Union League

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Union League of Philadelphia building on Broad Street in Center City of Philadelphia is a Victorian style architecture mansion with a mansard roof, constructed in 1862.
Union League Club of New York, established 1863.

The Union Leagues were a group of men's clubs established during the American Civil War (1861–1865), to promote loyalty to the Union of the United States of America, the Republican Party, and the policies of newly elected 16th President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865, served 1861–1865). They were also known as Loyal Leagues. They were composed of rich men who donated money for war-related service organizations, such as the United States Sanitary Commission, which provided medical care to treat Federal soldiers wounded in battle at a time when the military was ill-prepared for the scale of need. The clubs supported the Republican Party with funding, organizational support, and activism.

In 1862, the Union League of Philadelphia was the first of these groups to be established. The association built a mansion to house the League's activities, designed in the Victorian style and constructed in a prominent location on Broad Street in center city Philadelphia, south of City Hall. It is still active, as are the Union League Clubs of New York and Chicago. Membership in the league is selective, and is comparable in social status to membership in a country club. Union League buildings often serve as private social clubs, with areas devoted to drinking establishments, meetings, lectures, libraries, dinners/banquets, speeches/addresses, socializing and relaxing, etc.


During the Reconstruction era, Union Leagues were formed across the South after 1867 as working auxiliaries of the Republican Party, financed entirely by Northern interests. They were secret organizations that mobilized freedmen to register to vote and to vote Republican. They taught freedmen Union views on political issues and which way to vote on them, and promoted civic projects. Eric Foner reports:

By the end of 1867 it seemed that virtually every black voter in the South had enrolled in the Union League, the Loyal League, or some equivalent local political organization. Meetings were generally held in a black church or school.[1]

The Ku Klux Klan was a secret organization of whites that terrorized and sometimes assassinated Union League leadership.[2][3]


After the Civil War, members of the Union League Club of New York broadened their support of other philanthropic purposes. For instance, they helped to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art,[4] and funded construction of the Statue of Liberty's pedestal[5] and Grant's Tomb.

Some former Union League buildings have been adapted for other uses; for instance, in Brooklyn, New York, the former Union League Club building now serves as a senior citizens' home.[6] The former Union League building in New Haven, Connecticut is used as a restaurant.[7]

In the post-World War II period, members of the Union League Club of Chicago raised contributions to found the Union League Civic and Arts Foundation in 1949 as a public, not-for-profit charitable and educational organization.[8] The Foundation's mission is one of community enrichment.

Notable members[edit]

Famous historical members of the League in Philadelphia include Cyrus McCormick, Robert Todd Lincoln, Daniel Burnham, William D. Boyce,[9] and Charles D. Barney.[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Eric Foner, "Black Reconstruction Leaders at the Grass Roots" in Leon F. Litwack and August Meier, eds. (1991). Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. p. 221. 
  2. ^ Mitchell Snay (2010). Fenians, Freedmen, and Southern Whites: Race and Nationality in the Era of Reconstruction. LSU Press. p. 61. 
  3. ^ Steven Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South, from Slavery to the Great Migration (2003). pp 165-205
  4. ^ John K. Howat, "Founding friends – of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York", The Magazine Antiques, January 2000 issue.
  5. ^ National Park Service Statue of Liberty website Archived August 31, 2006, at the Wayback Machine..
  6. ^ "Landmark Architecture of Crown Heights North", Gothamist Archived 2006-08-21 at the Wayback Machine., July 20, 2006.
  7. ^ Union League Cafe website Archived February 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Union League Civic and Arts Foundation
  9. ^ Petterchak 2003, p. 11
  10. ^ Union League of Philadelphia. The League, 1909

Other reading[edit]

  • Fitzgerald, Michael W. (1989) The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change During Reconstruction
  • Fleming, Walter L. (1905) Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama, New York: Macmillan, pp 553–59
the most detailed study, full text online at the Gutenberg Project at link above
  • Foner, Eric (1988) Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, , pp. 283–86
  • Lawson, Melinda (2002) "The Civil War Union Leagues and the Construction of a New National Patriotism", Civil War History Volume: 48. Issue: 4, pp.338+.
  • Lawson, Melinda (2002) Patriot Fires: Forging a New American Nationalism in the Civil War North
  • Silvestro, Clement M. (1966) Rally Round the Flag: The Union Leagues in the Civil War
  • Tremel, Andrew T. (Winter 2013) “The Union League, Black Leaders, and the Recruitment of Philadelphia’s African American Civil War Regiments,” Pennsylvania History, 80, pp.13–36.
Primary sources

External links[edit]