In the years before the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Great Britain was increasingly concerned about its rivalry with France over domination of North America. By 1754, Britain asked the colonies to meet to form a unified strategy for dealing with the Iroquois Indians. Britain wanted to ensure that the Iroquois traded with the British, and that they would serve as an ally in a potential Anglo-French war. This resulted in the Albany Congress of 1754. Representatives of seven colonies met in Albany, New York, and offered ideas for colonial government that went beyond Indian negotiations.
Centralized Indian Affairs
Because the Albany Congress was asked to form ideas about Indian policy, its most productive contributions came in this area. This was partly because representatives of the Six Iroquois Nations were also present at the Albany Congress. Before 1754, relations with Indians, particularly the Iroquois, were decentralized. New York's location in the heart of Iroquois territory meant the colony had often led negotiations with the Indians and wrote treaties on behalf of the other colonies. This, however, led to repeated breakdowns of the historic Covenant Chain, a series of treaties and trade agreements between the Iroquois and the colonists. These relations often deteriorated because colonies other than New York would disagree with treaty terms. The Albany Congress thus wanted to centralize Indian Affairs in one governing office that would represent all colonies.
United Colonial Government
To centralize Indian affairs, the Albany Congress created its most audacious plan: the Albany Plan of Union. One of the leading proponents of this plan was Pennsylvania representative Benjamin Franklin, who may have modeled his idea after the similar union of the Iroquois tribes. The plan, which included all colonies except Georgia and Delaware, proposed a central colonial government. While the plan was in no way conceived with the intention of gaining independence from Britain, it was never presented to Parliament, and not ratified. This was partly because colonial officials governing the individual colonies were distrustful of any attempt to curb their authority in the interests of a central government.
Divided Executive and Legislature
The Albany Plan of Union called for a government that included an executive who was independent from the legislature. The plan called for a Grand Council which was to include representatives of the individual colonies. The representatives would be apportioned to each colony based on that colony's annual tax contributions. Each colonial government would appoint the representatives, and they would not be directly elected. The British government in London would appoint a "president general," but the Grand Council would have significant power over this president general. This division between the executive and the legislation is widely believed to have set a precedent for the later U.S. Constitution.
Increased Relations with Britain
One idea that did not surface at the Albany Congress was any sort of political independence from Great Britain. Representatives like Benjamin Franklin saw themselves as British subjects, and were eager to contribute to the betterment of the British Empire. From the perspective of the colonies, the Albany Plan of Union was merely a way to reform and strengthen the relationship between the colonies and the motherland. It did, however, mark a moment when the British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America first saw themselves as a common entity, distinct from other British colonies in the West Indies or Canada that were not included at Albany.
- New York Times: Iroquois Constitution: A Forerunner to Colonists' Democratic Principles
- U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian: Albany Plan of Union, 1754
- National Archives: Founders Online: Proceedings of the Albany Congress, 19 June 1754 - 11 July 1754
- William and Mary Quarterly: Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754
- Portland State University: Albany New York: Home of the Albany Congress of 1754
- Portland State University: The Covenant Chain
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