5. Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr
Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were two of the key figures in the early history of the United States, but their function as founding fathers is often overshadowed by their legendary rivalry, which ended with a deadly duel in 1804. The tensions began in 1791 when Burr, a Democratic-Republican, was elected to the New York senate in place of Hamilton’s friend Phillip Schuyler, a Federalist. Hamilton took the defeat as a personal attack and developed a staunch dislike for Burr, and for the next several years both men frequently campaigned against one another. The competition came to a head in 1804, after Hamilton actively fought against Burr’s campaign for governor of New York and helped to ensure that a rival politician named Morgan Lewis won instead.
How it Ended:
Burr took Hamilton’s actions as an affront to his honor, and demanded that he apologize. Hamilton refused, and after several confrontations through letters and intermediaries, Burr challenged him to a duel. Hamilton accepted, and along with two seconds, the men traveled to a rocky bluff in Weehawken, New Jersey on July 11, 1804. It is often argued that Hamilton was a reluctant participant in the duel, and that he purposely fired his shot into the air. Still, all that is known for sure is that Hamilton’s bullet struck a tree branch over Burr’s head, and that Burr’s shot hit Hamilton in the stomach. He was taken back to his home in New York, where he died the next day.
4. Stalin vs. Trotsky
Just before the death of the famed Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, his two lieutenants Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky became embroiled in a bitter struggle for control over the newly formed USSR. Even prior to Lenin’s illness, there was no love lost between the two men, who had very different ideas about the way the socialist revolution should be conducted. They clashed after Stalin directly defied Trotsky’s orders during the Russian Civil War and the Polish-Soviet War, and Trotsky responded by being openly critical of Stalin during the Soviet Party Conference. After Lenin suffered a stroke in 1922, the feud escalated considerably. Trotsky was considered the smarter tactician of the two men, and he was widely acknowledged as Lenin’s preferred successor. But Stalin was shrewder and more skilled at negotiating backroom deals, and he quickly assembled a team of allies determined to see Trotsky destroyed.
How it Ended:
Although outnumbered by political opponents, Trotsky continued to voice his opposition to Stalin and his allies even after Lenin’s death in 1924. He briefly managed to gain popular support, and to many he was still regarded as the natural successor to Lenin. But Stalin soon began using the Soviet Secret Police as a means of intimidation, and before long support for Trotsky had largely been stamped out. With his new power, Stalin saw to it that Trotsky was removed from the party and exiled from the USSR in 1928. Trotsky eventually ended up in Mexico where, on Stalin’s orders, he was assassinated by a Soviet operative in 1940.
3. The 47 Ronin vs. Kira Yoshinaka (The Ako Vendetta)
In Samurai history, there’s no more famous story of vendetta than the tale of the 47 Ronin, which has become one of Japan’s most treasured pieces of national folklore. As the story goes, the feud originally began in the 1600s between Asano Nagonori, a feudal lord, and Kira Yoshinaka, an official who worked for the Shogun, the head military official in Japan. Kira was supposedly a rude and ill-tempered man, and it’s said he regularly disrespected the more unflappable Asano. After repeated insults, Asano finally drew his sword and attacked Kira, but he only succeeded in slashing the other’s face before he was subdued and arrested. For his crime, Asano was forced to commit seppuku, a ritualistic suicide that’s better known in the West as “hara-kiri.” Asano’s death meant that his Samurai retainers had become Ronin—warriors without a master or purpose. Most went their separate ways, but a group of 47 loyal members, led by Oishi Yoshio, swore to avenge Asano’s death.
How it Ended:
Kira was wary that the Ronin would try to seek revenge, so they were forced to lie in wait for over a year, carefully disguising their motives by taking on menial jobs and pretending to be poor and undisciplined. But two years after Asano’s death, the Ronin finally attacked. They converged on Kira’s mansion, and after defeating several rival Samurai in combat, they found Kira cowering in a back room and killed him by cutting off his head. They took the head with them and placed it on their master Asano’s tomb before turning themselves in to the authorities. Though they may have been victorious in the feud, the 47 Ronin were still charged with murder, and they were forced to commit seppuku in the same fashion as their master.
2. Al Capone vs. Bugs Moran
Prohibition-era gangsters Al Capone and Bugs Moran managed to control the Chicago underworld for most of the 1920s. They ran liquor, operated casinos, and opened brothels, all with little fear of retaliation from the police. What both men did fear, though, was each other. For years prior to Capone’s imprisonment, the two engaged in a bloody feud that included robbery, arson, and murder. The trouble started when Capone’s Southside Italian gang started to rise to power through violence and intimidation. Moran’s Irish Northsiders took a strong dislike to Capone’s brutal tactics, and Moran himself regularly lambasted Capone in the press, calling him “Scarface” and a “grease ball.” On more than one occasion, Moran and his associates performed drive-by shootings on Capone’s cars and businesses, and both men had properties owned by the other burned to the ground. In one particularly grisly incident, Moran’s crew abducted Capone’s personal bodyguard and tortured him for hours before killing him and ditching the body.
How it Ended:
Capone and Moran’s organizations continued to trade punches throughout the late 1920s. Moran made several attempts on Capone’s life, and he regularly had his gang raid Capone’s shipments of illegal liquor. The tension finally got the better of Capone in 1929, when he allegedly ordered the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which saw seven of Moran’s men lined up and shot hundreds of times with Tommy guns. The massacre marked the beginning of the end of Moran’s criminal empire, but it also drew the ire of the federal government, which arrested Capone on tax evasion charges two years later. After being released, Capone was never able to reestablish his criminal empire. Moran, meanwhile, was later arrested for bank robbery, and died in prison at the age of 65.
1. Hatfields vs. McCoys
There’s simply no feud more noteworthy than the legendary conflict between West Virginia’s Hatfield family and Kentucky’s McCoys, which has come to be the most famous historical example of the destructive power of vendettas. The differences between the wealthy Hatfields and the more working class McCoys started during the Civil War. The pro-Confederate Hatfields made no secret of their disdain for the McCoy’s support of the Union, and they were even suspected of killing one of the McCoys who served in the Union army. But the feud didn’t really begin to gain steam until 1878, when a dispute over ownership of a pig ended with the McCoys killing one of the Hatfields. From here, the conflict escalated into an all-out war, with both sides regularly perpetrating killings, beatings, and kidnappings against the other. In one of the feud’s most dramatic chapters, Roseanna McCoy began an affair with one of the Hatfield boys, and the familial strains caused by the relationship (which was eventually abandoned) led to a series of brutal murders on both sides.
How it Ended:
The feud reached its bloody peak in 1888. In what has come to be known as the New Year’s Night Massacre, a group of Hatfields attacked the McCoy cabin in the middle of the night. After opening fire on the cabin, killing two children, and brutally beating their mother, the men burned the house down. This incident, along with a string of other killings during the 1880s, eventually got the law involved, and the governors of both Kentucky and West Virginia even deployed state militias to help get the situation under control. After a manhunt, several of the Hatfields were arrested for their part in the New Year’s Night massacre, and at least seven were given life sentences in prison.
In 1891, after ten years of bitter conflict and more than a dozen deaths, the two families finally agreed to a truce, and from there the feud eventually eroded. Amazingly, and despite their family histories of violence against one another, descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys have regularly had friendly reunions in the years since, most recently in 2003. In perhaps the most bizarre meeting of all, the two groups even appeared as rival contestants on the TV game show Family Feud.