A Civil War

The conflict between Patriots and loyalists had social consequences. The hatreds bred by civil conflict divided many communities. Thousands of loyalists had no choice but to flee to an uncertain future. Many more faced the difficult task of living in a new nation that regarded them with hostility and suspicion.

Legislating Against Loyalism

When fighting broke out, loyalists became hated targets of public animosity. In a few cases, known loyalists were attacked in the streets. Some were put in prison. Early in the war, many states passed test acts that required loyalists to take oaths that they would be loyal to the new regime.

Patriots in the war years were called Whigs, after the grouping in the British Parliament that had traditionally resisted royal power. Loyalists were called Tories, after the party that supported the King.

Over the course of the war, the loyalists' legal situation grew worse, and they lost many of their civil rights. Well-known loyalists were officially outlawed and exiled in nine states. Five states disenfranchised loyalists. In many states they were prohibited from holding office and forced to pay punitive taxes.

The Assault on Loyalist Property

In November 1777, Congress encouraged the states to confiscate the property of loyalists. The expropriation of loyalist property became a politically palatable and popular way of raising revenue for the war effort. All the states passed confiscatory laws by 1782. These could generate significant income for state governments. New York realized $3,600,000 from the sale of loyalist property.

All loyalists were subject to these confiscations. The wealthiest could expect little sympathy. The De Lancy family of New York and the Fairfax family of Virginia lost their grand estates. The war provided the states with an opportunity to launch a final reckoning with their former colonial proprietors. The Penn family lost lands valued at £1 million. In Maryland, all the lands belonging to the heirs of Lord Baltimore were seized.

This transfer of land did not lead to a significant redistribution of wealth. In some cases, confiscated land was sold to small farmers. Many more times, the lands were bought up by speculators and other large landowners.

In 1763, Benjamin Franklin helped his son William Franklin secure an appointment as royal governor of New Jersey. When the war broke out, William Franklin remained faithful to the Crown. The relationship between father and son never recovered from this split in loyalties.

The total value of the lands confiscated from the loyalists is unknown. After the war, the British established a commission to adjudicate claims for damages by loyalists. The commission eventually paid claimants £3,292,452 in damages. As required by the Treaty of Paris, the United States took some steps to compensate loyalists for their losses. The Penns eventually received £130,000 for the vast tract of land that had been taken from them. The antiloyalist laws were repealed by the end of the 1780s. Some loyalists who had fled the country during the war made their way back home. A few were even able to recover their property. Many loyalists decided to carry on their lives as citizens of the United States.

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