Law, Honor, and Impunity in Spanish America: The Debate over Dueling, 1870–1920

One day in late February 1873, the comisario of section 10 in Buenos Aires arrived at the home of Jacobo Varela to investigate reports that Varela had been involved in a duel with another young man, Julio Benites. Varela’s brother met the policeman at the door and reported that, lamentably, Jacobo was ill and could not see him. When asked if he knew anything about a duel, the brother replied that he most certainly did not. Yes, Jacobo was bedridden because of a sword wound, but that was an accident: he had slipped while playing with the weapon and had fallen on top of it, the blade entering his right side below the shoulder and passing through his body. The additional wounds on his hands came when he attempted to pull the sword out.[1]

Evidently satisfied with this explanation, the comisario then went to the home of Julio Benites, who similarly denied that any duel had taken place. The reports in the newspapers, he claimed, “were an undignified and defamatory farce. He has been an intense friend of Don Jacobo Varela, and even though it is true that the two men had recently exchanged words, it did not go beyond that.” As for the wound on the right side of his head, that had happened last Saturday the fifteenth, when upon leaving the theater he had been attacked from behind by individuals unknown.[2]

After reporting these interviews to his superiors, the comisario was instructed not to proceed against the alleged duelists (the evidence being insufficient) but to continue investigating. As the days passed, more reports of the duel appeared, more policemen were sent out to interview witnesses, but no one would admit to having seen anything. On March 8, police physician Manuel Blancas was sent to inspect the wounds of Varela and Benites, to determine if they were indeed caused by a duel. Blancas reported that he could not provide a definitive answer because almost a month had passed since the infliction of those injuries and it was no longer possible to characterize their cause. Unable therefore to prove the existence of a crime, the police gave up, and no action was ever taken against Benites or Varela.[3]

Was this a case of dedicated authorities bent on punishing wrongdoing but thwarted by a conspiracy of silence, or were the policemen merely going through the motions of an investigation that they had no intention of actually prosecuting? The fragmentary evidence invites us to guess the latter, but either way it probably makes little difference. Whether or not the policemen viewed dueling as a serious crime, clearly none of the participants or witnesses did. Furthermore, the police were constrained by the social position of their suspects. Benites and Varela were “young men both well-known in this society,”[4] members of respectable families, who had to be treated with respect, even deference, particularly when the investigating officers were their social inferiors. Because of who these men were, their word of honor was to be taken at face value, no matter how implausible their stories might be. Many of the basic tools of nineteenth-century policing—summary arrest, paid informants, threats, beatings—were simply out of the question.[5] The police, in short, were powerless.

For different reasons, both supporters and opponents of dueling lamented the frequency with which the preceding scenario repeated itself. Dueling raised a number of unique dilemmas for the men charged with writing, debating, enacting, and enforcing the region’s criminal codes. The duel had long been a crime in Spanish colonial law, and it remained so after Independence. Yet the impunity of the duel in actual fact, and the complicity of the police and judiciary in that impunity, raised serious questions about the efficacy and evenhandedness of the legal system. The experts who wrote new criminal codes for the independent nations of Spanish America, the parliamentarians who debated those codes, and the judges and officials sworn to enforce them, all understood and many were troubled by the implications of the duel. Dueling was a crime committed not by other people but by respectable men like themselves. Indeed, nowhere was the culture of honor and of the duel more firmly entrenched than in the world of politics, among the class of public professional men who dedicated their lives to affairs of state, including matters of law. So when senators, congressmen, legal scholars, journalists, and other shapers of public opinion took up the question of dueling, they confronted the criminality of their own actions and those of their closest friends.

But more important, they confronted the difficult relationship between law and society at a time when the political, economic, and demographic changes that accompanied export-led modernization and the triumph of liberalism had begun to erode the hierarchical foundations of Spanish American society, sparking new demands for citizenship and genuine legal equality. The juridical questions raised by dueling were many and complex: are penal codes supposed to reflect and defend the existing values of a society or is it the duty of law to do even more, to forge a better, more moral, more civilized order? Does the law enforce class privileges or can the law create a society of equal citizens? Does the state even have the ability to impose its will on the rich and powerful? Spanish Americans were not unique in confronting such issues: similar debates raged on and off in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and other parts of Europe.[6] In Spanish America, however, the stakes in the debate were even higher: these were nations that had only recently begun to emerge from the anarchy of the post-Independence era and where armed uprisings, coups, or revolutions might still break out at any moment. Their laws and constitutions were of recent mint, and essential questions of political and legal organization remained stubbornly unresolved. They were, moreover, highly patriarchal societies with long histories of slavery and caste privilege, where ideas of citizenship and equality before the law were weakly developed and hotly contested. And perhaps most important, they were nations in which the ideal of a centralized and interventionist state clashed with a reality of ineffective public institutions, eternal fiscal crises, unprofessional armies and police, and privatized power. In late nineteenth-century Latin America, the boundaries between the public and private spheres, between order and privilege, law and custom, were boundaries in flux, rife with conflict. In such a context the dueling debate opened up—surely even more than in Europe—a moral and philosophical Pandora’s box: What is civilization? What is barbarism? When is violence justified? What is the proper relationship between law and custom? What is honor? Dueling highlighted these questions as few other issues could, precisely because it was a crime committed by the very people who wrote the laws and because, rightly or wrongly, it was a crime that so often went unpunished.

Dueling and the Culture of Public Life

The practice of settling matters of honor through a gentlemanly exchange of saber blows or pistol shots cannot be explained as the vestige of an aristocratic, Spanish colonial past. Reports of formal duels among members of the elite were rare in the late colonial era, and matters of honor and public reputation more often ended in litigation than in ritualized violence.[7] By the 1870s, however, the duel with all its attendant protocol had become a well-established institution in many Spanish American nations and remained so for a full half-century, sometimes longer. The first known fatalities in duels conducted “by the book,” following the honor codes of the era, were recorded in the 1860s: Cuba saw dueling deaths in 1863, 1864, and 1865, Mexico in 1862, Uruguay in 1866, and subsequent decades kept a similar pace.[8] There were at the very least 164 duels in Cuba between 1880 and 1893, resulting in eight deaths and causing injury three-quarters of the time.[9] Elsewhere fatalities were rarer—the available sources recorded only one or two a decade and in some places fewer—but even the occasional death was enough to remind everyone of the duel’s deadly potential. In Argentina two journalists were killed in separate high-profile duels in a single year, 1880, and in 1894 two duels among important politicians (one fatal, the other averted at the eleventh hour) threatened to ignite major political crises.[10] Nor did the duel subside in the early twentieth century. In Uruguay and several other countries, dueling did not reach its apogee until after World War I. At least a hundred duels were fought in Argentina between 1904 and 1927, thirty of them with pistols.[11] Uruguayans reported nearly fifty during a period of only seven years, from 1914 to 1920.[12] And twentieth-century duels could still be deadly: several deaths occurred in the first two decades of the century, two in Uruguay in 1920–21, one in Argentina as late as 1934.[13]

These numbers are not high when compared to Germany, France, or Italy at roughly the same time (Italy reported an average of 269 duels per year through the 1880s),[14] nor do they approach the statistics for ordinary homicide and manslaughter. Nevertheless, the duel was arguably just as important in Argentina or Cuba as it was in continental Europe. First, the figures we have—based entirely on reports in the newspapers—fail to count a significant number of duels between the not-so-famous or between gentlemen who for one reason or another wished to avoid publicity.[15] Second, for every duel actually fought, there were many more “incidents” involving challenges and the naming of seconds: violence was often averted thanks to successful mediation and/or the parties’ willingness to give and accept “satisfaction” in the form of a decorous retraction. In other words, dueling protocol ruled most conflicts between individuals of a certain social standing; the culture of honor formed an integral part of the life of a public man. And finally, the importance of dueling as a legal issue lies in the social and political prominence of its practitioners. The list of duelists in early twentieth-century Uruguay, for example, included dozens of congressmen, several government ministers, three chiefs of police, and two presidents (one former, one sitting). While the congressmen were shielded by their parliamentary immunity, the others often had to resign their posts in order to duel, and almost every presidential incident raised the specter of an institutional crisis.[16]

How do we account for the rising frequency and prominence of what was, after all, a crime, at the same time that most Latin American political elites were deliberately seeking to build modern states rooted in the principles of order and legality? It is possible to sketch out in rough and tentative terms a set of contributing factors. First, the dueling boom was, like so much else in late nineteenth-century Spanish America, a reflection of European fashion, imported to the new world by an ever more cosmopolitan elite. The marked resurgence of the duel throughout much of continental Europe gave Spanish Americans both a model to emulate and ready access to what Pablo Piccato has called the “technology of honor.”[17] French and Italian fencing masters found themselves in great demand, and many forged quite successful careers in Buenos Aires, Havana, Montevideo, Mexico City, and elsewhere.[18] European military advisors brought the culture of the duel to the increasingly professional Spanish American officer corps. And the flood of European immigration to countries like Argentina and Uruguay was by no means comprised solely of artisans, laborers, and small capitalists; Spain and Italy in particular also sent a steady trickle of political exiles, some of whom became important players in the duel-Filled world of journalism.[19]

