The Union League of America, sometimes called the Loyal league, was an organization for political purposes of northern whites, later of southern Negroes, which originated in Ohio in 1862 when the Confederate military successes and political disaffection in the northern states made the outlook for the north seem doubtful. Within one year it had spread over 18 northern states and among the Unionists of the south. The order raised troops, paid their expenses, sent supplies to the field and distributed political literature. At the close of the war it worked for radical reconstruction of the southern states, punishment of the southern leaders, confiscation of property and Negro suffrage. The southern Unionists hoped to make it the nucleus of a new political party, but this was frustrated by the admission of the blacks for political purposes, after which the southern whites generally deserted the league.
After the Freedmen's bureau agents and other northern whites obtained command of the league in the south it became simply a machine to control the Negro vote. The league ceased to be important in the north, though headquarters were in New York city. Each southern state had its grand council and each county one or more councils.
A constitution and an elaborate ritual were adopted, making it an oath-bound secret order, whose members were sworn to support one another on all occasions, to vote in elections only for Negroes or northern men, and to overthrow the southern "white oligarchy." No ex-Confederate and few southern Unionists were permitted to join.
At each meeting the members were taught that they must beware of their white neighbours as their worst enemies, that the Democratic party, to which the southern whites belonged, had opposed emancipation and was still opposed to any rights for the Negro. To prevent moral control of the Negroes by former masters, the league, by an "exodus order," required all Negroes who were still living with their former masters to find other homes. The Negroes were taught the equality of men and the right of the Negro to his master's property.
The Negro vote during reconstruction was controlled by the few white Radical leaders and Negroes who voted with the mass of the southern whites were persecuted, beaten, or even, in a few cases, killed. The league died out about 1870 but not before it had succeeded, with the Freedmen's bureau and other forces, in permanently arraying the Negroes and the whites into opposing political parties.