Stories of 19th century newspaper editors being challenged by their opponents to settle disputes with a duel are legendary. Rarely do you hear of newspapermen in the 1900s being challenged to settle a matter of honor with a duel.
But in the mid-1920s, Mobile Register publisher Frederick I. Thompson received a personal
challenge that many of those involved thought might lead to violence. The
challenge came from John McDuffie, U.S. representative from the First
Congressional District of Alabama.
Thompson and McDuffie were already political enemies, backing different factions of the Democrat Party. They also disliked each other personally.
When an editorial in the Sunday, May 31, 1925, Register seemed to imply that McDuffie was connected to bootleggers in Mobile, McDuffie determined to settle his differences with Thompson face to face. McDuffie boarded a train June 5 in Mobile for Birmingham, where Thompson was staying at the time.
In Birmingham by 7:30 a.m., McDuffie went to the Comer Building where Thompson had his offices. There he stood on the corner waiting for Thompson.
“I stood there…unarmed. I never carried a pistol and had no idea of using one,” McDuffie later said. “But I did have the intention to meet him as he came to his office and have it out, man to man.”
|Comer Building in Birmingham|
After McDuffie had waited for more than an hour, his close friend, Theodore K. Jackson Sr., a Mobile Attorney, persuaded McDuffie that it wasn't dignified for a U.S. congressman to lie in wait for another man.
Jackson got McDuffie to go to the Tutwiler Hotel where they were joined by two more friends, Tom Bragg and Robert Mangum, both Alabama Power Co. officials. Early that afternoon, McDuffie wrote Thompson a letter demanding a retraction of the Sunday editorial or to meet him in the lobby of the hotel and hinting at fisticuffs to settle their dispute.
Thompson wrote back that McDuffie wrongly interpreted the editorial. Thompson also refused to meet him at the Tutwiler, informing McDuffie that he conducted all his business from the Age-Herald building where McDuffie was welcome to come by. McDuffie refused and wanted Thompson to meet him at a place he considered neutral.
The two men continued to exchange letters by messengers into the next day, but the best McDuffie could get out of Thompson was a letter confirming that the Register had never intended to reflect on McDuffie’s personal honor or intimate that he was controlled by bootleggers in Mobile.
McDuffie left Birmingham feeling that he had “made a fizzle of the whole thing.”
A few years later, McDuffie had a revenge of sorts. Many of his associates were backers in creating The Mobile Press in 1929. In 1932, the Press absorbed the Register and helped drive Thompson out of the newspaper business. Eventually, McDuffie’s daughter, Cornelia McDuffie Turner, joined the newspaper’s staff and served as the Press Register’s society editor for many years.