It would be a very strange thing if Six Nations of Ignorant Savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble, and yet a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.
-- Benjamin Franklin to James Parker, 1751
By 1744, Benjamin Franklin had lived in Philadelphia little more than two decades. Having fled what he regarded as Boston's spirit-crushing Puritan orthodoxy, Franklin's iconoclastic wit found a more comfortable home in Quaker Philadelphia. The city was only a quarter century old when Franklin arrived at the age of seventeen, a dirty, penniless young man looking for work as a printer's apprentice. During the two decades between his 1723 arrival and 1744, Franklin not only found work, but set up his own press, and prospered along with the Quaker capital. With 10,000 residents and a fertile hinterland much larger and more productive than Boston's, young Philadelphia already was approaching the older city in size.
By 1744, his thirty-eighth year, Franklin had a thriving printing business that published one of the largest newspapers in the colonies, the Pennsylvania Gazette, as well as Poor Richard's Almanack, which appeared annually. As the province's official printer, Franklin ran off his press all of Pennsylvania's paper money, state documents and laws, as well as job printing. As the postmaster, he had free access to the mails to distribute his publications. If a family, especially a Pennsylvania family, kept printed matter other than the Bible in the house, it was very likely that whatever it was -- newspaper, almanac or legal documents -- bore Franklin's imprint.
Franklin had done more for Philadelphia than fill its book stalls (one of which he owned) with literature. He had helped clean the city's streets and construct a drainage system unparalleled in its time; he had helped form a city fire department, a hospital, and a library; he would soon be testing electricity, and was already thinking of how it might be used for household lighting. While he detested religious orthodoxy (especially the Puritan variety) he shared one Puritan attribute with the merchants of young, bustling Philadelphia. He believed that hard work warmed God's heart or, as he wrote in Poor Richard for 1736: "God helps those who help themselves."
Like any publisher of ambition, Franklin always kept a sharp eye out for salable properties. During 1736, he had started printing small books containing the proceedings of Indian treaty councils. The treaties, one of the first distinctive forms of indigenous American literature, sold quite well, which pleased Franklin. Filling the seemingly insatiable appetite for information about the Indians and the lands in which they lived that existed at the time on both sides of the Atlantic, Franklin's press turned out treaty accounts until 1762 when, journeying to England to represent Pennsylvania in the royal court, he found several English publishers in competition with him.
One warm summer day in 1744, Franklin was balancing the books of his printing operation when Conrad Weiser, the Indian interpreter and envoy to the Iroquois, appeared at his door with a new treaty manuscript -- the official transcript of the recently completed meeting between envoys from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and the sachems of the Six Nations confederacy at nearby Lancaster. Weiser, an old friend of Franklin's, explained that this was probably the most interesting and noteworthy treaty account he had ever brought in for publication. At last, said Weiser, the Iroquois had made a definite commitment toward the Anglo-Iroquois alliance that Pennsylvania and other Colonial governments had been seeking for more than ten years.
The Iroquois, explained Weiser, were being careful. If they were to ally with the English, they wanted the colonials to unify their management of the Indian trade, and to do something about the crazy patchwork of diplomacy that resulted when each colony handled its own affairs with the Iroquois.
Taking the handwritten manuscript from Weiser, Franklin sat at his desk and quickly thumbed through it, reading a few passages, bringing to life in his mind the atmosphere of the frontier council. The treaty had two main purposes, Franklin surmised. The first was to deal with a recurring problem: Indian complaints that Englishmen, mostly Scotch-Irish frontiersmen, were moving onto Indian land without permission, disrupting hunting and social life. The second, and more important, objective was to polish the covenant chain, to secure the alliance against the French.
The Iroquois party consisted of 245 chiefs, warriors, women, and children. Weiser met the party outside Lancaster, throwing his arms around his friend Canassatego who, at age sixty, was entering his last years as speaker of the great council at Onondaga. Weiser bid all the Iroquois welcome to Pennsylvania, joking in the Iroquois language with the chiefs, who counted him as one of their own, an adopted Mohawk who often traveled to Onondaga to sit in on the councils of the league.
