|Kentucky Digest. Image credit: Ryan Valentin|
“Duel challenge between brothers in Pulaski County leads to filing of charges” read a recent headline in the Lexington Herald-Leader. According to the article, "Rodney Abbott called his mother on the day of the incident and told her to meet him at James Abbott's home 'if she wanted to see him alive again.' And went on to say, "[t]hey got into it because their mother had broken up with her boyfriend of 17 years, and Rodney actually thought James caused that...[h]e was pretty hot."
The Constitution of Kentucky “oath of officers and attorneys” contains the following language:
“…and I do further solemnly swear (or affirm) that since the adoption of the present Constitution, I, being a citizen of this State, have not fought a duel with deadly weapons within this State nor out of it, nor have I sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with deadly weapons, nor have I acted as second in carrying a challenge, nor aided or assisted any person thus offending, so help me God.”
A few years ago a call to delete the dueling provision in the state oath of office was made. From NPR’s Kentucky Duels Over Oath Of Office, Louisville state Rep. Darryl Owens was quoted as saying, “One of the problems when you have people from out of state, and I’ve had it at some swearing-in ceremonies that I’ve been to, they look at you like you’re crazy, what are you talking about…[i]t perpetuates that image of Kentucky as being backward.” In opposition to the proposal, former governor State Sen. Julian Carroll noted “[i]t is a part of the history of this great commonwealth, and I don’t think that we ought to make any changes with respect to the reflection of that history.”
Some citizens, concerned the language would vanish from the oath wrote to Sen. Carroll:
“I am contacting you today regarding the proposed amendment [HB 36] to Section 228 of the Constitution of Kentucky.
The recent trend towards the globalization and homogenization of culture manifests itself in a variety of forms. Removal of the dueling language from Section 228 is one step closer to losing part of our great Kentucky heritage. Just as bourbon, horses, and bluegrass music are hallmarks of the Commonwealth, so too is the language in Section 228.
Although the “snickering” upon utterance of the dueling language can be a distraction to a dignified ceremony, to suggest the language “harm[s] efforts to bring business to the state” is too great a leap in logic for constituents to make. The dueling language does not perpetuate the “image of Kentucky as being backward” but rather as a fascinating place. If the perception of Kentucky as “backward” is a genuine concern, addressing the “Kentucky uglies” - “high rates of diabetes, lung cancer, illiteracy and poverty” - would be time better spent.
Our collective past experience with “dueling as dispute resolution” is part of the historical fabric that makes Kentuckians interesting and unique. I support your assertion that the dueling provision is “a part of the history of this great commonwealth” and we should not “make any changes with respect to the reflection of that history.”
Thank you for speaking out in opposition to this amendment.”
If the opportunity presents itself, will the Pulaski County brothers ever be able to take the oath of officers and attorneys? Although the Herald-Leader article noted "a citation filed in the case does not include the word "duel" the language prohibiting participation in a duel is broad.
What about the bigger issue here? Although both terms are defined under the KRS, the language in the oath appears to be limited to dueling with “deadly weapons” and not "dangerous instruments". Still the question remains, may any citizen of the Commonwealth who directly participates, sends or accepts a challenge, acts as a second, aids or assists any person in a contest of dueling banjos be free to take the oath with a clear conscience?