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In general, a loyalist is an individual who is loyal to the powers that be. Two historical groups of individuals have been specifically called loyalists.

Table of contents
1 Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War
2 Loyalists in Northern Ireland

Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War

Loyalists (capitalized L) were British North American colonists who remained loyal subjects of the British crown during the American Revolutionary War. They were also called Tories.

An estimated 70,000 Loyalists left the Thirteen Colonies, about 3% of the total population. Loyalists began leaving early in war when transport was available. In areas under Patriot control, they were subject to confiscation of property and even tar and feathering.

During the war, about 50 military units were made up of Loyalists, many of whom had their lands or property seized. A large number of Loyalist families took refuge in New York City.

Following the end of the American Revolution, or American War of Independence, at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the Loyalist soldiers and ordinary British subjects were evacuated from New York and resettled in other colonies of the British Empire, most notably in the future Canada: the two colonies of Quebec (including the Eastern Townships and modern-day Ontario) and Nova Scotia (including modern-day New Brunswick). This group of people are most often referred to as United Empire Loyalists.

Others who left the former 13 colonies and returned to Britain are also referred to as Loyalists.

Some Native Americans also left the 13 colonies for Canada. A group of Black Loyalists left Canada and settled in Sierra Leone.

Many of the descendants of Loyalists still make claim to their ancestors' property in the United States. They wait until the day that the current regime is overthrown so that they may reclaim their property rights which they assert were taken away from them by a small group of revolutionaries that had no respect for property rights. Most would say that their claims are too ancient, or that the change in circumstance that resulted from the overthrow of the British prevents any such claims from being recognized through customary international law because as the British recognized the independence of the colonies the United States thereafter had sovereign status to determine property rights within U.S. territory; but this is no more than to say that any commitment may be repudiated at the price of future credibility.

See also United Empire Loyalists

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Loyalists in Northern Ireland

A loyalist in Northern Ireland is someone on the extreme fringe of Northern Ireland unionism who resorts to violence, or threatens to do so, in what they perceive as their defence of their community, protestantism and Northern Ireland's position as part of the United Kingdom. Loyalists within Northern Ireland live within small working enclaves within the major urban centres, such as Belfast and Derry.

A number of loyalist terrorist groups exist; these include the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), etc.

Though loyalists claim to speak on behalf of their community and the unionist community, the evidence of electoral contests suggest that their support is minimal and exclusively urban, working class based. Only one moderate pro-Belfast Agreement loyalist party won any seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1999.

Officially most loyalist organisations are in ceasefire mode as a result of the Belfast Agreement, though numerous breaches of the ceasefire have been recorded.