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The Albany Plan of Union

Reasons and Motives for the Albany Plan of Union

I. Reasons and Motives on which the Plan of Union was formed.

The Commissioners from a number of the northern colonies being met at Albany, and considering the difficulties that have always attended the most necessary general measures for the common defence, or for the annoyance of the enemy, when they were to be carried through the several particular assemblies of all the colonies; some assemblies being before at variance with their governors or councils, and the several branches of the government not on terms of doing business with each other; others taking the opportunity, when their concurrence is wanted, to push for favourite laws, powers, or points that they think could not at other times be obtained, and so creating disputes and quarrels; one assembly waiting to see what another will do, being afraid of doing more than its share, or desirous of doing less; or refusing to do any thing, because its country is not at present so much exposed as others, or because another will reap more immediate advantage; from one or other of which causes, the assemblies of six (out of seven) colonies applied to, had granted no assistance to Virginia, when lately invaded by the French, though purposely convened, and the importance of the occasion earnestly urged upon them: Considering moreover, that one principal encouragement to the French, in invading and insulting the British American dominions, was their knowledge of our disunited state, and of our weakness arising from such want of union; and that from hence different colonies were, at different times, extremely harassed, and put to great expence both of blood and treasure, who would have remained in peace, if the enemy had had cause to fear the drawing on themselves the resentment and power of the whole; the said Commissioners, considering also the present incroachments of the French, and the mischievous consequences that may be expected from them, if not opposed with our force, came to an unanimous resolution, — That an union of the colonies is absolutely necessary for their preservation.

The manner of forming and establishing this union was the next point. When it was considered that the colonies were seldom all in equal danger at the same time, or equally near the danger, or equally sensible of it; that some of them had particular interests to manage, with which an union might interfere; and that they were extremely jealous of each other; — it was thought impracticable to obtain a joint agreement of all the colonies to an union, in which the expence and burthen of defending any of them should be divided among them all; and if ever acts of assembly in all the colonies could be obtained for that purpose, yet as any colony, on the least dissatisfaction, might repeal its own act and thereby withdraw itself from the union, it would not be a stable one, or such as could be depended on: for if only one colony should, on any disgust withdraw itself, others might think it unjust and unequal that they, by continuing in the union, should be at the expence of defending a colony which refused to bear its proportionable part, and would therefore one after another, withdraw, till the whole crumbled into its original parts. — Therefore the commissioners came to another previous resolution, viz. That it was necessary the union should be established by act of parliament.

They then proceeded to sketch out a plan of union, which they did in a plain and concise manner, just sufficient to shew their sentiments of the kind of union that would best suit the circumstances of the colonies, be most agreeable to the people, and most effectually promote his Majesty’s service and the general interest of the British empire. — This was respectfully sent to the assemblies of the several colonies for their consideration, and to receive such alterations and improvements as they should think fit and necessary; after which it was proposed to be transmitted to England to be perfected, and the establishment of it there humbly solicited.

This was as much as the commissioners could do. [ ]

II. Reasons against partial Unions

It was proposed by some of the Commissioners to form the colonies into two or three distinct unions; but for these reasons that proposal was dropped even by those that made it; viz.

1. In all cases where the strength of the whole was necessary to be used against the enemy, there would be the same difficulty in degree, to bring the several unions to unite together, as now the several colonies; and consequently the same delays on our part and advantage to the enemy.

2. Each union would separately be weaker than when joined by the whole, obliged to exert more force, be more oppressed by the expence, and the enemy less deterred from attacking it.

3. Where particular colonies have selfish views, as New York with regard to Indian trade and lands; or are less exposed, being covered by others, as New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland; or have particular whims and prejudices against warlike measures in general, as Pensylvania, where the Quakers predominate; such colonies would have more weight in a partial union, and be better able to oppose and obstruct the measures necessary for the general good, than where they are swallowed up in the general union.

4. The Indian trade would be better regulated by the union of the whole than by partial unions. And as Canada is chiefly supported by that trade, if it could be drawn into the hands of the English, (as it might be if the Indians were supplied on moderate terms, and by honest traders appointed by and acting for the public) that alone would contribute greatly to the weakening of our enemies.

5. The establishing of new colonies westward on the Ohio and the lakes, (a matter of considerable importance to the increase of British trade and power, to the breaking that of the French, and to the protection and security of our present colonies,) would best be carried on by a joint union.

6. It was also thought, that by the frequent meetings-together of commissioners or representatives from all the colonies, the circumstances of the whole would be better known, and the good of the whole better provided for; and that the colonies would by this connection learn to consider themselves, not as so many independent states, but as members of the same body; and thence be more ready to afford assistance and support to each other, and to make diversions in favour even of the most distant, and to join cordially in any expedition for the benefit of all against the common enemy.

These were the principal reasons and motives for forming the plan of union as it stands. To which may be added this, that as the union of the [ ]

III. Plan of a proposed Union of the several Colonies of Massachusett’s Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pensylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina for their mutual Defence and Security, and for extending the British Settlements in North America, with the Reasons and Motives for each Article of the Plan as far as could be remembered.

It is proposed. — That humble application be made for an act of parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America including all the said colonies, within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act as hereafter follows.