Weiser knew that the Iroquois expected their protocol to be followed. As guests, this meant that they had a right to adequate food and lodging after the long and tiring trip. Weiser promptly ordered a steer killed for them. While the steer was being carved into steaks, he purchased 300 pounds of flour, as well as other provisions, charging all of it to the provincial government. He treated the chiefs to "a glass of rum," and then another. The chiefs, "desireous . . . to have one more dram which I could not deny them," asked for more, and Weiser again bought drinks all around. The next day, he entered on his expense ledger a half-dozen sheep, 250 pounds of flour, bread, and "other necessities."
The Iroquois delegates arrived at Lancaster's courthouse Friday, June 22, 1744. A group of Colonial delegates, led by George Thomas, Esq., were waiting with "Wine, Punch, Pipes and Tobacco." The Colonial delegates "drank to the health of the Six Nations" and then adjourned the meeting until Monday to give the Iroquois an opportunity to rest.
For most of the next two weeks, the Iroquois and Colonial delegates discussed the invasion by squatters of the eastern slopes of the Appalachians. The delegates from Maryland and Virginia attended because both colonies claimed the land in question. Governor Thomas opened the first business session of the council Monday, June 25, by observing that during a treaty council at Philadelphia two years earlier, the Iroquois had requested a meeting with the governors of Maryland and Virginia "concerning some lands in the back parts of [those] Provinces which they claim a right to from their Conquests over the Ancient Possessors, and which have been settled by some of the Inhabitants of those Governments [Maryland and Virginia] without their [Iroquois'] consent, or any purchase made from them." Thomas reported that "an unfortunate skirmish" had taken place between colonists' militia and war parties from the Six Nations in the disputed territory. Thomas asserted that this problem ought to be solved because the Iroquois were strategic to the British defense against the French in North America: "by their Situation . . . if Friends [the Iroquois] are capable of defending [Colonial] settlements; if enemies, of making cruel Ravages upon them; if Neuters, they may deny the French a passage through their country and give us timely Notice of their designs."
The representatives of Maryland were not as conciliatory as Thomas. Speaking to the Iroquois, they said:The Great King of England, and his Subjects, have always possessed the Province of Maryland free and undisturbed from any Claim by the Six Nations for above one hundred Years past, and your not saying anything to us before, convinces us you thought you had no Pretence to any land in Maryland; nor can we yet find out to what Lands, or under what Title you make your Claim.
The Iroquois waited a day, until June 26, to reply, as was their custom. The day's delay was meant to signal grave concern over the issue at hand. In some cases, the delay was just a matter of being polite; in this case, however, it was sincere. On Tuesday afternoon, Canassatego rose before the assembly, assuming the posture that had caused many colonists to compare him to their imagined Roman and Greek ancestors. He said:Brother, the Governor of Maryland,
When you mentioned the Affair of the Land Yesterday, you went back to Old Times, and told us that you had been in Possession of the Province of Maryland for above one hundred Years; but what is one hundred Years in comparison to the length of Time since our Claim began? Since we came out of this ground? For we must tell you that long before one hundred years our Ancestors came out of this very ground, and their children have remained here ever since. . . . You came out of the ground in a country that lies beyond the Seas; there you may have a just Claim, but here you must allow us to be your elder Brethren, and the lands to[o] belong[ed] to us before you knew anything of them.
Canassatego continued his argument, saying that some Europeans assumed, in error, that the Indians would have perished "if they had not come into the country and furnished us with Strowds and Hatchets, and Guns, and other things necessary for the support of Life." The Indians, the sachem reminded the colonists, "lived before they came amongst us, and as well, or better, if we may believe what our forefathers have taught us. We had then room enough, and plenty of Deer, which was easily caught."
