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The Union League of Philadelphia

Posted on Tuesday, July 24, 2018
A historic icon from the Civil War still shines today

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The History

Philadelphia was the site for the first Anti-Slavery protest in the new world as, well as America’s oldest Anti-Slavery Society.  Pennsylvania was the first state to pass any antislavery legislation, doing so all the way back in 1780, nearly a decade before Americans would even adopt the United States Constitution.  Partly due to these facts, Philadelphia was also home to one of the largest free African American communities in the country.  But just because there was disdain for the institution of slavery in Philadelphia, that did not lead to overwhelming support of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 Presidential Election.  Nearly half of Philadelphians voted for some combination of Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas and Constitutional Union nominee John Bell, with Lincoln winning Philadelphia by only a few thousand votes.  
The Union League of Philadelphia
In the aftermath of the 1860 election however, as the United States descended into Civil War, some Philadelphians made an effort to erase the political divisions within the city and unite Philadelphia behind the Union war effort.  In 1862, a group of Pro-Union Philadelphians founded the Union League of Philadelphia.  The only condition for joining the Union League was “unqualified loyalty to the government of the United States, and unwavering support of its efforts for the suppression of the Rebellion.”
The Union League published hundreds of thousands of informational pamphlets in its efforts to educate citizens throughout the North and bring them to back to support the Union cause.  The Union League also encouraged members to refuse to conduct business or associate with anyone who was not loyal to the United States government.  The Union League encouraged free African Americans in the city to join the cause, starting a black military school to train officers and sponsoring five regiments that fought in the Civil War.
The Union League of Philadelphia became such an important institution that it would be visited by none other than Abraham Lincoln himself.  Throughout the Civil War, the Union League did not have a grand hall to call their own however, they simply rented space in a mansion on Chestnut street.  It was not until after the Civil War that the Union League began to build their grand Second Empire Styled Home on Broad Street that it still houses the Union League in to this day.  Because even though the Civil War had ended, the Union League still felt it had plenty of work to do.  In the years following the Civil War, the Union League of Philadelphia would fight for a radical reconstruction of the American South that included civil rights for African Americans, and at home in Philadelhia, the Union League successfully worked to desegregate Philadelphia’s street cars.


What to See

While the Union League of Philadelphia is today more of a civic institution than a major political power broker, it is still a private club.  Many parts of the building are only accessible to Union Club members.  Luckily, one of the most impressive parts of the Union League Building is the grand exterior architecture that  can be seen by anyone walking by their home on Broad Street.  The ornate stone work and stately mansard roof helps make the Union League one of the most impressive buildings gracing the Avenue of the Arts.  
There is however one way for non Union Club members to get to many parts of this historic gem and that is to become a guest in the Union League’s hotel!  The Inn at the League is a well appointed hotel that is centrally located in Center City Philadelphia.  It also allows guests to access many rooms that would otherwise only be accessible by Union Club members.  Keep in mind though, even if you are not a member, you still need to heed the Union League’s dress code if you stay at the hotel.  There is an entrance that allows you to enter and exit the building without enforcing the dress code, but otherwise if you explore outside of your hotel room, you will need to be dressed appropriately in business attire. 
Additionally, once a year, on a date that closely coincides to Abraham Lincoln’s February 12th Birthday, the Union League of Philadelphia celebrates Lincoln Day and hosts an open house!  On this day, the Union League is open to the public for free, regardless of whether or you have a membership.  There are even free tours given on Lincoln Day, giving visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the history of this unique organization and the ornate architectural masterpiece it is housed in.


Insider Info

The Union League is hardly the only Civil War monument or memorial that you can find in Philadelphia.  In Fairmount Park, the grand gateway to West Fairmount Park is the “Smith Memorial Arch” which was built for the 1876 Centennial Exhibit as a Memorial of all of the Civil War heroes hailed from Philadelphia. 
Speaking of Prominent Civil War figures from Philadelphia, you can find statues of two of them prominently in front of Philadelphia’s City Hall.  The statues are of two Union Generals, both seated upon their horses.  One statue is of Philadelphian George McClellan who briefly served as the Union General in Chief.  The other is of John Fulton Reynolds, a Philadelphian who was originally born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Reynolds was a respected Union General who died in action on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Statue of General McClellan

How to Get There

The Union League of Philadelphia is centrally located just a couple of blocks south of Philadelphia’s City Hall.  For guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour, the walk to the Union League is a fairly easy one.  Starting from the National Constitution Center, where all of our tours begin and end, just head south on 6th Street to Chestnut Street.  Turn right and head east down Chestnut until you reach Broad Street.  The Union League will be to your left on the next block at Sansom Street. 
The Union League is also directly next to the Walnut Locust Station of the Broad Street Line (subway) and easily reached by car as numerous parking garages can be found in the surrounding blocks.

Additional Information

140 S. Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 563-6500
140 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102

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