Calif. lawmaker was only senator to die in duel

David C. Broderick. File photo.
David C. Broderick. File photo. wikimedia.org

Only one U.S. senator died in office as the result of a duel. He was one of California’s earliest senators. The issue was slavery.

Like thousands of adventurous men in the mid-19th Century, Brooklyn saloon keeper David Broderick came to California looking for gold. He ended up making a fortune in real estate.

Broderick — a student of New York City politics — used his political savvy to block California’s pro-slavery Senator William Gwin from a second term, and took the other Senate seat for himself.

David Terry — another pro-slavery Democrat — had lost his re-election bid to the state Supreme Court. He blamed Broderick; Broderick answered back by calling Terry a dishonest judge and a “miserable wretch.”

The hot-headed Terry challenged Broderick to a duel. Senate historian Donald Ritchie says the men — once good friends — met at Lake Merced near San Francisco. He says at the duel on the beach, Broderick’s pistol went off prematurely, "and then Terry just reached up and aimed and very coolly fired and shot him in the chest and he died."

Broderick is the only sitting senator to die in a duel. Terry was tried for murder but acquitted. Years later, his temper got the best of him. He attacked a U.S. Supreme Court Justice — and was killed by a bodyguard.

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