By July 2, the Iroquois had been given vague assurances by the Colonial commissioners that the flow of settlers into the disputed lands would be controlled as much as possible, a promise the Colonial officials did not have the armed force to implement. A few other matters that had precipitated conflict between the Iroquois and the English, such as the murder of Indian trader John Armstrong by the Delawares, were discussed. As the treaty council entered its last few days, talk turned to cementing the alliance, shining the covenant chain. Canassatego assured the Colonial delegates that "we will take all the care we can to prevent an enemy from coming onto British lands." To insure the continuance of alliance, the sachem also suggested that the colonists put their own house in order by combining into a single federal union. Closing his final speech on July 4, 1744, Canassatego told the assembled Iroquois and colonial commissioners:Our wise forefathers established union and amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable. This has given us great weight and authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy and by your observing the same methods our wise forefathers have taken you will acquire much strength and power; therefore, whatever befalls you, do not fall out with one another.
Governor Thomas's final response, which followed Canassatego's, did not mention the sachems' proposal that the colonies unite into a confederacy on the Iroquoian model. Thomas also seemed to have missed Canassatego's assertion on June 26 that the colonists ought to consider the Iroquois their elder brethren. "We are all subjects, as well as you, of the great King beyond the Water," Thomas said. The Iroquois, following their custom of granting each speaker his say without interruption, did not dispute Thomas's assertion, although Canassatego had made it clear that they did not submit to the king's authority. The Iroquois regarded themselves as independent, beholden to no European power. They were, in fact, courted eagerly during the two decades before 1763 by both England and France.
The 1744 treaty, one of the more dramatic during this period, impressed Franklin when the interpreter's record was delivered to him a few weeks later. He printed 200 extra copies and sent them to England. Within three years after he printed the proceedings of the 1744 treaty, with Canassatego's advice on Colonial union, Franklin became involved with Cadwallader Colden on the same subject. A new edition of Colden's History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York in America, first published in 1727, was issued during 1747. Franklin was a frequent correspondent with Colden at this time; both had similar interests in politics, natural science, and Deism. They got on together well and often until 1765 when Colden, then lieutenant governor of New York, was burned in effigy for enforcing the Stamp Act.
Shortly after its publication in 1747, Franklin asked Colden for a copy of his new edition, and read and appraised it for its author. Franklin then began his own fervent campaign for a federal union of the British colonies, a cause he did not forsake until the United States was formed a quarter-century later.
Franklin requested a copy of Colden's book at a time when alliance with the Iroquois was assuming a new urgency for Pennsylvania. During 1747, French and Dutch privateers had raided along the Delaware River, threatening Philadelphia itself for a time. In response, Franklin organized a volunteer militia that elected its own officers (a distinctly Iroquoian custom). The militia grew year by year, repeatedly electing Franklin its colonel until the British, worried about the growth of indigenous armed forces in the colonies, ordered it disbanded in 1756.
Franklin thought enough of Colden's history to ask for fifty copies to sell through his own outlets. Franklin did not, however, approve of the fact that the book had been "puffed up" with "the Charters &c of this Province, all under the Title of the History of the Five Nations." Franklin deplored such padding, which he called "a common Trick of Booksellers." Such puffery notwithstanding, Franklin was concerned that one bookseller, by the name of Read, was not giving Colden's work sufficient advertising in Philadelphia. "In our last two Papers he has advertis'd generally that he has a parcel of books to sell, Greek, Latin, French and English, but makes no particular mention of the Indian History; it is therefore no wonder that he has sold none of them, as he told me a few days since." Franklin complained that no one in Philadelphia except himself had read the book, and he thought it "well wrote, entertaining and instructive" and "useful to all those colonies who have anything to do with Indian Affairs."
