The End of the Affair? Anti-Dueling Laws and Social Norms in Antebellum America

43 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2008  

Harwell Wells

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Abstract

The story of anti-dueling laws has become a favorite tale for many social norms theorists. In their tellings, the spread of anti-dueling laws in the antebellum South and the subsequent end of dueling illustrates how properly drafted laws can change social norms and thus alter behavior. The actual history of these laws, however, teaches a different lesson. While the laws were carefully crafted to undermine the social norms promoting dueling, they failed. The very social norms that encouraged dueling prevented effective enforcement of laws passed to end the practice, and the affair of honor in the South was ended not by well-intentioned laws but by the social catastrophe of the Civil War. This account in turn suggests that there will be limits on modern-day attempts to alter social norms through legal sanctions.

Keywords: dueling, social norms, history, shaming

JEL Classification: K10, K42

Suggested Citation

Wells, Harwell, The End of the Affair? Anti-Dueling Laws and Social Norms in Antebellum America. Vand. L. Rev., Vol. 54, pp. 1805-1847, 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1121921

Harwell Wells (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-1183 (Phone)
215-204-1185 (Fax)

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