Europe supplied the dueling know-how, but that does not account for the rising local demand. Spanish American mimicry of European elite culture provides part of the explanation, just as it explains (for example) the revolutionary transformation of the region’s urban architecture. But mimicry cannot be the whole explanation, especially if we recall the powerful counter-examples of Britain and the United States, where dueling had successfully been abolished. Spanish Americans turned to the duel because they found it useful for several reasons. In many countries, the press now enjoyed a freedom unimagined in the colonial era, and newspapers influenced an expanding reading public, hungry, it seems, not just for information and enlightenment but also for insult and polemic. As in France and Italy, the press was acutely politicized: journalist-politicians and politician-journalists served in agitated times as the advance guard of revolution, while in quieter times they confined themselves to the low-intensity warfare of ridicule and character assassination.[20] Meanwhile, however, the recurrent crises of the nineteenth century had greatly undermined both the efficacy and the legitimacy of the courts as a forum for the adjudication of honor and reputation.[21] After all, the monarchy and its legitimating ideology had both crumbled, and the makeshift republican institutions hastily built upon the rubble were only beginning to show some solidity. In the absence of a widely accepted arbiter, honor fell subject to the laws of the jungle and had to be defended informally, sword or pistol in hand. The duel, in other words, Filled a need created by the destruction of the colonial consensus and the explosion of modern competitive politics within a legitimacy vacuum.[22]

The preceding statements require elaboration. What concrete purpose did the duel serve? What goals did duelists pursue, and why were they willing to risk life or limb for the sake of their honor? This question deserves more attention than one section of a journal article permits, but for now I offer some working hypotheses. To begin with, virtually all duelists believed that they acted in defense of their honor, that intangible good worth (we are endlessly reminded) “more than life itself.” Yet the closer we look, the less illuminating the concept of honor becomes. Honor provided the duel’s ideological context and justification, and the “code of honor” provided a complex grammar and ethics of behavior. But honor alone rarely explains why one insult led to a duel while another did not, nor does it explain why Spanish Americans so often provoked duels with deliberate premeditation. For these explanations, we must turn to politics or, somewhat more broadly, to what might be called the culture of public life. Using Iacopo Gelli’s statistics for Italy between 1879 and 1895, Steven Hughes concludes that the overwhelming majority of duels arose from politics or journalism.[23] Joanne Freeman and Bertram Wyatt-Brown conclude much the same for the antebellum United States, as does William Reddy for nineteenth-century France.[24] Although defenders of the duel frequently justified the practice by pointing out the impracticality of using the courts to settle highly sensitive personal matters (as, for example, when a woman was involved), such “private” duels appear to have been in the minority throughout Spanish America as well.[25]

Most duels were born of insults or accusations vented in public; they involved the defense or the destruction of a man’s public image. The motives could be alarmingly simple: on the one side, a high-profile duel was a quick way for a relative unknown to earn a name in politics or for a new paper to increase its readership.[26] On the other side, the well-established public figure sometimes challenged his critics in order to intimidate them, or at least to make others think twice about impugning his integrity, particularly if he had a reputation for exceptional skill with arms or unusual quickness to take offense.[27] At the same time, the duel offered a highly effective tool for repairing a damaged reputation. First, dueling demonstrated willingness to risk life or limb in defense of one’s honor, and many supporters of the duel considered this willingness to be prima facie evidence of a man’s integrity and conviction. Second, and more important, an agreement to duel was also an agreement to end the polemic that gave rise to the duel. Imagine, for example, that an opposition politician accused a government minister of corruption in the granting of a contract. If the minister responded by challenging him to a duel, the opposition member normally had but two alternatives: if he refused to accept the challenge, he could be accused of “irresponsibility,” of making charges he was unwilling to defend on the so-called “Field of honor.” If he accepted the challenge and fought the duel, he implicitly recognized that the minister was an honorable man, and dueling protocol demanded that he never again raise precisely the same issue.[28] In short, the duel was a highly effective instrument in the battle to shape public opinion: not only might it silence potential opponents, but it also invested the duelist’s word with a certain authority, the authority of a man publicly willing to die for his ideals, for his party, for his paper, for his name. Even more important, the ideal of honor undermined the authority of those who for whatever reason were not willing to confront their adversary in single combat: in the eyes of many, insults or accusations issued by a non-duelist lacked the proper “guarantee” and hence should be ignored, just as one ignored insults from a woman [ofensas de mujer].[29]

If dueling allegedly demonstrated the sincerity of a man’s commitment to his word, it also served as a way to assert one’s superior qualities as a man and a leader, to legitimate one’s claim to authority. By professing the willingness to die for an ideal and by constantly testing others’ willingness to do the same, the duelist sought public acclaim in a world where public acclaim was a limited good prized by many. In order to reach this conclusion, it is necessary to jettison—as anachronisms inapplicable to nineteenth-century Spanish America—present-day notions about the mechanics of political legitimation, particularly the idea of interest representation. Aspiring politicians rarely presented themselves as “men of the people” or as advocates for a particular class, interest, or ideology; instead, it was essential that they cultivate a heroic image, an image of superior bravery, superior ability, superior mettle. The duel played a key role in such image construction. It projected the impression of courage and sangfroid, of responsibility for one’s actions, of generosity (the duelist was, after all, offering himself up to his opponent), and of fidelity to one’s cause. It also projected the illusion of disinterest and lack of ambition: a man willing to die on principle could not be a man who coveted worldly goods. At the same time, the duelist portrayed civility and self-control: he was passionate but capable of dominating his passions and subordinating them to a rigid protocol.[30]

Finally, the duel gave public men a spectacular way to demonstrate their political and personal loyalties. In societies rife with patronage and clientelism, entire careers depended upon shows of devotion to benefactors and generosity toward followers.[31] What better way for an aspiring young politician to scale the ladder than to polemicize loudly with the enemy and then defend his party on the field of honor? What better way for a leader to honor and reward his adherents than by serving as their second? (Indeed, the most-used Spanish term for second was padrino, or “godfather,” invoking the ritual kinship that has long been identified as the cornerstone of Hispanic patronage.) Furthermore, although there were many exceptions to the rule, dueling often appears to have served as a political or journalistic rite of passage: young men issued challenges and fought duels on behalf of others, with the expectation that some day, other younger men would issue challenges and fight duels for them.

That is not to say, however, that all or even most duels were coldly calculated political strategems. The drive for public acclaim was often internalized to the point of being unconscious: public men deeply felt a snub or an attack on their reputation and they responded emotionally, even violently, albeit with a violence controlled by dueling etiquette. Nevertheless, by understanding the duelist’s honor primarily as a matter of public image, we can explain why dueling typically involved only one segment of the elite—those directly or indirectly involved in some facet of public life, broadly defined—and why even many seasoned duelists lamented the proliferation of what they believed to be trivial or unjustified challenges.

Barbarous Custom or Social Necessity?

At the same time that the duel became a firmly established part of public and political life, its opponents also became increasingly vocal, ridiculing the assumption that honor could be preserved through bloodshed. Catholic church officials, reform-minded legal scholars, and the parties of the left all attacked the duel. Some focused on the immorality of violence: one Mexican critic called dueling a “perverse custom that human depravation inherited from times past” and a “bloody preoccupation, forever anathema to the Catholic Church, [yet] sustained by so many modern barbarians in Civilization’s midst as a means to defend and restore honor.”[32] More often, however, Spanish Americans attacked the duel on juridical grounds, denouncing the private, entirely extralegal settling of conflicts that should be heard in the courts. That dueling involved the attempt to kill or maim another human being made it even worse, of course, but the duelist’s principal sin was in defying the law and disregarding the legitimately constituted powers of the state. This was the argument, for example, of two Peruvian legal scholars, writing in 1877. Quoting the famous opinon of French jurist André-Marie Dupin, they asked: “Is the duel anything except the destruction of public order? What does the duelist do, except to completely reject civil society, its laws and its tribunals, in order to appoint himself legislator, judge, and executioner of his own cause, imposing, by his own private authority, the death penalty for the most trivial offenses . . . ?”[33] Alejandro Groizard y Gómez de la Serna, a Spanish theorist frequently cited by Spanish Americans, went so far as to argue that because duelists fight by mutual consent and willingly accept the possibility of death or injury, the only real victims are state and society. Dueling, in his words, “replaces social justice by individual justice, or better said, by private vengeance, . . . bringing confusion to the organs of public authority and alarm to the society, contributing to a contempt for the law and for legal institutions.”[34]

The legal argument against dueling also focused on the question of double standards. After all, opponents of the duel asked, how did a formal challenge between two aristocrats really differ from a knife fight between two street toughs? In both cases, conflicts were settled through bloodshed, laws were ignored, private vengeance prevailed, and an unofficial code of masculine honor usurped the authority of the state.[35] Yet the upper-class duelist rarely if ever faced the justice of the courts or the condemnation of his fellows, while the lower-class fighter, if caught, could anticipate arrest, abuse, and incarceration. Mexican parliamentarian Francisco Bulnes nicely captured this double standard in an 1894 speech, which is worth citing at some length:

Fact: a man has fought with another and has killed him. The judge of the gente decente (respectable people) looks at his fine suit and says: this must have been a duel. The judge of the descamisados (“shirtless ones”) reads article 533 of the Penal Code: “Riña (a fight) is defined as a confrontation by actions, not words, between two or more persons. . . .”
Fact: there are four persons who attended the preparations for the fight, provided the weapons and arranged the conditions of the encounter. The judge of the gente decente sees the presence of seconds as proof that this was a duel. The judge of the descamisados: “Article 5 of the Penal Code: ‘Those who aid the authors of a crime in its preparation, providing the instruments, arms, or other means to commit it, or giving instructions, or facilitating its preparation or execution in any way . . . are responsible as accomplices.'”
Fact: the meeting takes place, in which the seconds have arranged the conditions of combat. The judge of the gente decente sees this as further proof that this was a duel—precisely this is what characterizes a duel and makes it different from a riña, that there was prior agreement on conditions, following the customary rules for such cases. The judge of the descamisados: “What a monstrosity, daring to make an illicit contract, an agreement to arrange a crime, a pact whose objective is homicide!”
Fact: between the challenge and the meeting two days pass. “Fourth proof of a duel,” says the judge of the gente decente: “it is necessary for the seconds to talk, to discuss, to confer, no doubt about it.” The judge of the descamisados: “Article 515 of the Penal Code: ‘There is premeditation when the accused intentionally causes an injury after having reflected or having been able to reflect on the crime he is about to commit.'”
Result: the duelist is generally absolved of the penalty of five years’ prison for homicide, and is considered more honorable than ever; while the poor man who commits the same crime in a fight . . . is sentenced to twelve years for homicide in riña with premeditation and advantage, and is disgraced for life. This is justice in a Mexican democracy that bows before the privileges of the frock-coat.”[36]
Few critics of the double standard were as eloquent as Bulnes, but similar arguments appeared in one form or another throughout Spanish America.[37]
Underpinning the anti-dueling position, no matter which specific argument a critic might choose to employ, lay the belief that the duel was a barbaric anacronism, an atavistic legacy of the past. As one Uruguayan senator put it: “at the heart of all this is nothing more than a weakness in the character of our Latin race, given that the duel has only been able to take root in [our race] and not in other races that are highly civilized and march at the forefront of civilization and progress.”[38] Most cited the British as the quintessential example of an advanced and cultured people who had abolished the duel without any loss of honor and without ceasing to be a nation of “gentlemen.”[39] In a modern world where laws were respected, there was simply no place for potentially deadly armed combat in defense of honor.[40] And even if the laws against slander, libel, and insult were deficient, as some critics were quite willing to admit, civilized men had a duty to strengthen and improve them, not to demean the legal order by acting in utter disregard for those and all other laws.[41]

But defenders of the duel argued that laws and courts could not possibly provide an effective recourse for those whose honor had been outraged and whose name had been sullied by an affront. The problem was not just that libel laws were ambiguous and the penalties were insufficient. It went much deeper than that: for many dueling advocates, damage to one’s honor simply could not be repaired through the legal process. As one Uruguayan parliamentarian put it: “A man of honor, worthy of esteem in the society in which he lives, worthy of respect from the members of his family, does not turn to [the courts] because the sting that a slap produces on the cheek of an honest man cannot be removed by a few months in jail or a handful of gold.”[42] And not only was legal action of no use; many argued that bringing a case of defamation to the attention of the authorities only compounded the original offense by subjecting the victim to scorn as a coward and by providing the offender a forum in which to repeat the slander.[43]

For its advocates, therefore, the only satisfactory recourse in such circumstances was the duel. Theoretically, it provided a way for gentlemen to settle their disputes in private, through the intervention of trusted confidants (their seconds), whose first duty was to find a peaceful resolution. If no agreement could be reached, the seconds were entrusted with ensuring that the conditions of the duel were both evenhanded and in proportion to the original offense (the less serious the affront, the less perilous the conditions). And supporters argued that the ultimate advantage of the duel, unlike a lawsuit or libel prosecution, was that the restoration of honor did not depend on the outcome of the confrontation. Ideally, a well-fought duel reconciled the two adversaries, reestablished mutual respect, and “cleansed” the stain caused by the original insult. No lawsuit or libel prosecution was capable of producing the same effect.[44] If the cost was occasional death or serious injury, it was a price worth paying. In the words of one Uruguayan congressman: “an individual who has lost his life in defense of his honor continues to be respected by the society in which he lived, and continues to dignify the family to which he belonged, because . . . a name passed on unblemished is worth more than a coffer full of money.”[45]

Still, few advocates openly defended the duel as a particularly good thing. Indeed, the only way to make sense of the dueling debate is to understand that even the most ardent duelists were publicly defensive about the practice, which they painted as a necessary evil, as the only way to prevent the graver ills of calumny, character assassination, and uncontrolled street violence. Furthermore, most advocates of the duel were extremely sensitive to the criticism that settling matters of honor by private combat undermined the rule of law and the authority of the state. They marshalled several arguments to counter the charge. First, they pointed out that because the anti-dueling laws conflicted with society’s conscience and were universally unenforced, it was the empty prohibition, not the duel itself, that undermined the rule of law and the authority of the state. (This point is discussed in more detail below.)

Second, most duelists and dueling advocates were extraordinarily punctilious in their adherence to the “rules” of honor as they appeared in the dueling codes of the day. To the untrained eye, the numerous published tracts on dueling (the most famous being Count Chateauvillard’s Essai sur le duel, First published in 1836) resemble etiquette books, explaining, step-by-step from the initial offense to the final denouement, exactly how a challenge should be made, seconds chosen, arms and conditions decided, and the duel carried out.[46] But dueling codes were not etiquette books; they were crafted like legal codes, and the striking resemblance was in no way accidental. In the minds of most duelists, rigid adherence to the code of honor was the only thing that separated a legitimate duel from a common crime, noble defense of honor from barbarous murder. The rules of honor ensured that the seconds would diligently seek reconciliation, that the offended party would have the choice of weapons, that the conditions of combat would reflect the severity of the original affront, that each duelist would have a physician present, and that the fight would take place in conditions of scrupulous equality, with no chance for any subterfuge or unfair advantage.

In determining the types of offenses that justified a duel and the kinds of weapons and conditions that were permitted and prohibited, the authors of these codes carefully strove to create a framework in which duels would be grave enough to inspire respect, yet still avoid serious bloodshed whenever possible.[47] For example, some codes disallowed dueling with revolvers, whose rifled barrels made them far more accurate than the traditional smooth-barreled dueling pistols.[48] Other codes prohibited certain kinds of swords deemed too deadly for use.[49] Almost all codes explicitly banned duels to the death or duels in which the conditions—such as an exchange of multiple shots at close range—made death the most likely outcome.[50] And the codes explicitly sought to ensure that honor was the only possible motive, by prohibiting any duel between debtor and creditor, for example.[51] In short, dueling codes provided a set of quasi-legal guidelines designed to “civilize” the duel and attenuate its effects. They were written precisely in the form of laws and effectively enjoyed all the force of law, at least among the community of duelists. That is not to say that the “laws of honor” were never violated: like other laws they were, especially in the heat of battle. But duelists held their transgression to be just as criminal as the violation of other laws, and at least one code explicitly declared that an offender was to be considered a “felon.”[52]

It may seem strange that these codes, compiled and written by private individuals, debated in no legislature and sanctioned by no government, should be treated with all the reverence of actual law—indeed with greater reverence than some laws. Yet this legalism was essential to the pro-dueling argument, and the more thoughtful duelists took it seriously indeed.[53] The authors of some codes of honor actually tried to simulate the process of drafting a genuine legal code: they formed a “commission” of notables, including congressmen, top military officials, and other important public figures, to which they submitted the draft for comment and criticism. The “report” of the commission then appeared as a foreword or appendix to the published version.[54] Other codes were accompanied by long lists of individuals who had given it their “vote” of endorsement.[55] And in one case, an author tailored his code of honor so that it would conform to the concrete dueling provisions of the Uruguayan and Argentine criminal codes. Articles from the criminal codes and the dueling code appeared interspersed throughout the document, underscoring the author’s clear intention that the two very different kinds of “laws” be given equal weight.[56]

Like actual laws, the honor codes established procedures to decide questions of interpretation. For example, when both parties had insulted each other repeatedly, it could be difficult to determine who had offended whom and, hence, who had the choice of weapons. In such cases, the codes called for the creation of “honor tribunals,” ad hoc bodies charged with settling the controversy.[57] Their rulings were often published in the papers and over time set precedents that were occasionally invoked in later cases, creating a sort of “gentlemanly jurisprudence.”[58] And on rare occasions, even published legal articles or courtroom briefs might invoke a point made in one of the honor codes.[59] Furthermore, like formal legal proceedings, the honor codes required that seconds keep meticulous records of their negotiations. These records, called the actas in Spanish (procès-verbaux in French), among other things set out the conditions of the duel (weapons, distance, duration, and so forth) and were treated much as if they were legal contracts.[60]

Those charged with writing and enforcing actual criminal laws in Latin America were no doubt hesitant to treat the codes of honor with the reverence their authors sought, yet adherence to the “laws of honor” could and very often did have a major impact on how the authorities and the legal system dealt with dueling cases. First, many Spanish American criminal codes made a clear distinction between a “regular” duel (which at minimum required the intervention of seconds) and an “irregular” duel, which deviated from normal protocol in some significant way. Regular duels were treated juridically as duels, while irregular duels fell under the general (and less lenient) provisions for homicide or assault.[61] Penal codes followed the honor codes in other ways as well: some severely punished any duelist who could be proven to be motivated by an interest other than the defense of honor, while others specifically criminalized dangerous duels, duels to the death, or duels in which one of the participants received an unfair advantage. By deferring to the dueling codes in the very definition of the crime, Spanish American criminal statutes implicitly recognized “gentlemanly values,” including the all-important idea that a man who killed another in a duel should not be considered a common murderer.[62]

Finally, whether or not a specific penal code distinguished legally between regular and irregular duels, authorities who were normally loathe to prosecute dueling cases could suddenly take a duel very seriously if they became convinced that a critical breach of the honor code had occurred. Such was the case with a notorious duel in Porfirian Mexico, in which Colonel Francisco Romero killed José C. Verástegui. This duel was the first in over a decade to merit a full-blown investigation and prosecution, including a debate in the House of Representatives over whether or not to strip Romero and three of the participating seconds of their parliamentary immunity.[63] Hidden political interests may have played some role behind the scenes, but the available record suggests—all protests to the contrary notwithstanding—that the case against Romero hinged primarily on accusations that dueling protocol had been violated in significant ways. First, Romero apparently refused to reveal to his seconds the nature of Verástegui’s affront, thus leaving them unable to judge the seriousness of the offense as they and Verástegui’s seconds negotiated the conditions of the duel.[64] Second, the weapons used were the rifled-barreled revolvers prohibited by some honor codes. Worst of all, there were allegations that one or both of the combatants had been able to practice with the weapons prior to the duel.[65] Romero’s defenders focused on refuting these charges of protocol irregularities rather than challenging the material fact that he had shot and killed another man, even though in theory Mexican law should have condemned him to prison either way. And his defense made complete sense: after all, if these all-important provisions of the honor code had in fact been breached, the implication was that Romero had perhaps employed the guise of a duel to perpetrate murder.[66] The Romero/Verástegui case abundantly illustrates how the codes of honor enjoyed quasi-legal status in the minds of many Latin American authorities.[67]