As early as 1750, Franklin recognized that the economic and political interests of the British colonies were diverging from those of the mother country. About the same time, he began to think of forms of political confederation that might suit a dozen distinct, often mutually suspicious, political entities. A federal structure such as the Iroquois Confederacy, which left each state in the union to manage its own internal affairs and charged the confederate government with prosecuting common, external matters, must have served as an expedient, as well as appealing, example. As Franklin began to express his thoughts on political and military union of the colonies, he was already attempting to tie them together culturally, through the establishment of a postal system and the American Philosophical Society, which drew to Philadelphia the premier Euro-American scholars of his day.
During 1751, Franklin read a pamphlet written by Archibald Kennedy titled "The Importance of Gaining and Preserving the Friendship of the Indians to the British Interest Considered." Kennedy, collector of customs and receiver general for the province of New York at the time that he wrote the brochure, maintained that alliance with the Iroquois was "of no small importance to the trade of Great Britain, as to the peace and prosperity of the colonies." Indian traders, called "a tribe of harpies" by Kennedy, "have so abused, defrauded and deceived those poor, innocent, well-meaning people." Kennedy asserted that fraud in the Indian trade could be reduced if that trade were regulated through a single Indian commissioner, instead of a different one for each colony, which was the existing system. As with Kennedy, so also with the Iroquois; they too much resented the behavior of the traders. Canassatego had told the Colonial commissioners at Lancaster in 1744 that the Indians would be poor "as long as there are too many Indian traders among us." Resolution of this problem was the key to maintaining the Anglo-Iroquois alliance in Kennedy's opinion. The appointment of a single Indian commissioner would also be a small step along the road to Colonial confederation for mutual defense. The Iroquois had been advocating a unified Colonial military command for at least seven years -- since Canassatego's speech to the 1744 Lancaster treaty. Under Kennedy's scheme, each colony would have contributed men and money to the common military force in proportion to its population.
Franklin was sent Kennedy's brochure by James Parker, his New York City printing partner, from whose press it had been issued. Following the reading of the brochure, Franklin cultivated Kennedy's friendship; the two men consulted together on the Albany Plan of Union (which included Kennedy's single-Indian agent idea). At the Albany congress itself, Franklin called Kennedy "a gentleman of great knowledge in Public Affairs."
After he read Kennedy's brochure, Franklin wrote to Parker that "I am of the opinion, with the public-spirited author, that securing the Friendship of the Indians is of the greatest consequence for these Colonies." To Franklin, "the surest means of doing it are to regulate the Indian Trade, so as to convince them [the Indians] that they may have the best and cheapest Goods, and the fairest dealings, with the English." Franklin also thought, in agreement with Kennedy, that the colonists should accept the Iroquois' advice to form a union in common defense under a common, federal government:And to unite the several Governments as to form a strength that the Indians may depend on in the case of a Rupture with the French, or apprehend great Danger from, if they break with us. This union of the colonies, I apprehend, is not to be brought about by the means that have heretofore been used for that purpose.Franklin then asked why the colonists found it so difficult to unite in common defense, around common interests, when the Iroquois had done so long ago. In context, his use of the term "ignorant savages" seems almost like a backhanded slap at the colonists, who may have thought themselves superior to the Indians but who, in Franklin's opinion, could learn something from the Six Nations about political unity:It would be a very strange thing if Six Nations of Ignorant Savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble, and yet a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies.
Within a year of reading Kennedy's brochure, Franklin, whose role in Pennsylvania's Indian affairs was growing, prepared a report on the expenses of the province's Indian agents. Part of the report was sharply critical of Indian traders:Some very unfit Persons are at present employed in that business [the Indian trade]. We hope that the Governor will enjoin the justices of the County Courts to be more careful in the future whom they recommend for Licenses; and whatever is thought further necessary to enforce the Laws now being, for regulating the Indian Trade and Traders, may be considered by the ensuing Assembly. . . .
