Albany Congress Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

To preserve their alliance with the Iroquois and to prepare for war with the French, a congress of colonial delegates drafted a plan to unify the American colonies under a single government. The Plan of Union was rejected by the colonies, and the British government, rather than colonial officials, became responsible for conducting diplomacy with Native Americans.

Summary of Event

In June of 1753, the Mohawk leader Hendrick declared the breaking of the Covenant Chain Covenant Chain, the symbol of the Iroquois Confederacy Iroquois Confederacy’s alliance with New York and the other colonies. Hendrick’s action shocked colonial and imperial officials. From their perspective, Hendrick’s timing could not have been worse. Tensions between the French and English were increasing, and British officials had based their military strategy for North America on an British-Iroquois alliance. Just when the Iroquois alliance was most needed, the Mohawks Mohawks had voided the centerpiece of Britain’s military strategy for North America. Something had to be done, and that something was the Albany Congress of 1754. [kw]Albany Congress (June 19-July 10, 1754) [kw]Congress, Albany (June 19-July 10, 1754) British-American Indian diplomacy[British American Indian diplomacy] American Indian-British diplomacy[American Indian British diplomacy] Plan of Union (1754) Albany Congress (1754) [g]American colonies;June 19-July 10, 1754: Albany Congress[1420] [c]Government and politics;June 19-July 10, 1754: Albany Congress[1420] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;June 19-July 10, 1754: Albany Congress[1420] De Lancey, James Hutchinson, Thomas Franklin, Benjamin [p]Franklin, Benjamin;Albany Congress Hendrick

Hendrick’s declaration represented a culmination of events dating back a decade. In 1744, the Onondaga, Onondagas believing they were ceding the Shenandoah Valley to Virginia, agreed to the Lancaster, Treaty of (1744) Treaty of Lancaster. Virginians, however, used this treaty to claim the entire Ohio region. Over the next decade, Virginian officials opened nearly 300,000 acres of land to settlement through land companies such as the Ohio Company of Virginia Ohio Company of Virginia. King George’s War (1740-1748), as the War of the Austrian Succession Austrian Succession, War of the (1740-1748) was known to colonial Americans, temporarily delayed settlement. Once the war ended, however, the Ohio Company renewed its efforts at settling the region. French officials responded by sending Céleron, Captain de Captain de Céleron into the Ohio Valley in 1750. French soldiers also began building forts in the region. One such outpost, Presque Isle, was in the heart of Iroquoia. When the Iroquois asked for assistance in removing the French from Presque Isle, Virginian officials refused to help. By the early 1750’s, the Mohawks and other Indian groups felt themselves trapped between the English and French.

Following Virginia’s response to the Iroquois, members of the Board of Trade recommended that King George II call a congress to address Indian complaints about colonial behavior. In September, 1753, the Board of Trade notified colonial governors that King George II wanted all colonies having a relationship with the Iroquois to attend a conference that was to resolve existing Iroquois complaints about land and trade with the colonists. The resulting Albany Congress was unlike any other British-Iroquois conference. It was the first intercolonial-Indian conference called by London officials.

The proposed conference met with the approval of Massachusetts governor Shirley, William William Shirley and the Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin. However, the lieutenant governors of New York and Virginia were less enthralled with the board’s directive. New York lieutenant governor James De Lancey could not escape the conference. Dinwiddie, Robert Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia, however, failed to send a representative to Albany. Still, when the conference began in June of 1754, representatives from nine colonies attended.

The delegates met at Albany for specific reasons. It was the historic meeting place for Iroquois-European conferences. Albany was the site of one of the two council fires the English and Iroquois maintained. As one of the anchors of the Covenant Chain, Albany was a site where official business could be conducted and ratified. It was also the closest city to the frontier that delegates could reach by boat.

When representatives met at Albany, they needed not only to address Iroquois complaints but also to prepare for war. Delegates saw the two issues as interrelated. On June 19, 1754, they created a seven-person committee to prepare James De Lancey’s opening speech to the American Indians. Five days later, the representatives created a second committee to consider “some Method of affecting the Union between the Colonies.” This latter delegation produced the Plan of Union associated with the Albany Congress. It did so, however, “as a Branch of Indian Affairs.” Mohawk leaders such as Hendrick hoped confederation Colonial confederation would allow the colonists to speak with a single voice. Some delegates agreed. They thought colonial confederation would alleviate the problems of which the Iroquois complained. Therefore, the Albany Plan of Union was designed primarily as a mechanism for conducting Indian affairs.

Besides improving colonial policy toward the natives, representatives thought colonial confederation would improve their military preparedness and help them defeat New France. There were mutual security reasons for confederation. Politicians did not prepare their plan to tamper with each colony’s internal autonomy.

Common wisdom maintains that Benjamin Franklin is the father of the colonial confederation. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts wrote the plan. If Hutchinson was the author, then American Indian affairs were probably an important influence on the Plan of Union, because Hutchinson was a member of the original subcommittee appointed to study American Indian affairs. Franklin was not.

