Are we close to seeing a return of formal dueling at ten paces in Oregon in the next few years? That’s the fun interpretation when you see a headline such as this one in the Associated Press. “Oregon voters may decide to toss constitutional ban on duels.” I’m not immune to the occasion fit of pining for the colonial days, but that sounds a tad bit extreme even to me. But as with most such stories, it turns out to be (mostly) clickbait to the great disappointment of many, I’m sure.
Should ongoing discussions in Salem materialize, voters would see a question on their general-election ballots asking if a 172-year-old ban on dueling by public officials — as in, the old-fashioned way of resolving fights — should be erased from the Oregon Constitution.
The constitutional ban in question is Article II, Section 9, which says anyone who offers, accepts, knowingly participates in a “challenge to fight a duel … or who shall agree to go out of the State to fight a duel, shall be ineligible to any office of trust, or profit.” (this is exact language from the constitution)
The article was signed into law just 30 minutes after its drafting by the second provisional legislature in 1845, almost 15 years before Oregon’s statehood, when squabbles were still often resolved by duel even decades after Hamilton’s death on the opposite side of the country.
It might sound appealing to solve legislative gridlock by having the disagreeing parties face a choice of either finding consensus or stepping outside with with a pair of Glocks, but it remains unpractical. First of all, the ban didn’t just apply to the legislature, but to all citizens. This could lead to, er… problems. But none of those worries actually apply anyway. As the bill’s author points out, simply lifting one ban in the state constitution doesn’t make other laws against gunning people down go away.
Sadly, the reality is that this is just one aspect of an effort to clean up the constitution by removing archaic and unnecessary rules. Given the partial list of items which are under examination that might not be the worst idea in the world. If any of the codicils of their state constitution are actually out of step with current law and accepted behavior, why not, right? But perhaps they shouldn’t be rushing into this so quickly. The voters have the right to modify the constitution as they wish, but do they really need to? The ban on dueling isn’t hurting anything. It’s just redundant. The only other targets for removal which they mention specifically deal with things such as how members of the Assembly are allowed to use their stationery. So? Perhaps the state’s founders were concerned over costs to the public purse or undue influence of legislators publishing pamphlets or something. Is that so bad? The constitution also apparently makes reference to slavery and familial titles, but unless it actual mandates that slavery be legal, most of that would just be antiquated language which doesn’t apply today anyway.
Do you really want to rush forward and throw out the works of the original authors? It’s there for a reason (or at least it was at one point) and it’s part of your history and traditions. If I were a citizen of the state I would take a long, hard look at this package just to make sure the legislators aren’t trying to pull a fast one and get rid of some rules which make them more accountable. But if they involve a dunking pond or an iron maiden it might be a tad too far.