Recognizing that the Indians' complaints about the conduct of English traders had to be addressed if the Anglo-Iroquois alliance was to be maintained, Franklin took a major step in his personal life. During 1753 Franklin, who had heretofore only printed Indian treaties, accepted an appointment by the Pennsylvania government as one of the colony's commissioners at a meeting with the Six Nations planned for later that year in Carlisle.
That appointment was no more than an official recognition of what had already become obvious. Franklin had gradually emerged as an important part of the British diplomatic offensive with the Iroquois, an offensive that grew in activity until the conclusion of the war with France in 1763. Pennsylvania alone spent 1259 pounds, 5 shillings, 11 pence on Indian affairs during 1750, and about the same amount in 1751. Expenditures on Indian affairs had increased from 13 pounds in 1734 to 143 pounds in 1735, and 303 pounds in 1744, the year of the Lancaster treaty council during which Canassatego issued his challenge to the colonies to unite. These figures indicate that Franklin, Kennedy, and Colden were not alone in their insistence that an alliance with the Iroquois and other Indians along the Northern frontier was important to the security of the British colonies as against the French.
During the year before Franklin attended his first treaty council in an official capacity, the possibility of conflict with the French was accentuated by a French advance into the Ohio Valley. During June 1752, French troops attacked the Indian town of Pickawillany. The Pennsylvania Assembly voted 800 pounds in aid for the attacked Indians, 600 of which was earmarked for "necessities of life," a euphemism for implements of war. The French continued to advance during the balance of the year; French forces probed deeper into the territories of Indians allied with the Iroquois, the allies to whom Canassatego had referred in his final speech at the 1744 treaty conference. French forts were erected at Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, and Venango.
James Hamilton's proclamation appointing Franklin, Richard Peters, and Issac Norris to treat with the Indians at Carlisle specifically mentioned the alliance with the Twightwees, allies of the Iroquois who lived in the Ohio Valley, and who had been attacked by the French during 1752. The treaty, which started Franklin's distinguished diplomatic career, began November 1, 1753. An account of the treaty was printed and sold by Franklin's press. The major subject of the Carlisle treaty was mutual defense against the French. The Indians also brought up the behavior of traders, especially regarding their distribution of rum among Indians. The chiefs said they wanted such practices stopped. Scarrooyady, an Iroquois who had assumed a leadership role following the death of Canassatego during 1750, told the commissioners:Your traders now bring us scarce any Thing but Rum and Flour. They bring us little Powder and Lead, or other valuable Goods. The rum ruins us. We beg you would prevent its coming in such Quantities, by regulating the Traders. . . . We desire it be forbidden, and none sold in the Indian Country.
"Those wicked Whiskey Sellers, when they have once got the Indians in Liquor, make them sell their very Clothes from their Backs," Scarrooyady emphasized. Concluding their report to the provincial government on the treaty council, Franklin, Peters, and Norris advised that the sachem's advice be taken. "That the traders are under no Bonds . . . and by their own Intemperance, unfair Dealings and Irregularities will, it is to be feared, entirely estrange the affections of the Indians from the English." Franklin's opposition to the liquor trade was strengthened the night following the formal conclusion of the treaty council, when many of the Indians there became very drunk and disorderly, yielding to the addictive qualities of the liquids that their chiefs had deplored only a few days earlier.
Two stated desires of the Iroquois leadership -- that the Indian trade be regulated along with the illegal movement of settlers into the interior, and that the colonies form a federal union -- figured importantly in Franklin's plans for the Albany congress of 1754. Plans for this, the most important intercolonial conference in the years before the last North American war with France, were being made at the time of the Carlisle treaty conference. The London Board of Trade wrote to the New York provincial government September 18, 1753, directing all the colonies that had dealings with the Iroquois to join in "one general Treaty to be made in his Majesty's name." It was a move that began, in effect, to bring about the unified management of Indian affairs that Colden, Kennedy, Franklin, and the Iroquois had requested. Similar letters were sent to all colonies that shared frontiers with the Iroquois and their Indian allies, from Virginia northward. Franklin was appointed to represent Pennsylvania at the Albany congress.
