Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754

By Timothy J. Shannon | Go to book overview
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[6] The Intercolonial Congress

Many Objections and Difficulties were started, but at length they were all overcome, and the [Albany] Plan [of Union] was unanimously agreed to, and Copies ordered to be transmitted to the Board of Trade and to the Assemblies of the several Provinces.

-- Benjamin Franklin, 1788

In the brief statement quoted above, Benjamin Franklin recounted in his memoirs the colonial commissioners' debates over a plan of union at the Albany Congress. Franklin's passive constructions--"Difficulties were started . . . they were all overcome . . . the Plan was unanimously agreed to" (emphasis added)--understate objections raised to the Albany Plan and emphasize instead the commissioners' efforts to achieve consensus. That Franklin chose to stress unanimity over dissent is not surprising. He wrote this passage in 1788, as a patriot hero and a recent delegate to the Constitutional Convention. These remarks on the Albany Congress and similar ones published a few months later in an American magazine helped legitimize the new federal union and confirmed Franklin's reputation as a prophet of American nationhood.1 In this summary of the Albany Congress, written by its most famous participant, the colonial commissioners act as public-spirited statesmen, hashing out their differences in the common interest and never losing sight of their common goal. Historians have since chosen to remember the Albany Congress as an early expression of the American genius for federalism, of interest primarily for the greater events it foreshadowed.

Franklin's hindsight made perfect sense alongside the drafting and ratification of the Constitution in 1787-88, but in the context of 1754 it is misleading. The intercolonial negotiations at the Albany Congress lacked

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1
Farrand, Franklin's Memoirs, 326. For the published version of Franklin's recollections, see his "Remark," in BF Papers, 5:417. Franklin "Remark" appeared in the February 1789 edition of Matthew Carey American Museum, which published in the same issue a summary of the Albany Plan Franklin had originally written in 1754. `

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