A civil movement in the colonies of great importance had taken place. It was a movement in the direction of a national union. For some time there had been indications that the Indians, and particularly the Six Nations, influenced by French emissaries, were becoming alienated from the English. The colonists were uneasy; and the British government, acting upon the advice of the colonial governors, took measures to strengthen the good-will of the barbarians. The British Secretary of State issued a circular-letter to the various colonial assemblies proposing a convention to be held at Albany, composed of committees from the several assemblies, and representatives of the Six Nations. To this proposition seven of the assemblies cheerfully responded, and on the 19th of June, 1754, twenty-five delegates from these colonies met in the old City Hall in Albany. James De Lancey, acting-governor of New York, was chosen to preside, and he was authorized by the Virginia Assembly to represent that colony in the convention. It was an assembly of remarkable men, such as had never before been seen on the continent. The most remarkable man of all was Dr. Franklin, of Philadelphia, then almost fifty years of age.
The chiefs of the Six Nations were there in very great force. Among them, as chief orator, was "King Hendrick," the eminent Mohawk sachem who was killed near Lake George, the following year, while battling for the English. These barbarians received the first attention in the convention. The proceedings were opened by a speech to them by De Lancey, to which Hendrick responded. While they accepted the belts of wampum as tokens of alliance and friendship, there was evident dissatisfaction with the conduct of the English, whom the orator frankly reproved. Standing in the midst of the council, he spoke of the injustice and want of spirit of the English, with significant gestures. "We thank you," he said, "for renewing and brightening the covenant chain. We will take this belt to the Onondagas, where our council fire always burns, and keep it so securely that neither the thunderbolt nor the lightning shall break it. Strengthen yourselves, and bring as many as you can into this covenant chain." Then, with his dark eyes flashing with scorn and indignation, he raised his voice, and with impassioned manner, he exclaimed: "Look at the French; they are men; they are fortifying everywhere; but, we are ashamed to say it, you are like women, bare and open, without any fortifications." "It is but one step," he said, "from Canada hither, and the French may easily come and turn you out of doors." Already many of the Onondagas had settled at Oswegatchie (now Ogdensburgh, on the St. Lawrence), under the protection of the French; and some of the Mohawks complained bitterly of the seizure of lands in the west, by New Englanders, that belonged to the Indians; but the conference closed amicably, and, on the whole, satisfactorily to both parties.
The Massachusetts delegation had come to the convention prepared to suggest business quite as important as a treaty with the Indians. They were authorized to invite the convention to a consideration of the question whether a union of the colonies for mutual defence was not desirable. They were also authorized by the General Court to agree to articles of union or confederation. The proposition when submitted was favorably received by the convention, and a committee, composed of one member from each colony represented, was appointed to draw up a plan. That committee consisted of Hutchinson, of Massachusetts; Atkinson, of New Hampshire; Pitkin, of Connecticut; Hopkins, of Rhode Island; Smith, of New York; Franklin, of Pennsylvania; and Tasker, of Maryland.
The fertile brain of Dr. Franklin had conceived a plan before he went to the convention. It was similar in its leading features to those proposed by William Penn and Daniel Coxe, already mentioned. He submitted it to the committee in writing, and it was adopted after slight modifications. It was debated in the convention day after day, for almost a fortnight, "hand-in-hand with the Indian business," Franklin wrote, and was agreed to on the 11th of July by all but the delegates from Connecticut, William Pitkin, Roger Wolcott, and Elisha Williams. The union was "for the general defence of his majesty's subjects and interests in North America, as well in time of peace as of war."
Franklin's plan proposed a grand council or congress of forty-eight members, chosen by the several assemblies, the representatives of each colony to be, in number, in proportion to the contribution of each to the general treasury; that the congress should choose their own speaker and have the general management of all civil and military affairs, and to enact general laws in conformity to the British constitution and not in contravention of acts of the imperial parliament; to have a President-General (with Philadelphia the seat of government) appointed and paid by the crown, who should bear a negative or veto power on all acts of the congress, and to have, with the advice and consent of the congress, the appointment of all military officers and the entire management of Indian affairs, the civil officers to be appointed by the congress with the approval of the President-General. This plan of government was similar, in its leading features, to our National Constitution, in the framing of which Dr. Franklin bore a conspicuous part more than thirty years after the convention at Albany.