The congress convened June 19, 1754, five days after its scheduled opening because many of the Iroquois and some of the Colonial commissioners arrived late. Sessions of the congress, as well as some meetings with the Iroquois delegations, took place at the Albany courthouse, in the midst of a town that straddled the frontier between the English and the Mohawks, who maintained the "eastern door" of the Iroquois longhouse. Albany at the time was still dominated by the architecture of the Dutch, who had started the town before the English replaced them.
The Albany congress met for two interconnected reasons: to cement the alliance with the Iroquois against the French and to formulate and ratify a plan of union for the colonies. Franklin, well known among the Indians and a fervent advocate of Colonial union, was probably the most influential individual at the congress.
Among the Iroquois who attended the congress, Hendrick, who was called Tiyanoga among the Iroquois, received a special invitation from James de Lancy, acting governor of New York, to provide information on the structure of the Iroquois Confederacy to the Colonial delegates. De Lancy, appointed as chief executive of the congress by the Crown, met Saturday, June 29, with Hendrick and other Iroquois sachems. During that meeting, Hendrick held a chain belt that had been given him by the Colonial delegates. He made of the belt a metaphor for political union. "So we will use our endeavors to add as many links to it as lyes within our power," Hendrick said. "In the meantime we desire that you will strengthen yourselves, and bring as many into this Covenant Chain as you possibly can."
During the evening of July 8, the Iroquois' last in Albany, de Lancy met again with Hendrick and other Iroquois. During this meeting, which was open to the public, Hendrick remarked (as had Canassatego ten years earlier) about the strength that confederation brought the Iroquois. De Lancy replied: "I hope that by this present [Plan of] Union, we shall grow up to a great height and be as powerful and famous as you were of old." The week before this exchange, the final draft of Franklin's plan of union had been approved by delegates to the congress, after extensive debate.
Debates over the plan had taken more than two weeks. On June 24, the Colonial delegates voted without dissent in support of Colonial union that, said the motion voted on, "[is] absolutely necessary for their [the colonies'] security and defense." A committee was appointed to "prepare and receive Plans or Schemes for the Union of the Colonies." Franklin was a member of that committee. Thomas Hutchinson, a delegate from Massachusetts who also served on the committee, later pointed to Franklin as the major contributor to the plan of union that emerged from the deliberations of the committee: "The former [the Albany plan] was the projection of Dr. F[ranklin] and prepared in part before he had any consultation with Mr. H[utchinson], probably brought with him from Philadelphia."
Franklin had drawn up "Short Hints Toward a Scheme for Uniting the Northern Colonies," which he mailed to Colden and James Alexander for comment June 8, 1754, eleven days before the Albany congress opened. The committee on which Franklin and Hutchinson sat developed its own set of "short hints" by June 28, four days after its first meeting. This list was basically similar to, and appears to have developed from, Franklin's own list.
Delegates to the Albany congress debated the committee's "short hints" on eight occasions between de Lancy's two meetings with Hendrick. On July 9, the Iroquois having left town, Franklin was asked to draw up a plan of union based on the previous two weeks' discussions. Franklin's final draft was commissioned two weeks to the day after his Pennsylvania Gazette published the "Join or Die" cartoon, one of the first graphic editorials to appear in an American newspaper, and a forceful statement in favor of Colonial union.
During debates over the plan of union, Franklin cited Kennedy's brochure and pointed to "the strength of the League which has bound our Friends the Iroquois together in a common tie which no crisis, however grave, since its foundation has managed to disrupt." Recalling the words of Hendrick, Franklin stressed the fact that the individual nations of the confederacy managed their own internal affairs without interference from the Grand Council. "Gentlemen," Franklin said, peering over the spectacles he had invented, "I propose that all the British American colonies be federated under a single legislature and a president-general to be appointed by the Crown." He then posed the same rhetorical question he had in the letter to Parker: if the Iroquois can do it, why can't we?