Whoever the author was, the Plan of Union contained specific proposals. It created a unicameral legislature, to be called the grand council. Grand council This council would consist of forty-eight representatives chosen from the lower houses of the colonies. Representation in the grand council would be limited to members of the lower houses of assembly in the colonies, because it was assumed that only directly elected representatives had the right to tax the colonists. Initially, representation in the grand council would be based on the population of each colony. After three years, representation would be based on the revenue a colony generated for the confederation, so as to reward participation. In both its name and the number of delegates, the Plan of Union paid homage to the Iroquois League.

The new government also would have a president general. This executive would receive his salary directly from England, so the president general would be independent of the colonial legislatures. This proposal recognized the problems confronting the relationship between governor and lower house in colonial America. The proposed confederation government had eight functions. One of the most important was the right to direct all Indian treaties for the colonies. The government also would make declarations of war and peace toward the natives, make all land purchases from the natives in the name of the king, and regulate trade with the natives. Purchased land would reside outside the existing boundaries of established colonies. The government would direct the creation of settlements in the territory, would rule them in the name of the king, and would be responsible for the defense of the frontier.

The Plan of Union also gave the proposed government the ability to tax. Taxation;colonial America The grand council could enforce an excise tax on luxury goods. The government would secure additional money by regulating the Indian trade. Trade;regulation Traders would be required to carry licenses and post bonds of good behavior before being allowed to trade with the natives. Traders were to purchase these licenses and bonds from the confederation government. Trade would be restricted to specific forts, built just for that purpose. It was hoped that by regulating trade with the Indians, many of the problems associated with the traders would be curtailed. Finally, the government would receive quitrent from colonists as they settled lands newly purchased from the Indians. Politicians thus pursued colonial confederation as a method of addressing Indian affairs.

Significance

The delegates to the Albany Congress approved the Plan of Union on July 10 and adjourned to take the proposals back to their respective colonies. Not one colonial legislature accepted the plan. Legislators in seven colonies voted down the Plan of Union. The other six legislatures let the issue die away during the French and Indian War. Each colonial legislature had specific reasons for rejecting the plan. Some politicians feared that the plan gave too much power to the governor. Others feared the creation of a president general. Still others believed that the confederation government threatened the Western lands included in their original charters.

Colonial legislators were not the only ones to repudiate the Plan of Union. The Board of Trade rejected it too, believing the idea of a grand council to be cumbersome. They wanted a smaller council, with delegates chosen by the royal governors. They also thought that the Albany Plan gave too much power to colonial assemblies. From the Board of Trade’s perspective, the Albany Congress was a failure.

If the Albany Congress was a failure, it was an important one. The congress showed how different England and America had grown since the Glorious Revolution in the 1680’s. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)[Seven Years War] Seven Years’ War would strain the imperial-colonial relationship even more. The failure of delegates to the Albany Congress to address Iroquois complaints directly forced the home government to become an active participant in colonial-Indian relations. The result was the creation of an Indian superintendent system. This new system, begun in 1755, made imperial policies, not colonial desires, the primary focus of British-Iroquois dialogue in the years to come.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alden, John R. “The Albany Congress and the Creation of the Indian Superintendencies.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 27, no. 2 (September, 1940): 193-210. Describes how the Albany Congress led British officials to create the Indian superintendent system.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fenton, William N. The Great Law and the Longhouse: A Political History of the Iroquois Confederacy. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. Chapter 30, “The Albany Congress Mends the Chain,” describes the congress within the context of Iroquois politics and law.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gipson, Lawrence Henry. “The Drafting of the Albany Plan of Union: The Problem of Semantics.” Pennsylvania History 26, no. 4 (October, 1959): 291-316. Argues that Thomas Hutchinson was responsible for writing the Albany Plan of Union.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hopkins, Stephen. A True Representation of the Plan Formed at Albany. Providence, R.I.: Sidney S. Rider, 1880. Hopkins, who represented Rhode Island at the Albany Congress, details the issues that delegates discussed concerning Indian affairs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mullin, Michael J. “The Albany Congress and Colonial Confederation.” Mid-America 72, no. 2 (April-July, 1990): 93-105. Discusses the role of Indian affairs at the Congress.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newbold, Robert C. The Albany Congress and Plan of Union of 1754. New York: Vantage Press, 1955. A summation of the scholarship on Albany at the time.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shannon, Timothy J. Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000. A major study of the Albany Congress. Shannon disagrees with other historians who maintain that the Congress and the Plan of Union were a “dress rehearsal” for the Constitutional Convention and American independence; Shannon argues that the congress and plan increased the level of British imperial power over the colonies.

War of the Austrian Succession

French and Indian War

Seven Years’ War

Indian Delegation Meets with Congress

Ratification of the Articles of Confederation

Fort Stanwix Treaty

U.S. Constitution Is Adopted

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Joseph Brant; Benjamin Franklin; George II; Thomas Hutchinson; Pontiac. British-American Indian diplomacy[British American Indian diplomacy] American Indian-British diplomacy[American Indian British diplomacy] Plan of Union (1754) Albany Congress (1754)

Categories: History Content