The code of honor helps us to understand how duelists could repeatedly violate the law and yet paradoxically see themselves as the law’s defenders. By adhering to a legalistic protocol and joining in the condemnation of those who violated that protocol, dueling advocates contested the charge that they were placing themselves above the law, usurping the powers of the state, and becoming the “legislator, judge, and executioner” of their own cause. The code of honor also enabled dueling advocates to defend themselves from the charge that they were beneficiaries of a legal double standard. When opponents like Francisco Bulnes argued that there was no difference between a duel and a street fight, dueling supporters pointed to the code of honor as proof that the two had nothing whatsoever in common. Because a properly executed duel demanded an attempt at reconciliation first and safeguarded fair, equal, and appropriate conditions of combat if reconciliation failed, the code of honor was not an instigation to violent crime, but society’s best defense against violent crime.[68] One Argentine congressman in 1917 went so far as to argue that if ordinary citizens could be instructed in the “laws” of honor and dueling etiquette:

[W]e would be able to prevent half of the deaths that occur in the country, almost all of them produced in bar fights [peleas de almacén y de pulpería], in the Sunday get-togethers of the common people. [If] everyone knew that by settling their disputes in strict accordance with the provisions of the code they would be exempt from criminal responsibility, . . . the duels that would occur would be carried out in a much less dangerous and definitively more civilized manner.[69]
For its champions, therefore, a properly conducted duel could not be a crime because the code of honor was designed to prevent any possibility of criminal intent. By the same token, the duel could not be an act of barbarism because the code was also a fundamentally civilizing force. Adherence to protocol forced a man to dominate his momentary anger; to submit to the arbitration of seconds; to meditate on the offense committed and its proper reparation; to confront his adversary coolly, face to face, in conditions of rigid equality; and to accept the outcome of the duel as final. In short, although the duel might appear on the surface to be an act of violent passion, the rules of honor actually made the duel a quintessential exercise in self-control and the domination of violent passion.[70] Or this, at least, was the argument.

The Question of Criminality

Both advocates and enemies of the duel took their positions seriously and considered their arguments carefully. Yet this fundamental question—whether the duel was right or wrong—in fact rarely dominated debate. Far more time was spent questioning if it was proper or even possible to criminalize a practice that society generally condoned and that lawyers, generals, senators, and even presidents engaged in regularly. Opponents found nothing more galling than the fact that duelists could kill or maim with impunity, making a farce of the penal code’s supposed protection of the individual’s right to life and physical integrity. Supporters, for their part, were no less troubled by the fact that an unenforced and unenforceable law technically branded them as criminals, and they, too, asserted that the empty prohibition undermined the legitimacy of society’s basic laws and institutions. So argued Argentine penalist Rodolfo Rivarola in 1890, supporting a proposed criminal code that would have removed the prohibition on dueling: “Any law that attempts to repress the duel will lack all prestige; it will be a law contrary to sentiments deemed honorable and gentlemanly.”[71]

In Uruguay as well, this question of respect for the law underpinned a 1908 bill to decriminalize the duel entirely. (A modified version of the bill was approved in 1920, making Uruguay unique in its leniency.)[72] The author’s justification of the 1908 bill chose deliberately not to address the morality of the duel, but focused instead on the social and moral cost of maintaining laws that no one enforced:

In this opportunity it is of little importance to me whether or not [the duel] deserves punishment, whether or not it is considered theoretically a crime; what fundamentally matters is that the application of our anti-dueling statute goes against “the still powerful force of certain social sentiments,” and as a result the law is not enforced, the police authorities do not deign to observe it, and more serious still, even the judges do not duly implement it.
A law in these conditions is a law that perturbs society; it is a disruptive law, it is a law that, without repressing or preventing the duel, causes the judges charged with its enforcement to make a farce of their august mission, refusing to proceed in some cases, accepting as true the most absurd declarations of innocence in other cases, and in all cases refusing to prosecute.
. . . Maintaining these penal dispositions obliges our criminal judges to only pretend to perform their duties, and opens them to public discredit as less than upright, impartial, and worthy of the post they exercise.[73]
These ideas were seconded by Representative Juan Andrés Ramírez in a 1919 debate on the modified version:
All of us today share the same complicity, because no one sincerely sees [duelists] as immoral or criminal men; nobody refuses to shake the hand of a duelist, or to invite one into his home, or to sit one down at his table. Dueling raises absolutely no social alarm, . . . and therefore, to sustain criminality in a situation where society impels the crime and later abets the criminal, is purely and simply a true hypocrisy.
. . . Periodically, our magistrates decide that a law against dueling exists. They make one, two, three attempts to enforce it and then give up, understanding that it is absolutely impossible to make the laws effective. Is it possible, then, to say that it strengthens the dignity of the administration of justice, that it favors public order, that it moralizes the society, to fight to sustain laws that oblige the judges either to subject themselves to ridicule or to disregard duties that their position obliges them to carry out?[74]
Opponents of the duel firmly agreed that its impunity undermined respect for the law. Indeed, both sides diagnosed the legal dilemma identically. But critics of dueling challenged the assumption that the laws against it went unenforced because they were unenforceable. Whereas supporters saw magistrates powerless to assert their authority, opponents saw complicit magistrates who willfully refused to prosecute the powerful. Supporters argued that the public unanimously refused to see dueling as a crime, while opponents argued that public opinion could easily be swayed by a more aggressive application of the law. Uruguayan legal scholar José Irureta Goyena put it succinctly in 1908:
Everyone, or almost everyone, repudiates the duel; no one, or almost no one, actually refuses to duel when the moment comes. . . . I am convinced that this contradiction in the psychology of the people would be far less widespread if the laws designed to repress the duel were enforced. . . . What objective reason, apart from one’s conscience, can a citizen invoke to refuse a duel, or to abstain from provoking one? Respect for the law? But if the law [against dueling] is an abandoned ritual, notable only for the number of times it has been violated?[75]
Irureta understood why duels occurred and agreed that the courts offered little redress for victims of libel and defamation. With so many good reasons to duel, people needed an excuse not to duel, and the only way to provide that excuse was for the authorities to enforce the existing criminal sanctions diligently and without exception.[76] (Ironically, one judge took his advice to heart and on June 4, 1908, ordered the arrest of Irureta Goyena himself for serving as a second in a duel between Alberto Guani and Juan Andrés Ramírez, one of his closest friends and political allies.)[77]
Perhaps most interesting of all was the position of those who stood in between the two extremes, the many who agreed that dueling was an anachronism in need of abolition yet remained averse to the idea of treating duelists as criminals. As one frequently cited Spanish expert said: “It is difficult to determine how duelists should be punished: since they are honorable men it would be cruel to deprive them of their liberty, yet fines are useless.”[78] Unable to countenance either stricter repression or total impunity, these moderates found themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to accept and even defend the gap between law and practice. They sought a magic balance between repression and realism, in much the same way that modern legislators confront the issue of tobacco. Then, as now, that balance proved illusory.

The moderates were many and included not only those who had never fought a duel but also a surprisingly large number of active duelists, themselves ambivalent about the morality and efficacy of the practice in which they engaged. They shared the general belief that the duel was wrong but inevitable, a sort of original sin that could not be abolished until people’s ideas of honor changed, or until effective legal sanctions could be devised that would rid the society of insult and defamation. They did not, however, accept the idea that the laws on dueling should legitimize the practice. Argued Uruguayan congressman Ismael Cortinas in 1919:

I can accept that the duel is a necessary evil; but even accepting that, I believe that we cannot in any way give up the right to try, by means of the law, to make sure that this necessary evil has the fewest possible repercussions, . . . because that is the mission that the people entrust us with as their representatives.
. . . To do otherwise . . . would be to declare that humanity is incorrigible and that there does not exist even the remotest possibility of fostering an acceptable system of human conduct. Luckily, not everyone thinks this way, and there are those who believe that through concerted propaganda and persistent action we can come to moderate the aggressive instincts inherent in human nature, subordinating them to the tranquil and serene judgments of reason and justice.[79]
In some ways, the distance separating Cortinas from decriminalization advocate Ramírez was surprisingly slight. Both men publicly described the duel as an unfortunate practice, and both agreed that the prosecution of duelists under existing statute was unlikely, given the state of public opinion. The two men therefore differed not in their view of the duel but in their view of the law itself. For Ramírez, law had to reflect social reality, and any law that lacked public support undermined the legitimacy of all laws. For Cortinas, law should spring from the enlightened legislators’ sense of right and wrong. For Ramírez, the purpose of criminal law was to codify what society as a whole already believed to be correct behavior and to protect that society from those who would violate the norm. For Cortinas, the purpose of criminal law was to improve society, to civilize it, to make it better than it was. Cortinas understood that it would take time for that general moral improvement to come (indeed, he himself had fought at least one duel), and he was less bothered by good laws going unenforced than he was by unfortunate habits and prejudices acquiring the force of statute. The position of Ramírez, the dueling advocate, was paradoxically the less elitist of the two: in arguing that law was a product of society rather than a tool to improve it, he rejected Cortinas’s assertion that the legislator was a sort of superior being with a moral duty to decide what was best for the people. Here in a nutshell was the classic conflict between the eighteenth-century belief in the perfectability of man through the instrument of enlightened law and the nineteenth-century Romantic search for more organic constitutions, in keeping with each society’s idiosyncrasies.[80]
Was Ramírez sincerely concerned about the erosion of respect for laws and magistrates, or were his arguments a disingenuous smokescreen? Many opponents of legalization believed the latter and wondered out loud why there was no similar clamor to legalize other seldom-punished crimes such as gambling, abortion, and prostitution. Certainly dueling was unique inasmuch as it was by virtual definition a crime of “gentlemen,” and the “public” that refused to condemn the duel carried rather more weight than the public that refused to condemn more typically lower-class “crimes” such as vagrancy and public disorder.[81] In other words, the very definition of public opinion employed by dueling advocates betrayed a stongly elitist vision of social reality.[82]

