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In late 1753, the London Board of Trade wrote to New York Governor James DeLancey. The Board supervised provincial affairs in the Americas. It was concerned about the French courting of the Iroquois (the Six Nations) and with the actions of some colonies which were antagonizing the Indians. Fearing that the Indians would ally themselves with France, England's principal rival in North America, the Board directed DeLancey to call a meeting of the colonies and of the Indians, to resolve differences and cement ties. Similar letters were sent to the governors of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, Massachusetts (then Massachusetts-Bay), and New Jersey.
Each colony was called to send delegates to Albany, New York, for a grand meeting, to which several Indian tribes would also be invited. The point was to try to enact a treaty to be made in the name of the King, rather than several small, possibly conflicting treaties with the colonies.
James Hamilton, governor of Pennsylvania, chose four people to head the Pennsylvania delegation. Among them was esteemed citizen Benjamin Franklin. Though the Albany Congress was to be about Indian affairs and trade, several of the delegations were sent with instructions to investigate a union of the colonies. The meeting was set for June 14, 1754. Franklin and his fellow delegates left Philadelphia on June 3 and arrived two days later. There was alternately much to do and little to do between their arrival and the time the congress was to start. The delegates met with Indian delegates as they arrived, and also spoke amongst themselves about the possible outcomes of the congress. Again the idea of union arose. The idea was not new to Franklin, who had proposed union as early as 1751.
Franklin drafted several "Short Hints" towards the goal of union, and sent them back to Hamilton. Hamilton had a few concerns about the notion of union, and he transmitted these back to Franklin. The congress did not finally come to order until June 19, after waiting for several Indian tribes and colonial delegates to arrive. Day after day was filled with speeches and negotiation with the Indians, and day after day, the congress met alone and considered the short hints and a plan of union. On July 9, Franklin was appointed to take the results of the debates and compile them into a single draft document. On July 10, the plan was laid before the congress, which accepted it and referred it to the colonial governments and to the King.
The plan was rejected by the Crown and by the assemblies in several of the colonies. The text of the Plan is reproduced below. A remark made by Franklin in 1789 about the Plan follows.
The fears of the Board of Trade were not false, and were very soon realized when the French defeated a small American garrison, led by George Washington, at Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754, while the congress met. This action culminated two years later, with the beginning of the French and Indian War.
The text reproduced here is taken from The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 5, July 1, 1753, through March 31, 1755 by Leonard W. Larabee (Ed.) (1962, Yale University Press).
Plan of a Proposed Union of the Several Colonies of Massachusetts-bay, New Hampshire, Coneticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jerseys, Pensilvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, For their Mutual Defence and Security, and for Extending the British Settlements in North America.
That humble Application be made for an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, by Virtue of which, one General Government may be formed in America, including all the said Colonies, within and under which Government, each Colony may retain its present Constitution, except in the Particulars wherein a Change may be directed by the said Act, as hereafter follows.
That the said General Government be administered by a President General, To be appointed and Supported by the Crown, and a Grand Council to be Chosen by the Representatives of the People of the Several Colonies, met in their respective Assemblies.
That within ___ Months after the passing of such Act, The House of Representatives in the Several Assemblies, that Happen to be Sitting within that time or that shall be Specially for that purpose Convened, may and Shall Choose Members for the Grand Council in the following Proportions, that is to say.
|Massachusetts-Bay||. . . . . .||7|
|New Hampshire||. . . . . .||2|
|Coneticut||. . . . . .||5|
|Rhode-Island||. . . . . .||2|
|New-York||. . . . . .||4|
|New-Jerseys||. . . . . .||3|
|Pensilvania||. . . . . .||6|
|Maryland||. . . . . .||4|
|Virginia||. . . . . .||7|
|North Carolina||. . . . . .||4|
|South Carolina||. . . . . .||4|
Who shall meet for the first time at the City of Philadelphia, in Pensilvania, being called by the President General as soon as conveniently may be, after his Appointment.
That there shall be a New Election of Members for the Grand Council every three years; And on the Death or Resignation of any Member his Place shall be Supplyed by a New Choice at the next Sitting of the Assembly of the Colony he represented.
That after the first three years, when the Proportion of Money arising out of each Colony to the General Treasury can be known, The Number of Members to be Chosen, for each Colony shall for time to time in all ensuing Elections be regulated by that proportion (yet so as that the Number to be Chosen by any one Province be not more than Seven nor less than Two).
That the Grand Council shall meet once in every Year, and oftner if Occasion require, at such Time and place as they shall adjourn to at the last preceeding meeting, or as they shall be called to meet at by the President General, on any Emergency, he having first obtained in Writing the Consent of seven of the Members to such call, and sent due and timely Notice to the whole.
That the Grand Council have Power to Chuse their Speaker, and shall neither be Dissolved, prorogued nor Continue Sitting longer than Six Weeks at one Time without their own Consent, or the Special Command of the Crown.
