The Albany Plan of Union

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The Albany Plan of Union
In 1754, the British Board of Trade gathered the colonies at Albany, New York to unite for the approaching war between colonists. Another point discussed was a plan to counter French expansion in North America. Delegates from seven of the thirteen English colonies came and hoped to plan a colonial defense as well as gain the support from the Iroquois Confederacy during the war. However, most of the delegates spent their time debating the “Plan of Union” proposed by the scientist, politician, and author Benjamin Franklin. Though it was unsuccessful, this event is very significant as it marks the first time in American history that delegates met to discuss plans of a formal union.

Native Americans

As the Iroquois were the only thing between British and French colonial lands, the British colonists sought their aid in the French and Indian War. Because the French were avid fur traders, the colonists suspected that the Native Americans would quickly ally with them. To ensure their association, the colonists provided the Iroquois with wagonloads of gifts, some of which were guns. Throughout the war, however, the Native Americans remained mostly neutral, the colonists’ small plan ultimately failed, and the Congress’s purpose was not yet fulfilled.

Plan of Union

A bigger cause, though, was a plan known as the Albany Plan of Union, chiefly written by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Hutchinson to establish a union between most of the colonies. Benjamin Franklin was a large proponent of inter-colonial unity as he felt that a union would make the colonies strong as the French attempted to expand their hold in North America.
The “Join, or Die” cartoon image printed in numerous newspapers as the conflict between England and France over the Ohio Valley was expanding into war—"the first global war fought on every continent," as historian Thomas Bender recently wrote. On May 9, 1754, in his magazine the Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin published the famous cartoon, depicting the colonists as a disjointed snake while leaving out Georgia and Delaware. Georgia was probably excluded from the snake image, “because, as a defenseless frontier area, it could contribute nothing to common security.” Only three laws had been passed in Georgia since its founding as a colony in 1732, prompting a historian of the colony and state to conclude, “The hope that Georgia might become a self-reliant province of soldier-farmers had not succeeded, and even the early debtor-haven dream had not come to pass.” Delaware, Newbold added, “shared the same governor, albeit a different legislature, as Pennsylvania; hence the Gazette probably considered it as included with Pennsylvania.”
Franklin might have seen images of snakes divided into two segments that had been published in Paris in 1685, 1696, and 1724 with the similar caption "Se rejoinder ou mourir." (Join or die) The image followed an article reporting the recent surrender of a British frontier fort to the French army and purported plans of the French, with their Indian allies, to establish a massive frontier presence with which to terrify British settlers and traders. The article ended with the surmise that the French were confident they would be able to “take an easy Possession of such Parts of the British Territory as they find most convenient for them” due to the “present disunited State of the British Colonies" and warned that the French success "must end in the Destruction of the British interest; Trade and Plantations in America.”
As with the snake image, the Albany Plan, drafted during the congress, did not include Georgia and Delaware in its proposed colonial union for mutual defense and security, specifying only Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The Plan of Union proposed a single executive, known as the President-General, who would have power over border-security issues like Indian affairs and the military, but not the whole Union, like the modern-day President. This Union would include 11 states (excising Georgia and Delaware) that would each send 2 to 7 delegates, proportionate to each state’s taxes paid, to a grand council. Common defense would be paid through taxes regulated by the council, a reason why the plan failed. Similar to the plan, the later written Articles of Confederation included a President of Congress, but did not include a single executive power.

Though the plan was unanimously adopted by the Congress, the colonists responded negatively, as most colonists did not want to give up the right to tax themselves and did not want a “council” deciding that for them. Parliament also responded negatively to this, as they believed it would lead to colonial independence. After the Constitution was drafted years later in 1789, Franklin said that he was glad that it was not accepted, as the separation of the colonies from Britain would only have been prolonged. Ultimately, the Albany Plan would be a rough draft of the Articles of Confederation and later Constitution. The Colonists, afterwards, began to meet more and more frequently and eventually carved out the nation now known as the United States of America.

The segmented snake image was revived in a number of newspapers during the 1765 Stamp Act conflict, again without reference to Georgia and Delaware. In 1774, when the segmented snake image, along with the “Join or Die” slogan, was employed as a masthead for newspapers in York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, a pointed tail labeled "G" for Georgia had been added to motivate colonists to unite against the British.




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