Still, class prejudices alone do not adequately explain why the criminality of the duel posed such a difficult problem for so many people. In Spanish America as elsewhere, the duel raised several unique legal questions that permanently divided the community of experts, and this in turn made dueling an especially difficult crime to repress. First and foremost was the inability of penal scholars to agree on exactly who or what the duel was a crime against. There were three schools of thought: 1) that the duel was a “crime against persons,” meaning, obviously, that the person killed or injured in a duel was the victim against whom a crime had been committed; 2) that the duel was a “crime against public order,” meaning that society as a whole was the victim, and both duelists were culpable; or 3) that the duel was a “crime against the administration of justice,” because, when duelists settled disputes of honor by their own hand, they usurped powers that properly belonged to the courts.[83] This was by no means a purely academic matter of where the duel appeared in the penal code: the definition of the crime directly affected how, and under what conditions, duelists might or might not be prosecuted. For example, if the duel was considered a crime against public order or against the administration of justice, then the legal rationale for punishing the mere issuance or acceptance of a challenge became much stronger. All participants in a duel could be held equally culpable, including the seconds and the attending physicians, no matter what the outcome of the encounter. Some legal experts felt that such an interpretation was necessary. After all, only by viewing the duel as a crime against society or against the state could you successfully combat the argument that both duelists voluntarily chose their fate. Furthermore, if the law considered the challenge as great a crime as the duel itself, then police were empowered to intervene energetically before any duel actually took place and to proceed against the seconds as well. In other words, this interpretation gave authorities the preventive and repressive tools they otherwise might lack.

But most opinion makers found this legal interpretation unconvincing. First, it was hard to make a realistic case that the duel disturbed public order, when most duels took place in isolated spots during the wee hours of the morning with little danger to anyone but the participants.[84] The usurpation of authority argument was in some ways the stronger one; however, in the many cases where duels arose for offenses too trivial to be considered crimes, it was hard to argue that any function of the state had been usurped.[85] Furthermore, as another theorist cleverly pointed out, if duelists were to settle defamation cases privately by hitting each other with sticks or running a footrace, it would be difficult to contend that their behavior was criminal, even though the intent to undermine public authority was clearly manifest.[86] In the end, opponents of dueling were left with one and only one viable legal rationale for criminalization: that the violence of the duel and the possibility of death or serious injury made the practice a “crime against persons.” The problem with this definition, however, was that the legality or illegality of the duel became more dependent upon the outcome of the encounter.

Some legal experts were deeply troubled by the idea that chance should play such an important role in determining the criminality of the duel.[87] Yet this legal interpretation may have approximated most people’s sense of right and wrong in such matters. When a duel resulted in death or serious injury, the public outcry sometimes led to a call for prosecution.[88] In the majority of duels, however, the physicians stopped combat after the first significant sign of blood and then—if we are to believe the satirical accounts—the combatants went off to have a sumptuous banquet to celebrate their reconciliation. Only the most dedicated opponents of dueling believed that anyone deserved to be treated as a criminal in such circumstances. Indeed, most of those who thought about the issue believed that dueling was a serious social ill and that dueling under perilous conditions should be a crime, yet those very same people were just as likely to approve of the conduct of individual duelists and seconds and to generally support the manner in which the codes of honor dealt with personal conflicts. Certainly few had any inclination to prosecute seconds who conscientiously carried out their duties as conciliators.

Two Uruguayan duels, both fought in the first half of 1908, illustrate perfectly this ambivalence. In the first, infantry lieutenant Arturo Gomeza killed another officer in a duel fought with revolvers. The conditions of the duel were extraordinarily severe: the men were to exchange shots at a hundred paces and then advance three paces with each subsequent shot until one of them fell. Gomeza, furthermore, was well known for his marksmanship. When details of the duel came out, the local press unanimously called for the arrest of both Gomeza and the seconds who had agreed to such dangerous terms, and the papers harshly criticized a slow and uncertain prosecution.[89] In the second, a first-blood saber duel between two university student leaders left both with a few minor cuts and scratches. In an obvious effort to teach them a lesson and to set an example, the judge had both duelists and two of the seconds detained and requested that the other two seconds be stripped of their parliamentary immunity. To make matters worse, he sent the prisoners to jail rather than holding them at the police station, forcing them to endure harsh conditions in rough company. He then took his time signing their release papers, arguing that the men should not be treated differently from anyone else. In this case, the reaction of the press was quite the opposite. The judge’s actions were widely denouced as arbitrary and irregular, even abusive.[90] “Never has [a judge] proceeded in such a manner with persons of a certain [social] condition,” complained El Siglo, noting that these “distinguished university students . . . have been treated . . . with a rigor previously only employed with individuals accused of serious crimes.”[91]

It is easy to understand why makers of public opinion should treat these two duels so differently, yet herein lay the problem for prosecutors. In moral terms, considering both the intent of the participants and their adherence to the letter and spirit of the “laws of honor,” the two duels were indeed quite different. In legal terms, however, the crimes were identical. If judges and prosecutors left the second duel unpunished—as most people believed they should—they risked undermining their authority to prosecute the first.

Responses and Outcomes

This moral ambivalence contributed to the duel’s continuing impunity, but it also gave rise to a variety of proposals designed to tame the duel, as legislators across the region sought the elusive chimera of honor without violence. Some wanted to prohibit newspapers from publishing the actas of duels, a widespread custom that critics believed dignified the practice and incited some people to issue challenges gratuitiously, in order to win a name for themselves.[92] Others called for more concerted anti-dueling propaganda, and almost everyone spoke in favor of legal reforms that would promote the aggressive and effective prosecution of defamation, insult, and other “crimes against honor.”

Perhaps the most popular proposed reform was the establishment of compulsory honor tribunals to rule upon the kinds of conflicts that ordinarily might be settled on the dueling ground. Honor courts had existed in one form or another for centuries, and while they often served as an appendage to the duel, they had long been promoted as an alternative.[93] In the early 1900s, the anti-dueling leagues that were being established in most major European cities endorsed the idea, and many men joined the leagues precisely because they saw in the league-run honor tribunals a respectable way to solve conflicts of honor without recourse to violence.[94] Dueling opponents in Spain tried in 1908 to include honor tribunals in a reform of the penal code; they failed, but the idea caught on later in several Latin American countries.[95] In Uruguay, for example, the decriminalization proposal supported by Juan Andrés Ramírez in 1919 appeared certain to go down to defeat until its supporters revised the bill by incorporating honor tribunals. In the amended version, the anti-dueling articles of the penal code remained on the books, with the stipulation that those provisions would cease to be applicable only in cases where an honor tribunal of three respectable citizens, one chosen by each side and the third chosen by the other two, had ruled that sufficient cause for a duel existed.[96] This compromise satisfied the moderates’ desire that the duel continue to be a crime (at least in theory), and many moderates hoped that the honor tribunals would refuse to authorize duels in all but the most serious of cases. In other words, the law as passed in 1920 held out a ray of hope that duels might actually decrease rather than increase in the wake of decriminalization.[97]

The Mexican penal code of 1929 also incorporated the idea of honor tribunals with a crucial difference: unlike the Uruguayan precedent, Mexican honor tribunals could not rule that a duel was justifiable. Because the tribunals acted as a final authority in matters of honor, their explicit purpose was to prevent duels while at the same time preserving all the conciliatory mechanisms of the traditional dueling codes. The new penal code made it legal for an offended party to issue a challenge to his antagonist, allowed both sides to name seconds to represent them, and freed the seconds of all legal responsibility if they succeeded in finding a solution. If no conciliation could be reached, the law required that the seconds organize a tripartite honor tribunal. The tribunals thus allowed traditional customs to persist, insofar as conflicts of honor continued to be solved informally, rather than in the courts. If an actual duel occurred, however (in other words, if the antagonists failed to convene an honor tribunal or disregarded its ruling), that duel remained a crime.[98] Supporters of the reform hoped, under the new code, that these milder sanctions against dueling would, at last, actually be enforced.

Honor tribunals were an important innovation only to the extent that they illustrated the attempt by a few Spanish American nations to overcome the enormous gap between law and custom. Supporters hoped that the reform would curb or perhaps even abolish the duel itself, while at the same time remain true to the cultural values and practices that underpinned and legitimated the duel. The reform once again illustrated the ambivalence that the political elite felt toward this practice. On the one hand, most agreed that it was a barbarous anachronism and a congenital weakness of their “race.” Yet, on the other hand, they continued to view it as the only available way to defend their honor in the face of an affront.

Ultimately, however, most Spanish American nations chose not to confront the legal dilemmas raised by the duel. Argentina’s Congress repeatedly rejected decriminalization while at the same time refusing to enact stricter repressive measures.[99] Even in Mexico the 1929 penal code ended up a dead letter, superseded by a 1931 code imposing criminal sanctions that again went largely unenforced.[100] Uruguay proved uniquely innovative in its approach to dueling, as it was in its approach to so many other things. Elsewhere, the dueling debate did not lead to concrete legal reform, even though contentious argument arose periodically in Cuba, Peru, Chile, and several other places. Meanwhile, police throughout the region continued to find themselves either powerless or complicit in their dealings with duelists.