The plan of union that emerged from Franklin's pen was a skillful diplomatic melding of concepts that took into consideration the Crown's demands for control, the colonists' desires for autonomy in a loose union, and the Iroquois' stated advocacy of a Colonial union similar to theirs in structure and function. For the Crown, the plan provided administration by a president-general, to be appointed and supported by the Crown. The individual colonies were promised that they could retain their own constitutions "except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said Act [the plan of union] as hereafter follows."
The retention of internal sovereignty within the individual colonies, politically necessary because of their diversity, geographical separation, and mutual suspicion, closely resembled the Iroquoian system. The colonies' distrust of one another and the fear of the smaller that they might be dominated by the larger in a confederation may have made necessary the adoption of another Iroquoian device: one colony could veto the action of the rest of the body. As in the Iroquois Confederacy, all "states" had to agree on a course of action before it could be taken. Like the Iroquois Great Council, the "Grand Council" (the name was Franklin's) of the colonies under the Albany Plan of Union would have been allowed to choose its own speaker. The Grand Council, like the Iroquois Council, was to be unicameral, unlike the two-house British system. Franklin favored one-house legislatures during and later at the Constitutional Convention, and opposed the imposition of a bicameral system on the United States.
Franklin's Albany Plan of Union provided for a different number of representatives from each colony (from seven for Virginia and Massachusetts Bay to two for New Hampshire and Rhode Island) as the Iroquois system provided for differing numbers from each of its five nations. This division of seats was based, however, in rough proportion to population and contributions to a common military force, while the Iroquois system was based more on tradition. But the number of delegates to the proposed Colonial Grand Council (forty-eight) closely resembled that of the Iroquois Council (fifty). There is no documentary evidence, however, that Franklin intended such a slavish imitation.
The legislature under the Albany plan was empowered to "raise and pay Soldiers, and build Forts for the Defence of any of the Colonies, and equip vessels of Force to guard the Coasts and protect the Trade on the Oceans, Lakes and Great Rivers," but it was not allowed to "impress men in any Colonies without the consent of its Legislature." This clause strikes a middle ground between the involuntary conscription often practiced in Europe at the time and the traditional reliance of the Iroquois and many other American Indian nations on voluntary military service.
The Albany plan also contained the long-sought unified regulation of the Indian trade advocated by the Iroquois, Kennedy, Colden, and Franklin:That the President General with the advice of the Grand Council hold and direct all Indian Treaties in which the general interest or welfare of the Colonys may be concerned; and make peace or declare war with the Indian Nations. That they make such laws as they judge necessary for regulating Indian Trade. That they make all purchases from the Indians for the Crown. . . . That they make new settlements on such purchases by granting lands. . . .
The last part of this section aimed to stop, or at least slow, the pellmell expansion of the frontier that resulted in settlers' occupation of lands unceded by the Indian nations. Such poaching was a constant irritant to the Iroquois; the subject of land seizures had come up at every treaty council for at least two decades before the Albany plan was proposed. Like the traders' self-interested profiteering, the illegal taking of land by frontiersmen was seen by Anglo-American leaders as a threat to the Anglo-Iroquois alliance at a time when worsening diplomatic relations with France made alliance with the Iroquois more vital.
The Albany Plan of Union gained Franklin general recognition in the colonies as an advocate of Colonial union. The plan also earned Franklin a position among the originators of the federalist system of government that came to characterize the United States political system. According to Clinton Rossiter, "Franklin made rich contributions to the theory and practice of federalism . . . he was far ahead of the men around him in abandoning provincialism." While the Iroquois and Franklin were ready for a Colonial union, the legislatures of the colonies were not. Following its passage by the Albany congress on July 10, 1754, Franklin's plan died in the Colonial legislatures. The individual colonies' governing bodies were not ready to yield even to the limited Colonial government that Franklin proposed within his definition of federalism: "Independence of each other, and separate interests, tho' among a people united by common manners, language and, I may say, religion . . ." Franklin showed his dismay at the inability of the colonies to act together when he said that "the councils of the savages proceeded with better order than the British Parliament."