Franklin's thoughts had been occupied with the topic of union for some time. Several weeks before, he had published the following paragraph in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gasette, in an account of the seizure, by the French, of the position at the Forks of the Ohio: "The confidence of the French in this undertaking seems well-grounded in the present disunited state of the British colonies, and the extreme difficulty of bringing so many different governments and assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual measures for our common defence and security; while our enemies have the very great advantage of being under one direction, with one council and one purse." At the close of the article was a rude wood-cut representing a serpent, the ancient emblem of vigor, separated into as many parts as there were English-American colonies, and under it, in large letters, the words JOIN or DIE. This significant device, which seems to have been first used by Franklin, figured conspicuously at the opening of the Revolution twenty years afterward.
The Plan of Union adopted by the convention was submitted to the Lords of Trade and Plantations. That body did not approve of it, nor even recommend it to the consideration of the king. Neither was it favorably received by the assemblies, partly because the royal governors at first warmly recommended it. In endeavors to please both royalists and republicans, the convention utterly failed. Franklin wrote: "The assemblies all thought there was too much prerogative in it, and in England it was thought to have too much of the democratic," and it was rejected.
When intelligence of the expulsion of the English from the Ohio Valley reached the royal cabinet, measures were taken for the recovery of what had been lost, and for the creation of a new colony west of the Alleghany Mountains for its security in the future. The Earl of Albemarle was then governor-in-chief of Virginia, with Dinwiddie as his lieutenant. He instructed the latter to grant lands to any persons desiring to settle in the Ohio region, not more than a thousand acres to each. So it was that Virginia became the pioneer in the extension of the colonies westward, and the mother of States in the great basins of the Ohio. At the same time the ministry were eager to regain, by military power, what had been lost. They could not wait for the slow process of colonization. Indeed the exigencies of the case would not permit. The direction of American affairs was left to the warlike Duke of Cumberland, then captain-general of the British army, and by his orders Dinwiddie prepared for a winter campaign against the French. He ordered Washington to join his regiment at Alexandria, to fill up the companies by enlistments, and to hasten to Will's Creek, where Colonel Innis was building Fort Cumberland, and with his own troops, and the remnants of companies from other colonies, march over the Alleghany Mountains and drive the French from Fort Duquesne. It was so late in the year that the mountains would be impassable on account of snow-drifts by an army inadequately supplied with food, clothing, and transportation. Washington knew this; and in a letter to one of the governor's council, he vehemently remonstrated. His words were heeded, and the mad scheme was abandoned.
Meanwhile French emissaries were busy among the Indian tribes west of the mountains, inciting them to a war of extermination against the English. The same influence had caused a murderous Indian raid upon the frontiers of New England; and yet, in full view of the impending danger, some of the colonies were strangely apathetic. Governor Shirley put forth energetic efforts in Massachusetts to avert the evil. New York subscribed twenty-five thousand dollars for military service, and Maryland thirty thousand dollars for the same. The British government sent over fifty thousand dollars to aid the colonists, and Virginia made an appropriation of the same amount.
The crown appointed Governor Sharpe, of Maryland, temporary commander-in-chief of all the colonial forces. This led to injurious disputes about military rank and precedence among the Virginia officers, when Dinwiddie, more zealous than wise--more rash than discreet--having a large sum of money at his disposal, and entirely ignorant of military affairs, assumed the responsibility of arranging these affairs in his colony as he pleased. He enlarged the provincial army to ten companies of one hundred men each and broke it up into companies, so that the highest rank in that little army was captain, and at the same time inferior in position to the same rank of those commissioned by the crown. Washington would not submit to the degradation, but resigned his commission and retired from the military service.
Knowing the value of Washington's services at that critical time, Governor Sharpe urged him to remain in the army, and intimated that he might hold his former commission. "This idea," wrote the indignant young Virginian, "has filled me with surprise, for, if you think me capable of holding a commission that has neither rank nor emolument annexed to it, you must entertain a very contemptible opinion of my weakness, and believe me to be more empty than the commission itself." He declined the appointment and added: "I shall have the consolation of knowing that I have opened the way, when the smallness of our numbers exposed us to the attacks of a superior enemy; and that I have had the thanks of my country for the services I have rendered."