In the end, dueling in Latin America was never successfully repressed, although the practice eventually died out. Explaining the gradual decline in dueling after about 1930 is not easy, although there are several possibilities. In many countries, censorship during the authoritarian 1930s quashed the kind of journalistic polemics that so often sparked duels. At the same time, longer-term transformations in the publishing industry had the same effect, as papers appealed increasingly to a mass readership more interested in the sports page than the political page.[101] Foreign examples surely played as large a role in the decline of dueling as they had in its rise. Dueling died out in France, Italy, and Spain while Spanish Americans increasingly fell into the cultural orbit of the United States. And finally, we may hypothesize—albeit only tentatively—that politicians in Spanish America no longer legitimated their authority as they had in 1880 or 1920. Rather than invoking innate superiority, manliness, and courage as the measure of a leader’s qualifications, politicians may finally have entered the age of interest representation and modern, ideologically driven parties. Still, more research needs to be done before such a conclusion can be proven. No matter how we explain the end of the duel, in some countries that end came astonishingly late: Peru’s last reported duel occurred in 1958, Argentina’s and Uruguay’s both in 1971, and only in 1992 did Uruguay repeal the 1920 decriminalization law.[102] By that time, duelists had become something akin to museum relics, when not cause for gentle ridicule, at least in most countries (Argentina and Uruguay may again be exceptions).[103] Stories of celebrated duels are now standard fare in journalistic evocations of the “olden days,” and in the process, of course, the duel as an institution and the controversy that surrounded dueling have both been successfully trivialized.[104]

But in the context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was nothing trivial about the duel or the dueling debate. Their importance lay on many levels: at the most human level, men often fought and sometimes either died or killed, allegedly for the sake of honor. For the widows, children, and friends who mourned the dead, the duel was anything but trivial. But far more than that, the dueling debate highlighted widely divergent visions of the meaning and purpose of law in a modern society. At a moment when Latin America stood at the crossroads between patriarchal tradition and imported modernity, between the disorder of the post-Independence era and the “order and progress” of the belle epoque, between comfortable elite rule and the first stirrings of mass society, the dueling debate uniquely crystallized the contradictions of an age.

David S. Parker is associate professor of history at Queen’s University, Canada. Research for this article was supported by a general research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. An early draft was presented as a paper at the 1998 meeting of the Canadian Historical Association and published as part of the conference proceedings in the Journal of the CHA, n.s., 9 (1998): 15–37. The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of the Centro Latino Americano de Economía Humana (CLAEH) in Montevideo, the Biblioteca Nacional and Biblioteca de la Cámara de Representantes (Uruguay), the Biblioteca Nacional and Archivo General de la Nación (Argentina), the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale University, Carlos Aguirre, Gerardo Caetano, John Charles Chasteen, Sandra Gayol, Pablo Piccato, and the Law and History Review’s anonymous referees. All translations are by the author.

Notes

1 Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tribunal Criminal Serie 1, B4 1871–1874, “Benites, Julio y Jacobo Varela por desafío.”

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Thomas Holloway, Policing Rio de Janeiro: Repression and Resistance in a 19th-Century City (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), provides an unflattering but convincing picture of police behavior in nineteenth-century Rio, where the arbitrary abuse of the poor was habitual. Other Latin American cities may have been different in degree, but not in kind.

6 Some sources in English: Ute Frevert, Men of Honour: A Social and Cultural History of the Duel (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press, 1995), chap. 1; Kevin McAleer, Dueling: The Cult of Honor in Fin de Siècle Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 23–34; Robert A. Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 173–82; Steven Hughes, “Men of Steel: Dueling, Honor, and Politics in Liberal Italy,” in Men and Violence: Gender, Honor, and Rituals in Modern Europe and America, ed. Pieter Spierenburg (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998), 64–81. Nor were these debates new ones; see also Robert A. Schneider, “Swordplay and Statemaking: Aspects of the Campaign against the Duel in Early Modern France,” in Statemaking and Social Movements: Essays in History and Theory, ed. Charles Bright and Susan Harding (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984), 265–96; François Billacois, The Duel: Its Rise and Fall in Early Modern France, ed. and trans. Trista Selous (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990); James Kelly, That Damn’d Thing Called Honour: Duelling in Ireland, 1570–1860 (Cork: Cork University Press, 1995), chaps. 4–6, esp. 158–67.

7 Mark Burkholder, “Honor and Honors in Colonial Spanish America,” in The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame, and Violence in Colonial Latin America, eds. Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998), 34.

8 On Cuba, see Agustín Cervantes, Los duelos en Cuba (Havana: A. Miranda and Cía. Imprenta La Moderna, 1894), 6–9. On Mexico, see Angel Escudero, El duelo en México (Mexico City: Imprenta Mundial, 1936), 56–59. On the fatal 1866 duel in Uruguay, see José María Fernández Saldaña, La violencia en el Uruguay del siglo XIX (Cronicas de muertes, duelos, atentados y ejecuciones) (Montevideo: Cal y Canto, 1996), 26–30; [José Pedro Ramírez], La muerte de Servando F. Martínez (Montevideo: Imprenta TipográFica a Vapor, 1866). A few deadly duels took place in the early nineteenth century, but they appear to have been fought with much less formality. See, for example, Armando Braun Menendez, “Un duelo histórico: Mackenna-Carrera,” Mapocho (Santiago, Chile) 28 (1980): 29–35. A fatal Mexican duel in 1852 had seconds and a formal challenge, but the weapons were unorthodox, to say the least: shotguns at five paces. Escudero, El duelo en México, 55–56.

9 Cervantes, Los duelos en Cuba, esp. 118.

10 Killed in 1880 were Enrique Romero Giménez by José Paul y Angulo and Pantaleón Gómez by Lucio V. Mansilla. In 1894 Colonel Carlos Sarmiento killed Lucio Vicente López, and only the last-minute intervention of Argentina’s most influential men averted a duel between the leader of the ruling party, former President Carlos Pellegrini, and Leandro Alem, leader of the opposition Unión Cívica Radical. Coming but a year after the failed revolution of 1893, a Pellegrini-Alem duel might well have returned Argentina to the brink of civil war.

11 César Viale, Jurisprudencia caballeresca argentina, 2d ed. (Buenos Aires, 1928).

12 “Actualidad: estadística del duelo,” El Plata (Montevideo), 14 April 1920, p. 1.

13 César Viale, Jurisprudencia caballeresca argentina, 3d ed. (Buenos Aires, 1937), 500.

14 On Italy, see Hughes, “Men of Steel,” 68.

15 Normally duelists did not shun the press; however, a desire for secrecy might arise if the original offense was of an especially sensitive personal nature, or if the authorities at that particular moment were taking a hard repressive line against the duel. Just as often, duels went unreported simply because the participants were not important enough or well-enough connected to make the papers, or because the duels took place in the provinces rather than in the capital. Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor, 184–86, assumes for France that statistics based on official sources and the press undercount by a factor of three or more, but that figure appears to be only an educated guess.

16 For examples, see the debates sparked by incidents involving Uruguayan presidents José Batlle y Ordóñez and Baltasar Brum. La Democracia (Montevideo), 27 April 1906, p. 1; 28 April 1906, pp. 1–2; La Tribuna Popular (Montevideo), 16 April 1913, p. 1; The Montevideo Times, 14 December 1922, p. 3; 19 December 1922, p. 3; La Tribuna Popular, 13 December 1922, p. 1.

17 Pablo Piccato, “Politics and the Technology of Honor: Dueling in Turn-of-the-Century Mexico,” Journal of Social History 33.2 (Winter 1999): 331–54. On the resurgence of dueling in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, see Robert Nye, “Fencing, the Duel and Republican Manhood in the Third Republic,” Journal of Contemporary History 25 (1990): 366; McAleer, Dueling, 3; and especially Hughes, “Men of Steel,” 66.

18 For Mexico City, see Escudero, El duelo en México, 39–50; Piccato, “Politics and the Technology of Honor,” 333. For Buenos Aires, see Roberto J. Cristiani, Reseña histórica del cuerpo de gimnasia y esgrima del ejército y su proyección en la vida nacional: Algunos aspectos de su evolución entre 1897–1960 (Buenos Aires: Servicio de Informaciones del Ejército, 1968), esp. 11–15.

19 See some of the biographies of immigrant journalists in La Nación, número especial para el centenario de 1916 (Buenos Aires, 1916), 251–60, 338–43.

20 On dueling and the press in Italy, see Hughes, “Men of Steel,” esp. 68–70. On France, see William M. Reddy, The Invisible Code: Honor and Sentiment in Postrevolutionary France, 1814–1848 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), chap. 5; Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor, 187–90. On the political press in Latin America, see Charles F. Walker, Smoldering Ashes: Cuzco and the Creation of Republican Peru (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), chap. 6; Tim Duncan, “La prensa política: Sud-América, 1884–1892,” in La Argentina del ochenta al centenario, ed. Gustavo Ferrari and Ezequiel Gallo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1980), 761–83; Benjamin Fernández y Medina, La imprenta y la prensa en el Uruguay (Montevideo: Dornaleche y Reyes, 1900), 42, 66–83.

21 For one of many examples, see the complaints of bias in the 1883 defamation case between José Pesce and El Bien Público of Montevideo. El Hilo Eléctrico (Montevideo), 9 October 1883, p. 2; 12 October 1883, p. 2; La Tribuna Popular (Montevideo), 12 October 1883, p. 1.

