Benjamin Franklin Papers

From Benjamin Franklin to James Alexander and Cadwallader Colden with Short Hints towards a Scheme for Uniting the Northern Colonies, 8 June 1754

To James Alexander and Cadwallader Colden with Short Hints towards a Scheme for Uniting the Northern Colonies

Copy: New-York Historical Society; also transcript: Library of Congress7

The Pennsylvania commissioners to the Albany Congress left Philadelphia on Monday morning, June 3, and arrived at New York on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 5th.8 Some of them, especially Richard Peters, were active during the next three days buying various goods for the Pennsylvania present to the Indians, apparently without Franklin’s assistance.9 On one of these days he and Peters met with their mutual friend James Alexander and the conversation turned “to the uniting the Colonies and the difficulties thereof,” as Alexander put it in a letter to Cadwallader Colden, June 9.1 Franklin thought he had a plan that might avoid some of those difficulties and promised “to set down some hints of a Scheme” for his friend. The result was the paper he sent, with a short covering note, to Alexander, June 8, the day before he left New York for Albany.2

Franklin had believed in the need for some form of colonial union since at least 1751, when he had written James Parker describing a plan he thought might be effective.3 During the years that had elapsed the increasing menace of French encroachments could only strengthen his conviction, though he might develop or modify his ideas on the precise form a union should take and how it could best be put into operation. At some time between March 20, 1751, and June 8, 1754, he may have set down on paper the outline of a revised scheme, but there is no evidence that he did so. More probably his plan remained a matter of thought and possibly of conversation with friends until his talk with Alexander while on the journey to Albany, which resulted in the drafting of the paper printed below.

Precise comparison between the proposal of 1751 and that now sent to Alexander is impossible because the earlier version is couched in rather general terms and does not spell out the powers to be assigned to the new central agencies, though it does cover in broad language the same areas of Indian affairs and common defense. On most points which can be compared the two plans show no significant differences. The one striking exception is that Franklin believed in 1751 that the union should be a voluntary one, “entered into by the Colonies themselves,” while in 1754 he had become convinced that the plan, when perfected at Albany, should be “sent home, and an Act of Parliament obtain’d for establishing it.” Franklin was political realist enough to recognize, after his experiences with the Pennsylvania Assembly during that winter and spring on the matter of aiding Virginia against the French in the upper Ohio Valley, and after observing the narrow provincialism of the assemblies of some of the other colonies, that only the interposition of the mother country by act of Parliament could bring about such a union as he had in mind.4

N York June 8. 1754

Mr. Alexander is requested to peruse these Hints, and make such remarks in correcting or Improving the Scheme, and send the Paper with such remarks to Dr. Colden for his sentiments who is desired to forward the whole to Albany to their Very humble Servant

B: Franklin


Short hints towards a scheme for uniting the Northern Colonies

A Governour General

To be appointed by the King.

To be a Military man

To have a Salary from the Crown

To have a negation on all acts of the Grand Council, and carry into execution what ever is agreed on by him and that Council.

Grand Council

One member to be chosen by the Assembly of each of the smaller Colonies and two or more by each of the larger, in proportion to the Sums they pay Yearly into the General Treasury.

Members Pay

——Shillings sterling per Diem deuring their sitting and mileage for Travelling Expences.

Place and Time of meeting

To meet —— times in every Year, at the Capital of each Colony in Course, unless particular circumstances and emergencies require more frequent meetings and Alteration in the Course, of places. The Governour General to Judge of those circumstances &c. and call by his Writts.

General Treasury

Its Fund, an Excise on Strong Liquors pretty equally drank in the Colonies or Duty on Liquor imported, or —— shillings on each Licence of Publick House or Excise on Superfluities as Tea &c. &c. all which would pay in some proportion to the present wealth of each Colony, and encrease as that wealth encreases, and prevent disputes about the Inequality of Quotas.

To be Collected in each Colony, and Lodged in their Treasury to be ready for the payment of Orders issuing from the Governour General and Grand Council jointly.

Duty and power of the Governour General and Grand Council

To order all Indian Treaties.

 make all Indian purchases not within proprietary Grants

 make and support new settlements by building Forts, raising and paying Soldiers to Garison the Forts, defend the frontiers and annoy the Ennemy.

 equip Grand Vessels to scour the Coasts from Privateers in time of war, and protect the Trade

 and every thing that shall be found necessary for the defence and support of the Colonies in General, and encreasing and extending their settlements &c.

For the Expence they may draw on the fund in the Treasury of any Colony.

Manner of forming this Union

The scheme being first well considered corrected and improved by the Commissioners at Albany, to be sent home, and an Act of Parliament obtain’d for establishing it.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

7The copy is in the hand of David Colden, son of Cadwallader Colden, to whom Alexander forwarded the paper. In both the copy and the transcript the covering note follows the text of the “Short Hints,” but the order is reversed here to conform to the usual arrangement of letters and their enclosures in this edition.

8Pa. Gaz., June 6 and 13, 1754; Md. Gaz., June 27, 1754; I Pa. Arch., II, 145.

9I Pa. Arch., II, 145. Peters had arranged in advance to make the purchases through the merchant William Alexander, son of James Alexander. Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Susquehannah Company Papers (4 vols., Wilkes-Barr, Pa., 1930–33), 1, 85–6.

1See the next document. Peters is believed to be the author of a different plan dated only “1754,” written in his hand (and preserved in the Pennsylvania Archives at Harrisburg). This union would be almost entirely military in purpose, the continental colonies, excluding Nova Scotia, being organized in four geographical divisions and each providing a contingent for a “union regiment.” The plan had no influence on the outcome of the deliberations at Albany. I Pa. Arch., II 197–9; Hampton L. Carson, ed., History of the Celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Constitution of the United States (2 vols., Phila., 1889), II, 472–4; Lawrence H. Gipson, “Thomas Hutchinson and the Framing of the Albany Plan of Union, 1754,” PMHB, LXXIV (1950), 6.

2N.Y. Mercury, June 10, 1754; Pa. Gaz., June 13, 1754. According to Peters’ brief diary of the journey, the Pennsylvania delegates embarked at 7 o’clock on Sunday evening, the 9th, and their sloop made about four miles up the river before nightfall. I Pa. Arch., II, 145.

3See above, IV, 117. The letter was printed as an appendix to Archibald Kennedy’s pamphlet, The Importance of Gaining and Preserving the Friendship of the Indians to the British Interest Considered (N.Y., 1751). BF states in his autobiography that while in New York in June 1754 he showed his “Short Hints” to Kennedy and won his approbation, but no record of their discussion, whether oral or written, has been found. Par. Text edit., p. 336.

4The most recent object lessons were the Pennsylvania Assembly’s objection, May 18, to any “Propositions for an Union of the Colonies, in Indian Affairs” (above, p. 277) and the refusal of the New Jersey and Virginia assemblies even to send commissioners to the impending Albany Congress, in spite of the “desire” of the Board of Trade that they should do so.

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