First Stirring Of Unity

At this juncture, the British Board of Trade, hearing reports of deteriorating relations with the Indians, ordered the governor of New York and commissioners from the other colonies to call a meeting of the Iroquois chiefs to frame a joint treaty. In June 1754, representatives of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the New England colonies met with the Iroquois at Albany. The Indians aired their grievances, and the delegates recommended appropriate action.

The Albany Congress, however, transcended its original purpose of solving Indian problems. It declared a union of the American colonies "absolutely necessary for their preservation," and the colonial representatives present adopted the Albany Plan of Union. Drafted by Benjamin Franklin, the plan provided that a president appointed by the King act with a grand council of delegates chosen by the assemblies, each colony to be represented in proportion to its financial contributions to the general treasury. The government was to have charge of all British interests in the west - Indian treaties, trade, defense, and settlement. But none of the colonies accepted Franklin's plan, for none wished to surrender either the power of taxation or control over the development of the west.

The colonies offered little support for the war as a whole, all schemes failing to bring them "to a sense of their duty to the King." The colonists could see the war only as a struggle for empire on the part of England and France. They felt no compunction when the British government was obliged to send large numbers of regular troops to wage colonial battles. Nor did they regret that the "redcoats," rather than provincial troops, won the war. Nor did they see any reason for curtailing commerce that, in effect, constituted "trade with the enemy.

In spite of this lack of wholehearted colonial support and in spite of several early military defeats, England's superior strategic position and her competent leadership ultimately brought complete victory. After eight years of conflict, Canada and the upper Mississippi Valley were finally conquered, and the dream of a French empire in North America faded.

Having triumphed over France, not only in America but in India and throughout the colonial world generally, Britain was compelled to face a problem that she had hitherto neglected - the governance of her empire. It was essential that she now organize her vast possessions to facilitate defense, reconcile the divergent interests of different areas and peoples, and distribute more evenly the cost of imperial administration.

In North America alone, British overseas territories had more than doubled. To the narrow strip along the Atlantic coast had been added the vast expanse of Canada and the territory between the Mississippi River and the Alleghenies, an empire in itself. A population that had been predominantly Protestant English and Anglicized continentals now included Catholic French and large numbers of partly Christianized Indians. Defense and administration of the new territories, as well as the old, would require huge sums of money and increased personnel. The "old colonial system" was obviously inadequate. Even during the exigencies of a war imperiling the very existence of the colonists themselves, the system had proved incapable of securing colonial cooperation or support. What then could be expected in time of peace when no external danger loomed?