see also Loyalist, Ontario
In general, a loyalist is an individual who is loyal to the powers that be. Three historical groups of individuals have been specifically called loyalists.
Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War
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 or worse. They could be arrested for being loyal to the British, some were even blackmailed, whipped, abused, threatened, and attacked by mobs of Revolutionaries.
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.
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: Martin v. Hunter's Lessee
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 Londonderry.
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.
Ideologically, Loyalism is typified by a militant opposition to Republicanism and devout Protestantism. It stresses identity and community with its own folk heroes and events, e.g. the heroic exploits of the 36th (Ulster) Division during World War I.
Officially most loyalist organisations are in ceasefire mode as a result of the Belfast Agreement, though numerous breaches of the ceasefire have been recorded.
Loyalists in Scotland
Although a tiny fraction of the Scottish population, and less so in comparison to their Northern Ireland counterparts, their profile has become more prominent with strident demonstrations of their beliefs since the establishment of a Scottish Parliament - often seen at loyalist marches and through their support for Rangers F.C.
On the extreme it will be supportive of violence, or threats of violence, in what they perceive as a "defence" of loyalists, unionists, their version of Protestantism and Northern Ireland's and Scotland's position as part of the United Kingdom.
Although far less active and organised in Scotland than their Northern Ireland counterparts, they have been involved in a small number of activities over the years of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Most notably have been two pub bombings, spontaneous murders of people they perceive as enemies of their version of Protestantism and gun running to Northern Ireland.
A number of loyalist paramilitary groups are supported by loyalaists in Scotland, which include the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF), etc. Although it repudiates these organisations the Orange Order in Scotland has been embarrassed by members and flute bands who support these organisations.
Though loyalists claim to speak on behalf of Protestants and unionists, there is no evidence of political support. In fact many of the political representatives in their areas are often from the Labour Party and, far less so, the Scottish National Party. Both parties do not support their programme.
Ideologically, Scottish Loyalism is typified by a strident, and at times militant, opposition to Republicanism, Scottish independence and the Roman Catholic Church - particularly the existence of Roman Catholic denominational schools.