The early portion of the ensuing winter was spent by the colonists in anxious solicitude. France and England had been coquetting, with mutual professions of friendship, while every movement of the French in America indicated hostile intentions. The necessity of a colonial union was never more apparent than then, and Franklin, who had set his heart on the project, visited Shirley to confer with him on the subject. At the governor's house in Boston they discussed the topic long. Shirley was favorable to union, but it must be effected by the fiat of the British government, and not by the spontaneous act of the colonists. Franklin's love of popular liberty would not consent to such a union, and he parted from Shirley with the assurance of the latter that he would immediately recommend not only a union planned by parliament, but a tax.
Meanwhile the British government, perceiving the peril of English dominion in America, resolved to send military aid to the colonists. Edward Braddock, an Irish officer of distinction then in Ireland, was appointed commander-in-chief of all British forces in America, and was ordered to proceed immediately to Virginia with two regiments of regular troops. He was a man soured by broken fortunes; haughty in spirit; brutal in manners; conceited and brave. He was ordered to call a council of royal governors on his arrival in America, and to exact a revenue from the colonies for military service. They were also to be informed that it was the king's pleasure "that a fund be established for the benefit of all the colonies collectively in North America"--a financial union--and that the general and field officers of the provincial forces should have no rank when serving with the general and field-officers commissioned by the king.
Braddock sailed with his two regiments. "What does that mean?" inquired the French minister. "Only defence, that the general peace may not be disturbed," replied the perfidious Duke of New Castle, of whom it had been written:
"He makes no promise but to break it; Faithful to nought but his own ends, The bitterest enemy to his friends; But to his fixt, undaunted foe, Obsequious, base, complying, low. Cunning supplies his want of parts; Treason and lies are all his arts."
Each government, evidently playing false toward the other, made friendly propositions for mutual concessions that were simply impossible; and so the matter stood when Braddock arrived in Chesapeake Bay, with his two regiments borne by vessels under Admiral Keppel. He first visited Governor Dinwiddie, at Williamsburgh, and then repaired to Alexandria, on the Potomac, with the admiral, where, at the middle of April, he held a council with royal governors at the fine house of Jonathan Carey. The governors present were Shirley, of Massachusetts; De Lancey, of New York; Sharpe, of Maryland; Morris, of Pennsylvania; Dobbs, of North Carolina; and Dinwiddie, of Virginia. These crown-officers told Braddock at the outset that the Assemblies would not comply with his demand for a revenue, nor the wishes of the king for a general fund for military purposes; and they agreed that it would be proper to recommend the government to take measures to force the colonies to bear their share of the expenses of the regular troops sent here. A communication to that effect, signed by the governors and the general, was sent to the ministers; but events would not wait on governors nor legislation. The council at Alexandria were compelled to take immediate action, or all would be lost. The warm weather was coming, and so were the French and Indians. So the council planned the campaign for 1755, depending upon the imperial government and the free-will of the colonists for the necessary supplies in executing it. Three separate expeditions were planned. One was to proceed against Fort Duquesne, led by General Braddock; a second was to attack Fort Niagara at the mouth of the Niagara River, and Fort Frontenac at the foot of Lake Ontario on the site of Kingston, and was to be led by General Shirley. A third expedition, led by William Johnson (a nephew of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, and then the government superintendent of Indian affairs among the Six Nations), was to attempt the seizure of Crown Point on Lake Champlain. A fourth expedition had already been planned in the East, for the expulsion of the French from Nova Scotia, and possibly the recapture of Louisburg.
The colonists were delighted by evidences that the imperial government intended to help them in their unequal contest with the French and Indians. They laid aside their grievances, and with zeal and patriotism joined the government in preparations for war. All of the colonial legislatures, excepting Pennsylvania and Georgia, voted men and supplies for the impending conflict. The Quaker Assembly of Pennsylvania were conscientiously opposed to military movements, and Georgia was too indigent in men and money to do anything.
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