’ Letters.” Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2 (1942).

Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Callan, J. Sean. Courage and Country: James Shields. Bloomington, 2004.

Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People 1812-1912. Ed. Norton, William T. Alton: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1912.

Clay, Edward Williams. “Abraham Lincoln, Banking and the Panic of 1837 in Illinois.” Accessed August 20, 2017.

Clinton, Catherine. Mrs. Lincoln: A Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010.

Condon, William H. Life of Major-General James Shields: Hero of Three Wars and Senator From Three States. Chicago, 1900.

“Crack of the Pistol: Dueling in 19th Century Missouri.” Missouri State Archives. Accessed May 15, 2015.

Davidson, Alexander and Bernard Stuve. A Complete History of Illinios from 1673-1873. Springfield: D.L. Publisher, 1877. E-book.

Day, Charles W.M. Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society with a Glance at Bad Habits. Boston, 1843. E-book,

Epstein, Daniel Mark. Portrait of a Marriage. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008.

Herndon, William H. and Jesse William Weik. Springfield: Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life. Herndon’s Lincoln Publishing Company, 1888.

Lincoln, Abraham. (original letter, in Lincoln’s hand, to Dr. Merryman re: terms of the duel). The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress.

“Lost Townships—Dear Printer.” Sangamo Journal, August 19, 1842.   (1st letter)

Houghton, Walter R. and James K. Beck and James A.Woodburn. Rules of Etiquette and Home Culture. New York, 1893. E-Book,

“Letter from the Lost Township.” Sangamo Journal, September 2, 1842. (2nd letter-A.L. wrote this)

“Letter(s) from the Lost Townships. Sangamo Journal, September 9, 1842. (3rd & 4th letter)

“Cathleen poem.” Sangamo Journal, September 16, 1842.

Merryman, E.H. “Communication—Gent…” (letter to the editor) Sangamo Journal.October 8,   1842.

Myers, James E. The Astonishing Saber Duel of Abraham Lincoln. Springfield: Lincoln-Herndon Building Publishers, 1968.

Nicolay, John G. and John Hay. Abraham Lincoln: A History. New York: The Century Co., 1890.

Sabine, Lorenzo. Notes on Duels and Duelling. Boston, 1855.

Saby, Rasmus S. and William Watts Folwell. “General James Shields, Soldier, Orator, Statesman.” Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 1915.

Strozier, Charles. Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

Turner, Justin G. and Linda Levitt Turner. Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters. New York: Knopf, 1972.

Whiteside, John D. “To the Editor of the Springfield Journal.” Sangamo Journal, October 14, 1842

Wilson, Douglas L. Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Wilson, John Lyde. “The Code of Honor or Rules for the Government in Duelling.” Charleston: James Phinney, printer, 1838. (includes Code Duello)