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The Union Leagues were a group of men's clubs established during the American Civil War to promote loyalty to the Union, the Republican Party, and the policies of Abraham Lincoln. They were also known as Loyal Leagues. They were composed of upper middle class members who provided financial support for organizations such as the United States Sanitary Commission, which provided medical supplies to treat wounded soldiers after battle. The clubs supported the Republican Party, with funding, organizational support, and political activism.
The Union League of Philadelphia, established in 1862, was the first to be formed, and still exists, as do 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.
During Reconstruction, Union Leagues were formed across the South after 1867 as working auxiliaries of the Republican Party. They mobilized freedmen to register to vote and to vote Republican. They discussed political issues, promoted civic projects, and mobilized workers opposed to certain employers. Most branches were segregated but there were a few that were racially integrated. The leaders of the all-black units were mostly urban blacks from the North, who had never been slaves. Foner (p. 283) says "virtually every Black voter in the South had enrolled".
The activities of the Union League in the defeated South during the early Reconstruction years did not meet with much favor among local whites. There, the Union League was dominated by Radical Republicans intent on controlling the black vote and disenfranchising white Democrats, in particular former Confederate soldiers whom they characterized as traitors.
After the Civil War, members of the Union League Club of New York helped to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and to build the Statue of Liberty's pedestal and Grant's Tomb. The building of the former Union League Club of Brooklyn now serves as a senior citizens' home, while the home of the former Union League Club of New Haven is used as a restaurant.
The Union League Civic and Arts Foundation was established in 1949 as a public, not-for-profit charitable and educational organization. The Foundation's mission is one of community enrichment; it is funded largely by contributions from members of the Union League Club of Chicago. Famous members include Cyrus McCormick, Robert Todd Lincoln, Daniel Burnham, William D. Boyce, and Charles D. Barney.
|Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article about Union League.|