22 On the legitimacy crisis and the long struggle to forge a new legal order, see Jeremy Adelman, Republic of Capital: Buenos Aires and the Legal Transformation of the Atlantic World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), chaps. 4, 7, 8. See also François-Xavier Guerra, Modernidad e independencias: Ensayos sobre las revoluciones hispánicas (Madrid: Editorial Mapfre, 1992); and in English, François-Xavier Guerra, “The Spanish-American Tradition of Representation and its European Roots,” Journal of Latin American Studies 26.1 (1994): esp. 4–6, 9–12, 24–29.

23 Hughes, “Men of Steel,” 77.

24 Joanne Freeman, “Dueling as Politics: Reinterpreting the Burr-Hamilton Duel,” William and Mary Quarterly 53.2 (1996): 289–318; Bertam Wyatt-Brown, “Andrew Jackson’s Honor,” Journal of the Early Republic (1997): 1–36; Reddy, The Invisible Code, chap. 5.

25 “Private” duels are inevitably underrepresented in the available historical sources, precisely because they were private, sensitive, and hence concealed, unlike political duels, which almost required publicity. Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor, 185–86, makes this point for France. Nevertheless, when Spanish Americans discussed the duel, most noted the predominance of public over private motives, and the magnitude of the disparity seems to negate the possibility that underrepresentation in the sources is a sufficient explanation. That is not to say that duels among competing suitors, for example, did not occur. See, for one, Francisco Varona Murias, Mis duelos, 3d ed. (Havana: Imprenta de Ricardo Ripes, 1906), 107–12. But Varona’s eight or so other duels all arose from politics, journalism, or both.

26 República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 271, 21 May 1919, p. 55.

27 In 1880, for example, supporters of the editor of a satirical paper in Montevideo repeatedly charged that government cronies provoked duels in order to muzzle the free press. See El Negro Timoteo (Montevideo), 20 June 1880, pp. 212–13; 11 July 1880, pp. 217–27.

28 Years after his famous 1897 encounter with Hipólito Yrigoyen (leader of Argentina’s Unión Cívica Radical), ex-partisan Lisandro de la Torre lamented having fought the duel, precisely because the rules of honor forced him to keep to himself the accusations that had occasioned their falling out. B. González Arrili, Vida de Lisandro de la Torre (Buenos Aires, 1940), 79–80.

29 “Personal,” Diario del Plata (Montevideo), 6 November 1915, p. 3. See also “Para ella,” El Día (Montevideo), 28 May 1913, p. 6, and “Escorpion en la Cámara,” El Día, 20 May 1914, p. 5, a cartoon depicting archrival Juan Andrés Ramírez in a dress. The ideas of honor and responsibility that underpinned the culture of dueling were, not surprisingly, heavily gendered. Those who refused to duel or who found excuses not to duel were often accused of acting like women, because women also (allegedly) lacked the ability to guarantee their words on the field of honor. Women’s a priori exclusion from the world of the duel in turn reinforced their exclusion from the world of public discourse, political journalism, and politics itself, a point made in Piccato, “Politics and the Technology of Honor,” 343–46.

30 At present, far more work needs to be done on image making and the representation of leadership during the long and uncertain transition from military to civilian rule in nineteenth-century Latin America. At stake are complex and important issues of political legit- imacy and the discursive invention of “public opinion.” For vaguely analogous debates in United States history, see Freeman, “Dueling as Politics”; Kenneth S. Greenberg, Honor and Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), esp. chaps. 1 and 3; Wyatt-Brown, “Andrew Jackson’s Honor,” 1–36.

31 Wyatt-Brown, “Andrew Jackson’s Honor,” 14–27, makes precisely this point for dueling in the antebellum United States. Interestingly, he draws heavily on studies of patronage in Latin America and Spain. See also Eric R. Wolf, “Kinship, Friendship and Patron-Client Relations in Complex Societies,” in The Social Anthropology of Complex Societies, ed. Michael Banton (London: Tavistock Publications, 1966), 1–22; and Glen Caudill Dealy, The Latin Americans: Spirit and Ethos (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992), chaps. 4–6.

32 Juan M. Rodríguez, El duelo: Estudio filosóFico-moral (Mexico City: Tipografía Mexicana, 1869), 5. The Church’s formal denunciation of the duel had been unwavering for more than half a millennium, going back at least to the Council of Valencia in 1229 and strongly confirmed by the Council of Trent, which ordered the excommunication of duelists and seconds and denied ecclesiastical sepulture to those killed in duels. José Borrás, El duelo: Estudio histórico-crítico (Madrid: A de S. Martin, 1888), 23; Billacois, The Duel, chap. 9.

33 M. A. Fuentes and M. A. de la Lama, Diccionario de jurisprudencia y de legislación peruana (Lima: Imprenta del Estado, 1877), 226–27. On Dupin, see Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor, esp. 134–35.

34 Alejandro Groizard y Gómez de la Serna, El código penal de 1870, concordado y comentado, vol. 4, 2d ed. (Madrid: Establecimiento TipográFico de los Sucesores de J. A. García, 1912), 681.

35 On informal dueling and masculine honor codes among the lower classes, see John Charles Chasteen, “Violence for Show: Knife Dueling on a Nineteenth-Century Cattle Frontier,” in The Problem of Order in Changing Societies: Essays on Crime and Policing in Argentina and Uruguay, 1750–1940, ed. Lyman L. Johnson (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1990), 47–64.

36 “Dictámen de la sección 2a. del Gran Jurado Nacional,” Revista de Legislación y Jurisprudencia (Mexico City), vol. 7 (1894), 86–388.

37 See, for instance, Senator Emilio Frugoni in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Senadores, vol. 120, 5 August 1920, pp. 201–2; Representative Antonio de Tomaso in Argentina, Congreso Nacional, Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados, 1917 vol. 4, 21 August 1917, pp. 120–21; Rodríguez, El duelo, 23.

38 Senator Joaquín Secco Illa in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Senadores, vol. 120, 5 August 1920, p. 193. See also Senator Frugoni, ibid., 191–92.

39 Senator Frugoni, ibid., 191. See also Rep. Juan B. Justo in Argentina, Congreso Nacional, Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados, 1917 vol. 4, 21 August 1917, p. 126. On British dueling and its abolition by the mid-1800s, see Donna T. Andrew, “The Code of Honour and its Critics: The Opposition to Duelling in England, 1700–1850,” Social History 5 (1981): 409–34; and Anthony E. Simpson, “Dandelions on the Field of Honor: Dueling, the Middle Classes, and the Law in Nineteenth-Century England,” Criminal Justice History 9 (1988): 99–155.

40 Argued Argentine Socialist Senator Enrique del Valle Iberlucea: “A civilization based on law and justice cannot allow blood to cleanse.” Código penal de la nación argentina, ley no. 11.179: Edición oficial (Buenos Aires: Talleres GráFicos Argentinos de L. J. Rosso y Cía, 1922), 273.

41 Rep. José Salgado in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 270, 9 May 1919, p. 403; Emilio Pedemonte, Comentarios del código penal (parte especial), 2d ed. (Montevideo, 1953), 313.

42 Rep. Duvimioso Terra in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 270, 9 May 1919, p. 410.

43 Rep. Argerich in Argentina, Congreso Nacional, Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados, 1900 vol. 1, 13 July 1900, p. 285. See also Código penal de la nación argentina, ley no. 11.179, 184–85; Samuel F. Sánchez and José Panella, Código argentino sobre el duelo (Buenos Aires: Imp. Moreno, 1878), 12–14; Rep. Juan Andrés Ramírez in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 271, 28 May 1919, p. 132; Antonio Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo (Mexico City: Imp. Lit. y Enc. de Ireneo Paz, 1891), 13–15.

44 Sostenes Rocha, in prologue to Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo, iv.

45 Rep. Terra in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 270, 9 May 1919, p. 410. Similar sentiments appear in Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo, 9.

46 There are several Spanish translations of Chateauvillard, which was translated into other languages as well. See Ensayo sobre la jurisprudencia de los duelos por el Conde de Chateauvillard, traducido del francés y seguido por comentarios y preceptos adicionales a dicha obra por D. Andrés Borrego (Madrid: Juan Iglesia Sánchez, Impresor, 1890); Luis Ricardo Fors, Arte del testigo en duelo (Buenos Aires, 1913), 57–93.

47 Julio Urbino y Ceballos-Escalera, Marqués de Cabriñana, Lances entre caballeros ([Barcelona?], 1900), 346, 375–76; Ventura Oreiro, Reglas del duelo: Precedidas de un prefacio sobre el duelo en general y un bosquejo histórico del mismo (Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Mendia y Martínez, 1890), esp. 85–89.

48 Sánchez and Panella, Código argentino sobre el duelo, 56. Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo, 31, considered smooth-barreled pistols preferable, “if available.”

49 One such example was the “Florete sin botón” (foil without safety tip), prohibited in Luis Ramos Yzquierdo, Código del duelo extractado y traducido de varios autores nacionales y extrangeros (Cienfuegos, Cuba: El Comercio, 1889), 60–61.

50 Escipión A. Ferretto, Código de honor: Compendio de las leyes de honor destinadas a resolver las vertencias caballerescas, 6th ed. (1st ed. 1905; Buenos Aires, 1930), 65.

51 Ibid., 74, 79.

52 Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo, 34.

53 Cabriñana, Lances entre caballeros, 13.

54 Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo, iii–xii, 3–5.

55 Sánchez and Panella, Código argentino sobre el duelo, 91–107; Tovar, Código nacional mexicano del duelo, 65–69.

56 Dr. Pedro Federico Coral Luzzi, Código de honor con las leyes relativas al duelo: Ajustado a la codificación penal de las Repúblicas O. del Uruguay, Argentina e ibero-americanas (Montevideo: Editorial A. Monteverde, 1950), esp. 11–18, 46–57. See also Horacio Levene, Duelo: Manual de procedimiento, 3d ed. (Buenos Aires: Revista Militar, 1924), 17–22.