That the Members of the Grand Council shall be Allowed for their Service ten shillings Sterling per Diem, during their Sessions or Journey to and from the Place of Meeting; Twenty miles to be reckoned a days Journey.
That the Assent of the President General be requisite, to all Acts of the Grand Council, and that it be His Office, and Duty to cause them to be carried into Execution.
That the President General with the Advice of the Grand Council, hold or Direct all Indian Treaties in which the General Interests or Welfare of the Colony's may be Concerned; And make Peace or Declare War with the Indian Nations. That they make such Laws as they Judge Necessary for regulating all Indian Trade. That they make all Purchases from Indians for the Crown, of Lands not within the Bounds of Particular Colonies, or that shall not be within their Bounds when some of them are reduced to more Convenient Dimensions. That they make New Settlements on such Purchases, by Granting Lands in the Kings Name, reserving a Quit Rent to the Crown, for the use of the General Treasury. That they make Laws for regulating and Governing such new Settlements, till the Crown shall think fit to form them into Particular Governments.
That they raise and pay Soldiers, and build Forts for the Defence of any of the Colonies, and equip Vessels of Force to Guard the Coasts and Protect the Trade on the Ocean, Lakes, or Great Rivers; But they shall not Impress Men in any Colonies, without the Consent of its Legislature. That for these purposes they have Power to make Laws And lay and Levy such General Duties, Imposts, or Taxes, as to them shall appear most equal and Just, Considering the Ability and other Circumstances of the Inhabitants in the Several Colonies, and such as may be Collected with the least Inconvenience to the People, rather discouraging Luxury, than Loading Industry with unnecessary Burthens. That they may Appoint a General Treasurer and a Particular Treasurer in each Government, when Necessary, And from Time to Time may Order the Sums in the Treasuries of each Government, in the General Treasury, or draw on them for Special payments as they find most Convenient; Yet no money to Issue, but by joint Orders of the President General and Grand Council Except where Sums have been Appropriated to particular Purposes, And the President General is previously impowered By an Act to draw for such Sums.
That the General Accounts shall be yearly Settled and Reported to the Several Assembly's.
That a Quorum of the Grand Council impower'd to Act with the President General, do consist of Twenty-five Members, among whom there shall be one, or more from a Majority of the Colonies. That the Laws made by them for the Purposes aforesaid, shall not be repugnant but as near as may be agreeable to the Laws of England, and Shall be transmitted to the King in Council for Approbation, as Soon as may be after their Passing and if not disapproved within Three years after Presentation to remain in Force.
That in case of the Death of the President General The Speaker of the Grand Council for the Time Being shall Succeed, and be Vested with the Same Powers, and Authority, to Continue until the King's Pleasure be known.
That all Military Commission Officers Whether for Land or Sea Service, to Act under the General Constitution, shall be Nominated by the President General But the Approbation of the General Council, is to be Obtained before they receive their Commissions, And all Civil Officers are to be Nominated, by the Grand Council, and to receive the President General's Approbation, before they Officiate; But in Case of Vacancy by Death or removal of any Officer Civil or Military under this Constitution, the Governor of the Province, in which such Vacancy happens, may Appoint till the Pleasure of the President General and Grand Council can be known. That the Particular Military as well as Civil Establishments in each Colony remain in their present State, the General Constitution Notwithstanding. And that in Sudden Emergencies any Colony may Defend itself, and lay the Accounts of Expence thence Arisen, before the President General and Grand Council, who may allow and order payment of the same As far as they Judge such Accounts Just and reasonable.
Remark, February 9, 1789.
On Reflection it now seems probable, that if the foregoing Plan or some thing like it, had been adopted and carried into Execution, the subsequent Separation of the Colonies from the Mother Country might not so soon have happened, nor the Mischiefs suffered on both sides have occurred, perhaps during another Century. For the Colonies, if so united, would have really been, as they then thought themselves, sufficient to their own Defence, and being trusted with it, as by the Plan, an Army from Britain, for that purpose would have been unnecessary: The Pretences for framing the Stamp-Act would not then have existed, nor the other Projects for drawing a Revenue from America to Britain by Acts of Parliament, which were the Cause of the Breach, and attended with such terrible Expence of Blood and Treasure: so that the different Parts of the Empire might still have remained in Peace and Union. But the Fate of the Plan was singular. For tho' after many Days thorough Discussion of all its Parts in Congress it was unanimously agreed to, and Copies ordered to be sent to the Assembly of each Province for Concurrence, and one to the Ministry in England for the Approbation of the Crown. The Crown disapprov'd it, as having plac'd too much Weight in the democratic Part of the Constitution; and every Assembly as having allow'd too much to Prerogative. So it was totally rejected.
Endorsed: Feb. 9, 1789. Dr. Franklin.