Franklin believed, at the time that his plan failed to win the approval of the colonies, that its defeat would cost the British their alliance with the Iroquois. "In my opinion, no assistance from them [the Six Nations] is to be expected in any dispute with the French 'till by a Compleat Union among our selves we are able to support them in case they should be attacked," Franklin wrote, before the Iroquois' willingness to maintain the alliance proved him wrong. Although he was wrong in this regard, Franklin's statement illustrates how important the Iroquois' prodding was in his advocacy of a federal union for the colonies.
Franklin's plan was also rejected by the Crown, but for reasons different from those of the Colonial legislatures. To the British, the plan was too democratic. It gave the colonists too much freedom at a time when the British were already sending across the ocean spies who reported that far too many colonists were giving entirely too much thought to possible independence from Britain. Franklin already was under watch as a potential troublemaker (hadn't he raised his own militia?).
The separate Colonial governments and the Crown had, in effect, vetoed the plan of the Albany commissioners -- a veto beyond which there could be no appeal. Nonetheless, the work of the congress was not in vain.
Almost two decades would pass before the colonists -- inflamed into union by the Stamp Act and other measures the British pressed upon the colonies to help pay the Crown's war debts -- would take Franklin's and Canassatego's advice, later epitomized in Franklin's phrase: "We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately." Returning to America from one of many trips to England, Franklin would then repackage the Albany plan as the Articles of Confederation. A Continental Congress would convene, and word would go out to Onondaga that the colonists had finally lit their own Grand Council fire at Philadelphia.
During 1774, colonists dressed as Mohawks dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest British economic imperialism. During the spring of 1775, serious skirmishes took place at Lexington and Concord. During August of the same year, commissioners from the newly united colonies met with chiefs of the Six Nations at Philadelphia in an effort to procure their alliance, or at least neutrality, in the coming war with the British.
On August 25, the two groups smoked the pipe of peace and exchanged the ritual words of diplomatic friendship. Following the ceremonies, the Colonial commissioners told the Iroquois:Our business with you, besides rekindling the ancient council-fire, and renewing the covenant, and brightening up every link of the chain is, in the first place, to inform you of the advice that was given about thirty years ago, by your wise forefathers, in a great council which was held at Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, when Canassatego spoke to us, the white people, in these very words.
The commissioners then repeated, almost word for word, Canassatego's advice that the colonies form a federal union like that of the Iroquois, as it had appeared in the treaty account published by Franklin's press. The commissioners continued their speech:These were the words of Canassatego. Brothers, Our forefathers rejoiced to hear Canassatego speak these words. They sunk deep into our hearts. The advice was good. It was kind. They said to one another: "The Six Nations are a wise people, Let us hearken to them, and take their counsel, and teach our children to follow it." Our old men have done so. They have frequently taken a single arrow and said, Children, see how easily it is broken. Then they have taken and tied twelve arrows together with a strong string or cord and our strongest men could not break them. See, said they, this is what the Six Nations mean. Divided, a single man may destroy you; united, you are a match for the whole world. We thank the great God that we are all united; that we have a strong confederacy, composed of twelve provinces. . . . These provinces have lighted a great council fire at Philadelphia and sent sixty-five counsellors to speak and act in the name of the whole, and to consult for the common good of the people. . . .
This quotation and the associated narrative describing the 1744 treaty council is based on Franklin's account, published in Carl Van Doren and Julian P. Boyd, eds., Indian Treaties Printed by Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Historical Society, 1938).
Clinton Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic: The Origin of the Tradition of Political Liberty (New York Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1953), p. 306.