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

By Timothy J. Shannon | Go to book overview

PART III THE DIVERGING PATHS OF EMPIRE

The reconstituted Covenant Chain that emerged in the wake of the Albany Congress shared little with its predecessor. The Mohawks had agreed to renew the chain, but their alliance with the British hinged on William Johnson's restoration as their agent. Johnson's subsequent elevation to a royal Indian superintendency transformed the character of Anglo-Iroquois diplomacy, centralizing it under one office that made it much easier for the Crown to manage colonial Indian relations according to Britain's imperial interests. This change closed the alternative paths of diplomacy that the Mohawks had cultivated with other colonies, leading them into a much greater material dependency on Johnson.

The other significant outcome of the Albany Congress, the Albany Plan of Union, arrived stillborn. Colonial assemblies perceived it as an intrusion on their traditional powers and a violation of their charters. The king's ministers failed to respond with enthusiasm to the plan because it contradicted their impulse to strengthen rather than loosen the Crown's prerogative powers in America. In defeat, the Albany Plan became a Rorschach test that elicited from its critics their attitudes about the future of the Anglo-American connection. Franklin's vision of a British-Atlantic empire defined by the shared liberties and consanguinity of its subjects came into direct conflict with the tendency among the Crown's officials to regard North America's colonial and native inhabitants as foreign dependents in need of stricter government. The debate over the Albany Plan, in short, revealed how American and British attitudes toward the empire were changing and why it would only become more difficult to settle the terms of Anglo-American union once this opportunity had passed.

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