The Albany Congress (also known as "The Conference of Albany") was a meeting of representatives sent by the legislatures of seven of the thirteen British colonies in British America: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Northernmost Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were not in attendance. Representatives met daily at the Stadt Huys in Albany, New York, from June 18 to July 11, 1754, to discuss better relations with the American Indian tribes and common defensive measures against the French threat from Canada in the opening stage of the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War between Great Britain and France.
Delegates did not have the goal of creating an American nation; rather, they were colonists with the more limited mission of pursuing a treaty with the Mohawks and other major Iroquois tribes. This was the first time that American colonists had met together, and it provided a model that came into use in setting up the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, as well as the First Continental Congress in 1774, which were preludes to the American Revolution.
The Albany Congress was the first time in the 18th century that American colonial representatives met to discuss some manner of formal union. In the 17th century, some New England colonies had formed a loose association called the New England Confederation, principally for purposes of defense, as raiding was frequent by French and allied Indian tribes. In the 1680s, the British Government created the Dominion of New England as a unifying government on the colonies between the Delaware River and Penobscot Bay; it was dissolved in 1689. Jacob Leisler summoned an intercolonial congress which met in New York on 1 May 1690 to plan concerted action against the French and Indians. Because of differences in threat, he attracted only the colonies as far south as Maryland.
The Albany delegates spent most of their time debating Benjamin Franklin's Albany Plan of union to create a unified level of colonial government. The delegates voted approval of a plan that called for a union of 11 colonies, with a president appointed by the British Crown. Each colonial assembly would send 2 to 7 delegates to a "grand council" which would have legislative powers. The Union would have jurisdiction over Indian affairs.
The plan was rejected by the colonies' legislatures, which were protective of their independent charters, and by the Colonial Office, which wanted a military command. Many elements of the plan were later the basis for the American government established by the Articles of Confederation of 1777 and the Constitution of 1787. Franklin speculated that the colonies might not have separated from England so soon had the 1754 plan been adopted. Benjamin Franklin said in 1789:
On Reflection it now seems probable, that if the foregoing Plan or some thing like it, had been adopted and carried into Execution, the subsequent Separation of the Colonies from the Mother Country might not so soon have happened, nor the Mischiefs suffered on both sides have occurred, perhaps during another Century. For the Colonies, if so united, would have really been, as they then thought themselves, sufficient to their own Defence, and being trusted with it, as by the Plan, an Army from Britain, for that purpose would have been unnecessary: The Pretences for framing the Stamp-Act would not then have existed, nor the other Projects for drawing a Revenue from America to Britain by Acts of Parliament, which were the Cause of the Breach, and attended with such terrible Expence of Blood and Treasure: so that the different Parts of the Empire might still have remained in Peace and Union.
The Congress and its Albany Plan have achieved iconic status as presaging the formation of the United States of America in 1776. It is often illustrated with Franklin's famous snake cartoon Join, or Die.
Benjamin Franklin's plan to unite the colonies exceeded the scope of the congress, which had been called to plan a defense against the French and Indian threat. The original plan was heavily debated by all who attended the conference, including the young Philadelphia lawyer Benjamin Chew. Numerous modifications were also proposed by Thomas Hutchinson, who later became Governor of Massachusetts. The delegates passed the plan unanimously. They submitted it with their recommendations, but the legislatures of the seven colonies rejected it, as it would have removed some of their existing powers. The plan was never sent to the Crown for approval, although it was submitted to the British Board of Trade, which also rejected it.
The Plan of Union proposed to include all the British North American colonies, although none of the colonies south of Maryland sent representatives to the Albany Congress. (Note that the "Lower Counties on the Delaware" were then administered by Pennsylvania, and Georgia Colony was slow to start.) The plan called for a single executive (President-General) to be appointed by the King, who would be responsible for relations with the Indians, military preparedness, and execution of laws regulating various trade and financial activities. It called for a Grand Council to be selected by the colonial legislatures, with the number of delegates to be apportioned according to the taxes paid by each colony. The colonial assemblies rejected the plan, although delegates forming the government after the Revolution incorporated some features in the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
Twenty-one representatives attended the Congress from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. New York Governor James DeLancey was host governor and Chairman. Peter Wraxall served as Secretary to the Congress.
‡ Indicates Members of the committee of the Plan of Union