President General, and Grand Council.

That the said general government be administered by a President General to be appointed and supported by the crown; and a Grand Council to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several colonies met in their respective assemblies.

It was thought that it would be best the President General should be supported as well as appointed by the crown; that so all disputes between him and the Grand Council concerning his salary might be prevented; as such disputes have been frequently of mischievous consequence in particular colonies, especially in time of public danger. The quit-rents of crown-lands in America, might in a short time be sufficient for this purpose. — The choice of members for the grand council is placed in the house of representatives of each government, in order to give the people a share in this new general government, as the crown has its share by the appointment of the President General.

But it being proposed by the gentlemen of the council of New York, and some other counsellors among the commissioners, to alter the plan in this particular, and to give the governors and council of the several provinces a share in the choice of the grand council, or at least a power of approving and confirming or of disallowing the choice made by the house of representatives, it was said:

“That the government or constitution proposed to be formed by the plan, consists of two branches; a President General appointed by the crown, and a council chosen by the people, or by the people’s representatives, which is the same thing.

“That by a subsequent article, the council chosen by the people can effect nothing without the consent of the President General appointed by the crown; the crown possesses therefore full one half of the power of this constitution.

“That in the British constitution, the crown is supposed to possess but one third, the Lords having their share.

“That this constitution seemed rather more favourable for the crown.

“That it is essential to English liberty, that the subject should not be taxed but by his own consent or the consent of his elected representatives.

“That taxes to be laid and levied by this proposed constitution will be proposed and agreed to by the representatives of the people, if the plan in this particular be preserved:

“But if the proposed alteration should take place, it seemed as if matters may be so managed as that the crown shall finally have the appointment not only of the President General, but of a majority of the grand council; for, seven out of eleven governors and councils are appointed by the crown:

“And so the people in all the colonies would in effect be taxed by their governors.

“It was therefore apprehended that such alterations of the plan would give great dissatisfaction, and that the colonies could not be easy under such a power in governors, and such an infringement of what they take to be English liberty.

“Besides, the giving a share in the choice of the grand council would not be equal with respect to all the colonies, as their constitutions differ. In some, both governor and council are appointed by the crown. In others, they are both appointed by the proprietors. In some, the people have a share in the choice of the council; in others, both government and council are wholly chosen by the people. But the house of representatives is every where chosen by the people; and therefore placing the right of choosing the grand council in the representatives, is equal with respect to all.

“That the grand council is intended to represent all the several houses of representatives of the colonies, as a house of representatives doth the several towns or counties of a colony. Could all the people of a colony be consulted and unite in public measures, a house of representatives would be needless: and could all the assemblies conveniently consult and unite in general measures, the grand council would be unnecessary.

“That a house of commons or the house of representatives, and the grand council, are thus alike in their nature and intention. And as it would seem improper that the King or house of Lords should have a power of disallowing or appointing members of the house of commons; — so likewise that a governor and council appointed by the crown should have a power of disallowing or appointing members of the grand council, (who, in this constitution, are to be the representatives of the people.)

“If the governors and councils therefore were to have a share in the choice of any that are to conduct this general government, it should seem more proper that they chose the President General. But this being an office of great trust and importance to the nation, it was thought better to be filled by the immediate appointment of the crown.

“The power proposed to be given by the plan to the grand council is only a concentration of the powers of the several assemblies in certain points for the general welfare; as the power of the President General is of the powers of the several governors in the same points.

“And as the choice therefore of the grand council by the representatives of the people, neither gives the people any new powers, nor diminishes the power of the crown, it was thought and hoped the crown would not disapprove of it.”

Upon the whole, the commissioners were of opinion, that the choice was most properly placed in the representatives of the people.

Election of Members.

That within months after the passing such act, the house of representatives that happen to be sitting within that time, or that shall be especially for that purpose convened, may and shall choose members for the grand council, in the following proportion, that is to say,

                 Massachussett's Bay . . . . . 7

                 New Hampshire . . . . . . . . 2

                 Connecticut   . . . . . . . . 5

                 Rhode Island  . . . . . . . . 2

                 New York  . . . . . . . . . . 4

                 New Jerseys . . . . . . . . . 3

                 Pensylvania . . . . . . . . . 6

                 Maryland  . . . . . . . . . . 4

                 Virginia  . . . . . . . . . . 7

                 North Carolina  . . . . . . . 4

                 South Carolina  . . . . . . . 4

                                                48

It was thought that if the least colony was allowed two, and the others in proportion, the number would be very great and the expence heavy; and that less than two would not be convenient, as a single person, being by any accident prevented appearing at the meeting, the colony he ought to appear for would not be represented. That as the choice was not immediately popular, they would be generally men of good abilities for business, and men of reputation for integrity; and that forty-eight such men might be a number sufficient. But, though it was thought reasonable that each colony should have a share in the representative body in some degree, according to the proportion it contributed to the general treasury; yet the proportion of wealth or power of the colonies is not to be judged by the proportion here fixed; because it was at first agreed that the greatest colony should not have more than seven members, nor the least less than two: and the settling these proportions between these two extremes was not nicely attended to, as it would find itself, after the first election from the sums brought into the treasury, as by a subsequent article.

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