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James Shields Original Cabinet Card & Autograph

Challenged Abraham Lincoln to a Duel


James Shields was an Irish American Democratic politician and United States Army officer, who is the only person in U.S. history to serve as a Senator for three different states, and one of only two to represent multiple states in the U.S. Senate. Shields represented Illinois from 1849 to 1855, in the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Congresses, Minnesota from 1858 to 1859, in the 35th Congress, and Missouri in 1879, in the 45th Congress.


~ Lincoln / Shields Duel ~


Shields almost fought a duel on September 22, 1842, with Abraham Lincoln, then a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln had published an inflammatory letter in a local newspaper, the Sangamo Journal, that attacked Shields, impersonating a local farmer, and taking the pseudonym of Aunt Becca, or simply Rebecca. At the time, there was great controversy over the use of paper money, or that of gold and silver for the paying of public debts. The Illinois State Bank had been forced to close, and Shields as state auditor had become the target of resentment among members of the Whig Party, and more so given the upcoming 1842 elections. Lincoln's future wife and then fiancée, Mary Todd, helped to revise the letter, and she and a close friend Julia Jayne, continued writing to the paper without Lincoln's knowledge.

"Rebecca" as she was, denounced Shields in the paper as a "fool as well as a liar," and scandalously described him at a party among a group of women:

If I was deaf and blind I could tell him by the smell ... All the galls about town were there, and all the handsome widows, and married women, finickin about, trying to look like galls, tied as tight in the middle, and puffed out at both ends like bundles of fodder that hadn't been stacked yet, wanted stackin pretty bad ... He was paying his money to this one and that one and tother one, and sufferin great loss because it wasn' silver instead of State paper ... [quoting Shields] "Dear girls, it is distressing, but I cannot marry you all. Too well I know how much you suffer, but do, do remember, it is not my fault that I am so handsome and so interesting.


The publications caused "intense excitement" in Springfield, and Shields, taking great offense at being publicly ridiculed, demanded satisfaction, as well as the true identity of the author, then known only to the editor of the paper. Lincoln took responsibility for the articles and accepted the challenge. Shields confronted Lincoln, demanded a full retraction, and the incident escalated to the two men picking seconds  and meeting on an island located between Missouri and Illinois called Bloody Island to participate in a duel. Lincoln, as the one challenged, chose the weapons for the duel, and selected the cavalry broadsword, as Shields was an excellent marksman, and because Lincoln stood 6 feet 4 inches to Shields' 5 feet 9 inches.


At least two accounts have John J. Hardin and R. W. English intervening and convincing the two to cease hostilities. Others have them resolving their differences without incident, whether through threats on the part of Lincoln, or through apology and explanation from him. However, all accounts agree that they left the island without following through with the duel.  Thereafter, Shields and Lincoln became and remained good friends.

James Shields Original Cabinet Card & Autograph

SKU: James Shields Card & Autograph
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