Loyal Leagues, Klans and Precedents
In postwar North Carolina the Loyal Leagues, Union League, etc., of the North’s Republican party were regarded as hostile organizations and designed to instill hatred in the freedmen against their white neighbors – for political purposes. During 1869 “there was an epidemic of barn-burnings in several counties of the State” charged to the Leagues as they encouraged blacks to destroy the agricultural livelihood of white farmers who were Democrats. Southern leaders advised Northern Republicans that if they disbanded their Loyal Leagues, the Klan would immediately disappear.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
Loyal Leagues, Klans and Precedents
“The part played by the Loyal Leagues and similar organizations [Union League] in provoking the Southern people to defensive expedients was recognized by fair-minded Northern newspapers, and when in April, 1868, General [George G.] Meade issued an order for the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan, the New York Herald commented:
“The order of General Meade . . . will meet with the approval of all who espouse the cause of order and good government. But the General must not exercise his power on that organization alone. He must rigorously suppress the secret “Loyal Leagues” of Negroes; for they are equally, if not more, pernicious in their influence than the white man’s society.
The arrogance of the Negroes and their attempt to reduce the whites of the South to political vassalage by means of the “Loyal Leagues,” and the many other outrages that have been committed by these same Leagues, are equally as dangerous to the peace and safety of society as are the retaliatory actions of the Ku Klux Klan.”
An Alabama paper in an editorial denouncing the Loyal League said: “The League is nothing more than a [black] Ku Klux Klan . . . Let [their carpetbagger leader] break up the League and thus remove all temptation from the Kluxes to come here.”
It was the usual practice for the Leagues, when they held their meetings, to throw out armed pickets in all directions about the building . . . [a white resident commented that] “The Negroes acted here just like an invading army after they had conquered everything and were going rough-shod over everything. They thought they were the big dogs in the ring.”
Even so prejudiced an observer as the carpetbagger Judge [Albion] Tourgee said: “There is no doubt about this feeling, taken in connection with the enfranchisement of the blacks, induced thousands of good citizens to ally themselves with the Ku Klux Klan upon the idea of that they were acting in self-defense in so doing, and especially that they were securing the safety of their wives and children thereby.”
In such a state of affairs . . . throughout the South there began spontaneously to spring up local defensive groups, generally in the form of secret societies, designed primarily to offset the aggressiveness of the Loyal Leagues.
The members of the Boston Tea Party – and the members of the Ku Klux Klan – were but following a precedent set for them in earlier days in other lands. England had known the Moss Troopers, who took drastic means of manifesting their disapproval of the iron rule of the Normans; the misrule of Louis XI of France had resulted in the formation of that powerful and mysterious organization known as the Free Companions; Italy had its Carbonari during the Napoleonic wars.
Freedom loving people everywhere, when overwhelmed by oppression against which they have no their defense, have never hesitated to resort to secret and, if needs be, violent organizations for relief.”
(The Invisible Empire, The Story of the Ku Klux Klan, 1866-1871, Stanley F. Horn, Houghton-Mifflin, 1939, pp. 26-30)