57 Ferretto, Código de honor, 88–90, 130; Levene, Duelo, 44–45.

58 Viale, Jurisprudencia caballeresca argentina, 2d ed., 422–24.

59 .Carlos Escribano, “El duelo en la legislación penal,” La Ley (Buenos Aires) 7 (1937): 18–19.

60 Fors, Arte del testigo en duelo, 50–55; Levene, Duelo, 54–61.

61 Mario Ramírez Boissón, Estudio sobre el duelo: Parte jurídico penal (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 1960), 90–91. Pedemonte, Comentarios del código penal, 322.

62 On the treatment of these issues in Argentine penal codes, see Sebastián Soler, Derecho penal argentino, vol. 3 (Buenos Aires: TipográFica Editora Argentina, 1951), 182–83; on the Mexican codes of 1871 and 1931, see Celestino Porte-Petit, Delitos contra la vida y la integridad corporal (Jalapa: Editorial Veracruzana, 1944), esp. 202–3; on the 1863 Peruvian code, see José Viterbo Arias, Exposición concordada y comparada del código penal del Perú de 1863, vol. 3 (Lima: Imp. Torres Aguirre, 1902), 117–20.

63 “Dictamen de la sección 2a del gran jurado nacional,” Revista de Legislación y Jurisprudencia 7 (1894): 351–52.

64 Ibid., 355–56.

65 El General Sostenes Rocha ante el jurado popular con motivo del duelo verificado antre los señores Verástegui y Romero (Mexico City: Hospicio de Pobres, 1895), 8–34, 44–46. See also Piccato, “Politics and the Technology of Honor,” 335–37.

66 El General Sostenes Rocha ante el jurado, 39–40, 51.

67 Latin America was by no means unique in this regard. See Kelly, That Damn’d Thing Called Honour, 193–94.

68 Rep. Terra in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 271, 21 May 1919, p. 44; Rep. Ramírez, ibid., 28 May 1919, pp. 126–29.

69 Rep. Demaría in Argentina, Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Diputados, 1917 vol. 4, 21 August 1917, pp. 124–25.

70 Rep. Terra in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 271, 21 May 1919, pp. 44–45.

71 Rodolfo Rivarola, Exposición y crítica del Código Penal de la Repúblic Argentina, vol. 2 (Buenos Aires: Lajoune, 1890), 76, cited in Sandra Gayol, “Duelos, honores, leyes y derechos: Argentina, 1887–1923,” Anuario IEHS (Tandil, Argentina) 14 (1999): 324. See also Rodolfo Moreno (hijo), El Código Penal y sus antecedentes, vol. 4 (Buenos Aires: H. A. Tommasi, 1923), 76–81.

72 For a detailed study of the decriminalization debate in Uruguay, see David S. Parker, “La ley penal y las ‘leyes caballerescas’: Hacia el duelo legal en el Uruguay, 1880–1920,” Anuario IEHS 14 (1999): 295–311. Some of the material that follows appears in that article.

73 República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 194, 16 May 1908, pp. 168–69. The quotation marks denote a pasage cited from the authors of Uruguay’s 1888 penal code.

74 Rep. Ramírez, ibid., 23 May 1919, pp. 82–83.

75 El Siglo (Montevideo), 12 Feb. 1908, p. 1.

76 Ibid.

77 Ibid., 5 June 1908, p. 1; 12 June 1908, p. 1.

78 Luis Jiménez de Asua and José Antón Oneca, Derecho penal conforme al código de 1928, vol. 2, Parte especial (Madrid: Editorial Reus, 1929), 173.

79 Rep. Ismael Cortinas in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 271, 9 May 1919, pp. 57–58.

80 Similar arguments had been employed in Argentina, during debate on a revised version of the 1891 Rivarola-Piñero-Matienzo penal code. See Gayol, “Duelos, honores, leyes y derechos,” 324–26; and Mariano Molla Villanueva, El duelo: Tesis (La Plata, Argentina: Sesé, Larrañaga y Cía., 1906), 74–77. On the broader issue of Romanticism in Latin American legal philosophy, see Adelman, Republic of Capital, chap. 7 (esp. 167–72).

81 On the question of the criminalization/decriminalization of abortion in Uruguay, see Graciela Sapriza, “Mentiras y silencios: El aborto en el Uruguay del novecientos,” in Historias de la vida privada en el Uruguay, vol. 2, El nacimiento de la intimidad 1870–1920, ed. José Pedro Barrán, Gerardo Caetano, and Teresa Porzecanski (Montevideo: Ediciones Santillana, 1996): 115–45.

82 Piccato goes so far as to argue (following Habermas) that the duel in Mexico was a key factor in the creation and legitimation of a “public sphere” restricted to the community of “men of honor.” Piccato, “Politics and the Technology of Honor,” 343–45. See also Gayol, “Duelos, honores, leyes y derechos,” 327–30.

83 Boissón, Estudio sobre el duelo, 94–115; Alfredo J. Molinario, Derecho penal, segundo curso: El libro II del código penal argentino (títulos I a VI) (La Plata: Talleres GráFicos de Emilio Bustos, 1943), 138–40; Eusebio Gómez, Tratado de derecho penal, vol. 2 (Buenos Aires: Compañía Argentina de Editores, 1939), 223–26; Armando M. Raggi y Ageo, Derecho penal cubano: El Código de Defensa Social, estudio teórico-práctico (Havana: Cultural, S.A., 1939), 367–68; Evelio Tabío, Comentarios al Código de Defensa Social, vol. 8 (Havana: Jesús Montero, 1950), 297–99. Those who looked to European models noted that the Italian penal code chose to treat the duel as a crime against the administration of justice.

84 Molinario, Derecho penal, 138.

85 Gómez, Tratado de derecho penal, vol. 2, 225.

86 Jiménez de Asúa and Oneca, Derecho penal, 174.

87 Ibid., 173–74.

88 Rep. Salgado in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 270, 9 May 1919, pp. 398–400.

89 El Pueblo (Paysandu, Uruguay), 3 June 1908, p. 8; La Tribuna Popular (Montevideo), 27 June 1908, p. 2; El Paysandu, 15 June 1908, p. 2; 19 June 1908, p. 2. The 19 June editorial, reprinted from L’Italia al Plata (Montevideo), explicitly contrasts the dilatory prosecution of the Gomeza duel with the unfair detention of one of the seconds in yet another first-blood saber duel in Montevideo that very same month.

90 La Tribuna Popular (Montevideo), 18 May 1908, p. 6.

91 El Siglo (Montevideo), 21 May 1908, p. 1.

92 República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 271, 21 May 1919, p. 55.

93 On honor courts in the Prussian and later German armies, see MacAleer, Dueling, 86–107; Frevert, Men of Honour, 53–68.

94 José Maria Barnuevo, “El duelo ante la razón y la ley,” Revista General de Legislación y Jurisprudencia (Madrid) 110 (1907): 772–73.

95 El Siglo (Montevideo), 25 June 1908, p. 1.

96 Compare the 1908 and 1919 versions of the bill with the final text of the law passed in 1920. República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 194, 16 May 1908, p. 167; ibid., vol. 270, 9 May 1919, p. 390; República Oriental del Uruguay, 1920 Registro nacional de leyes, decretos y otros documentos: publicación oficial (Montevideo: Imprenta Nacional, 1921), 597–98.

97 See, for example, Rep. Ghioldi in República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la H. Cámara de Representantes, vol. 283, 4–5 August 1920, pp. 196–97. In the short run, the result of the reform does appear to have been a decrease in the percentage of “gentlemanly conflicts” that made it to “Field of honor,” but the benefit was offset by an increase in the overall number of such conflicts.

98 Mexico (Federal District), Laws, Statutes, etc. Código penal para el distrito y territorios federales (Mexico City: Talleres GráFicos de la Nación, 1929), 231–37.

99 Moreno, Código penal y sus antecedentes, vol. 2, 76–101, covers the legislative history and debate in great detail. Also Gayol, “Duelos, honores, leyes y derechos,” 324–30.

100 Porte-Petit, Delitos contra la vida y la integridad corporal, 204. More precisely, the 1931 Penal Code ceased to name dueling as a specific crime, so homicide in a duel became actual homicide, with attenuating circumstances.

101 In Uruguay, for example, the contrast is startling. One or two pages were devoted to sports in the 1910s or early 1920s, while four, six, or even more were standard by the early 1930s.

102 Pablo O’Brien, “Los duelos en el Perú: Cuestión de honor,” Somos [Saturday supplement to El Comercio], December 1996; Carlos Jorge Varangot, Virtudes caballerescas (Buenos Aires: Ediciones P.S. Carra, 1972), 176–77; Roger Rodríguez, “Cuestión de honor,” Posdata (Montevideo), 19 September 1997, pp. 24–25. The repeal of legalized dueling in Uruguay had to overcome serious opposition, even in 1992. See República Oriental del Uruguay, Diario de sesiones de la Cámara de Senadores, vol. 349, 16 June 1992, pp. 199–222; 1 July 1992, pp. 272–80. As recently as 1999, former President Julio Maria Sanguinetti lamented the repeal, arguing that it had removed an effective deterrent against irresponsible political discourse. See El País (Montevideo), 28 Feb. 1999, p. 19.

103 See the uproarious parody of Cabriñana’s dueling code, published in Peru: Sofocleto [pseud.], El código de honor del Marqués de Cabriñana: Edición corregida, aumentada y deformada (Lima: Editorial Arica, 1970).

104 For example: “Qué tiempos aquellos . . . ,” El Sol (Lima), 16 July 1996.

 

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