History's most famous political rivals

These guys did not mess around

16th August 2018

We all have rivals in our lives, people who we always want to beat at everything, but sometimes these rivalries can go too far. In politics, rivals are part of the scenery — rival parties, rival countries and even rival friends.

Here are five examples from history of extreme rivalry.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

John Adams
John Adams favoured a centralised government

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are the most famous “frenemies” in American history. Both founding fathers started off as close friends in the war of independence, however later on their relationship began to decline.

Adams was a strong believer in a centralised government, while Jefferson supported a federalist government and was in favour of states’ rights. Both sides could not find much to agree on, as the federalists compared a centralised power in Washington to that of King George in London.  As Adams’s Vice President, Jefferson was appalled by what he saw as an abuse of presidential power, which lead to him abandoning Adams and forming his own Democratic-Republican party. He won the presidency in 1800, after a bitter and slanderous campaign which tore the friendship apart. They didn’t speak to each other for the next 11 years.

In 1812, encouraged by a mutual friend, they put their rivalry behind them and started writing letters to each other sharing thoughts and memories. This continued for another 14 years.

One extremely odd coincidence is that both men died on the same day within five hours of each other in 1826 — that day being the Fourth of July, exactly 50 years after the declaration of independence. They were the last of the original revolutionaries.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr

Alexander Hamilton was one of the founding fathers of the United States and served as the first secretary of the treasury until 1795. He was a serial duellist, taking part in 10 shotless duels in his life. Aaron Burr was a senator from New York and was running for Vice President in the 1800 election.

Hamilton-burr-duel
An unknown illustrator’s impression of how the duel went down

They had a bitter relationship — one of the most famous in American history. The feud started back in the Revolutionary War against the British and continued for more than 20 years. Like Jefferson and Adams, the barebones of the rivalry was down to politics — Hamilton was a federalist and Burr was a Democratic-Republican and so they differed about how the young country should be run.

Their rivalry culminated in a duel in 1804 when Hamilton opposed Burr’s ambitions to become governor of New York. Burr challenged Hamilton to the duel and he accepted as a matter of honour. Hamilton took a shot a Burr and missed, Burr returned fire, hitting Hamilton who died one day later. Duelling was actually illegal at that time so it also ruined Burr’s political career. The federalist party was weakened by the death of Hamilton and was dissolved 20 years later after seeing little success.

Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz-Tito

Josip Broz-Tito
Tito could have been the one to have killed Stalin

After the Second World War, the communists held a tight grip on Eastern Europe, however, one man threatened that rule. Josip Broz-Tito of Yugoslavia had successfully liberated his country and Slavic people from Nazi rule. Tito held some Marxist beliefs and for a short time was considered one of Stalin’s closest allies. However, Tito did not like the idea of a centralised government that communism brought, due to the ethnic diversity of Yugoslavia which were vying for independence. Tito led the country’s communist party and 1948 the Cominform, the principal symbol of Stalin’s control over Eastern Europe, issued a resolution that formally expelled Yugoslavia from the assembly, citing Tito’s deviation from the “correct” communist line of governance. Stalin accused Tito of spreading nationalism and imperialism, both of which were not compatible with communism.

Stalin ordered several assassination attempts on Tito, none of which succeeded. In 1993 it was revealed that Stalin had planned to kill Tito by injecting him with bubonic plague. Tito was one of the only people in world Stalin was afraid of and there is a rumour that Tito had something to do with Stalin’s death. A letter from Tito was found on Stalin’s desk after his death which stated: “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send a very fast working one to Moscow and I certainly won’t have to send another.” Of course, there is little evidence to say Tito did this but it’s not easy to stand up to Stalin.

Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky

Trotsky portrait
Trotsky was assassinated but survived long enough to spit in his killer’s face

Stalin didn’t have many friends, but that comes with the job when you are a paranoid dictator with a lot of power. However, it’s how he got the power that created his biggest rival.

Stalin was not a leading revolutionary at the time of the October revolution in 1917 however, after Lenin’s health started failing after a stroke he quickly made moves to seize power.  Creating a false history insisting he was Lenin’s right-hand man from the beginning and was destined to succeed him. However, he needed to get rid of his opposition. Leon Trotsky was expelled from the communist party in 1927 and exiled from Russia the following year.

Trotsky believed that the revolution must be spread across the world quickly and Russia should lead the way, while Stalin wanted to consolidate the revolution in Russia first before they spread it to the world and he wanted to manipulate the revolution from a Marxist-Leninist revolution to a Stalinist revolution.

Trotsky fled to Mexico but by 1940 Stalin was on his tail. After surviving attempts on his life in 1939 and early 1940, his luck didn’t last forever and he was assassinated by icepick in August 1940. Although not instantly killing him — Trotsky had time to spit in his assassin’s face — he was taken to hospital but died within a day from shock.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were good allies and wanted to climb the political ladder together. They drew up plans after the sudden death of Labour leader John Smith in 1994, with Brown deliberately not challenging Blair in the leadership contest of 1995 making it easier for Blair to win. Brown would be given powers on domestic policy in a Blair government, and after Blair had served two terms in office, he would step down leaving the premiership open for Brown.

Mandate for Change
Ed was the Miliband brother who won the leadership contest but lost the election 📸 Ed Miliband for Leader

However, it’s said that Brown resented being beaten to PM by a younger Blair, which spawned a bitter rivalry that divided the Labour Party while in government. Brown had a more traditional Labour view on public services than Blair, it was revealed that one of Blair’s advisors had drawn up plans to remove Brown from his job. When the time came for Brown to step up as PM, it is said he felt as though he and his plans had been held back. He had hoped for a second term but lost the 2010 election, thus triggering a Labour leadership contest, which created a new political rivalry.

We cannot talk about Labour party rivalries without mentioning the Milibands. Ed and David, the brothers who both ran for Labour leader in 2010. David the older brother had beaten Ed into parliament and the cabinet, but Ed took the top spot shattering David’s dreams. Ed Miliband won by a very narrow margin. David had more support from Labour MPs and party members — but crucially not affiliated members such as trade unions. Ed won with 50.7% of the votes, which many see as a stab in the back for David.

Ed’s time as Labour leader was pretty mixed, and he is infamous for giving us the “Ed stone”, a large tablet of key Labour promises for the 2015 election, which the media mocked and called the “headstone” as Ed Miliband lost the election to David Cameron’s Conservatives.

People say the leadership battle has driven a wedge between the two brothers, which still exists to this day. Things must get very awkward around Christmas.

16th August 2018