The Albany Congress: Definition & Summary

Instructor: Jason McCollom

Jason has a PhD.

In 1754, American colonial leaders met at the Albany Congress. Here, they sought Indian alliances to counter the French threat in the west, and also to unite the colonies. Learn about the congress and its outcomes, and check your knowledge with a quiz.

French and American Colonial Tensions in Ohio Country

In 1754, at a meeting in Albany in upstate New York, around two dozen American colonial representatives met with their Native American counterparts and some British officials. They were there to discuss ways to stop the expansion of their enemy, the French, who were making their way into British territory around the Ohio Valley.

In a powerful speech, an old Mohawk chief named Hendrick offered a pointed assessment of the situation when he said, 'Look at the French, they are men; they are fortifying every where; but we are ashamed to say it; you are like women, bare and open, without any fortifications.' Hendrick closed by highlighting the need to defend against French incursions into British colonial areas.

Mohawk leader Hendrick
Mohawk leader Hendrick.

The tensions between French traders and soldiers in the Ohio Valley (the region between Lake Huron and Lake Erie) and British colonists formed the backdrop to the Albany Congress. By the 1740s, traders from Pennsylvania began infringing on French territory, and in 1747 Virginians formed the Ohio Company to engage in the fur trade and land speculation and also moved west into the French-controlled areas in Ohio Country. In response, the French built a series of forts to protect their trade routes and form a western impediment against American colonial growth.

French Fort Duquesne
French Fort Duquesne.

The Albany Congress and the Albany Plan of Union

Pennsylvanian traders and members of the Ohio Company began clashing with French troops in the late 1740s and early 1750s. British imperial leaders did not want these skirmishes to lead to a wider--and expensive--war. Authorities in London ordered the royal governor of New York to convene a conference of American colonial representatives. The goal of the Albany Conference was to secure the assistance of the Iroquois Confederacy against the growing French threat.

From June 19 to July 11, 1754, all six tribes of the Iroquois confederacy met in Albany, New York, with 24 colonial delegates from seven colonies. It was here that Mohawk leader Hendrick gave his impassioned speech. But discussions and debates over Indian alliances came to be overshadowed by more significant developments at the Albany Congress.

From the perspective of the colonists, the meeting of so many representatives had never been accomplished before. The Albany Congress was the first time a large group of colonial delegates had met to address common issues. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania decided to take advantage of the situation and put forth a plan for bringing greater unity to the disparate British American colonies. Franklin was impressed at the unity of the Iroquois Confederacy, and remarked, 'It would be a very strange thing if ignorant savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such a Union, and yet a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen English Colonies.'

Ben Franklin
Ben Franklin.

Franklin and Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts coauthored the Albany Plan of Union and presented it to delegates at the Albany Congress. The plan suggested the eleven British colonies unite into their own confederacy, under the authority of a leader appointed by the British Crown. This unity government, made up of a Grand Council of elected colonial delegates, would then have authority over colonial issues of war and defense, Indian trade, and western expansion. Controversially, the Albany Plan also provided the council with the powers of collecting taxes from the individual colonies.

Outcomes of the Albany Congress

Colonial leaders were not ready at this time to accept the Albany Plan. Most were worried that their governments would lose sovereignty to the council. The Massachusetts assembly, for example, feared the plan was 'a Design of gaining power over the Colonies,' especially regarding the issue of levying taxes.

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