The Union League and Biracial Politics in Reconstruction Texas
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The Republican Union League of America played a major role in the Southern Reconstruction that followed the American Civil War. A secret organization introduced into Texas in 1867 to mobilize newly enfranchised black voters, it was the first political body that attempted to secure power by forming a biracial coalition. Originally intended by white Unionists simply to marshal black voters to their support, it evolved into an organization that allowed blacks to pursue their own political goals. It was abandoned by the state’s Republican Party following the 1871 state elections.
From the beginning the use of the league by the Republican party proved controversial. While its opponents charged that its white leadership simply manipulated ignorant blacks to achieve power for themselves, ultimately encouraging racial conflict, the League not only educated blacks in their new political rights but also protected them in the exercise of those rights. It gave blacks a voice in supporting the legislative program of Gov. Edmund J. Davis, helping him to push through laws aimed at the maintenance of law and order, securing basic civil rights for blacks, and the creation of public schools.
Ultimately, its success and its secrecy provoked hostile attacks from political opponents, leading the party to stop using it. Nonetheless, the Union League created a legacy of black activism that lasted throughout the nineteenth century and pushed Texas toward a remarkably different world from the segregated and racist one that developed after the league disappeared.