Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Senator Who Was Shot Over Slavery

About two years before the first shots deep in the South signaled the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, two men met on a field in California and dueled. The subject? Slavery. The duel was important because it showed how feelings over slavery in the United States were already tearing the country apart, even before 1861.

Photo of Senator Broderick
The men were pro-slavery Chief Justice David Terry of the California Supreme Court and Senator David Broderick (Democrat-California.) Two prominent and fairly well-known figures, their fiery positions and actions were a glimpse into what lay ahead in the 1860's.

Terry was from Kentucky; Broderick was born in Washington, D.C., but his family later moved to New York City. Even with the Republicans as the leading abolitionist party, there was still an anti-slavery section of the Democratic party. Terry didn't like this and leveled personal attacks on Senator Broderick. Terry said the abolitionist Democrats have no identity, that they were simply the followers of a single man, that they followed every whim of David Broderick. He even mocked them for saying they were supported by Stephen Douglas, D-IL., who tried to straddle both sides of the debate and went on to loose his bid for the presidency in 1860.

Terry said of Broderick, "Perhaps they do sail under the flag of Douglas, but it is the banner of the black Douglass, whose name is Frederick, not Stephen," Since Frederick Douglass was a freed slave, this was considered an insult.

A series of notes between the two men escalated the tension and the publicity. California at that time was truly the wild west and many newspapers announced duels as if they were a spectacle to behold.

So it was that on September 13th, 1859, Terry and Broderick faced off. They were at the San Francisco-San Mateo county line-Lake Merced. Dozens of people came to watch.

Broderick fired first, but his gun misfired. Justice Terry had better luck: he fired a bullet into Broderick's chest and the Senator died a few days later.

Broderick reportedly said from his deathbed: "They have killed me because I was opposed to slavery and a corrupt administration."

Terry went on to join the Confederate army and was killed in 1889 by the bodyguard of another Supreme Court Justice.

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