Historical Documents

of the United States of America

Franklin's Articles Of Confederation ~ 1775

Passed 21 July 1775


     Benjamin Franklin had, in March 1751, composed a document titled: Plan Of Union, in which he proposed a union of the various colonies and provinces. Franklin's document was set aside for the time being.
     In late-1753, a request was received from the Board Of Trade for the American Colonies to engage in a treaty with the Iroquois Nation. The Board Of Trade was involved in directing provincial affairs that dealt with trade and commerce between the individual colonies, between the colonies and Great Britain, and between the colonies and the Indian nations. It was felt that a unified approach to the trade with the Indian nations would be preferable to many, possibly conflicting treaties between individual colonies and the Indian nations. The French influence was increasing throughout the Indian nations, making a a unified treaty imperative. The Board of Trade sent letters suggesting a continental congress to the governors of Massachusetts-Bay, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. (Note: The deep southern colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia had practically no direct dealings with Iroquoian tribes. They were therefore left out of the suggested "Union". Also, despite being invited, New Jersey did not participate. The colonies which did send delegates included: New Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.)
      Between 19 June and 10 July 1754, delegates from the New England provinces and the Mid-Atlantic colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland met at Albany, New York to discuss the suggested treaty with the Iroquois chiefs and sachems who agreed to attend. The Albany Congress, as the meeting was called, gave Franklin the forum for introducing his Plan to delegates from the other colonies. Speeches were given and gifts were presented to the Indian chiefs and sachems. The Mohawk sachem, Hendrick, was the chief speaker for the Indians. As negotiations with the Indians proceeded, the delegates from the colonies met in side discussions to discuss forming a union of the colonies. A number of delegates had already formulated plans similar to Franklin's proposal. But of all the colonies, only the delegates from Massachusetts-Bay had received prior approval from their legislature to "enter into articles of union and confederation for the general defence of his Majesty's subjects and interests in North America, as well in time of peace as of war." Benjamin Franklin commented, in his personal papers, that on the 24th of June, "A motion was made, that the commissioners deliver their opinion whether a union of all the colonies is not at present absolutely necessary for their security and defence. The question was accordingly put, and passed in the affirmative unanimously." Franklin, in his papers, also noted that of all the plans, his "happened to be preferred, and, with a few amendments, was accordingly reported." The Plan was approved on 10 July by the delegates at the Albany Congress, but when submitted to Parliament and the King, it was rejected. In fact, when the Plan was presented by the Albany Congress delegates to their own Colonial Legislatures or Provincial Assemblies, it was rejected by some of them.
     Benjamin Franklin would resurrect his Plan Of Union, in part, twenty-one years later, in the form of the Articles Of Confederation. It was brought up for discussion during the session of 21 July, 1775. Once again, Franklin's suggested plan for a union / confederation was not approved by the delegates meeting in the Second Continental Congress. Certain points which Franklin introduced in his Plan Of Union and Articles Of Confederation would eventually, two years later, be reintroduced in the form of the Articles Of Confederation And Perpetual Union.


     Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union, entred into {agre} proposed by the Delegates of the several Colonies of New Hampshire, &c, in general Congress met at Philadelphia, May 10, 1775.
     Art. I. The Name of this Confederacy shall henceforth be The United Colonies of North America.
     Art. II. The said United Colonies hereby severally enter into a firm League of Friendship with each other, binding on themselves and their Posterity, for their common Defense {and Offence}, against their Enemies for the Security of their Liberties and Propertys, the Safety of their Persons and Families, and their {common and} mutual and general Welfare.
     Art. III. That each Colony shall enjoy and retain as much as it may think fit of its own present Laws, Customs, Rights, {and} Privileges, and peculiar Jurisdictions within its own Limits; and may amend its own Constitution as shall seem best to its own Assembly or Convention.
     Art. IV. That for the more convenient Management of general Interests, Delegates shall be annually elected in each Colony to meet in General Congress at such Time and Place as shall be agreed on in {each} the next preceding Congress. Only where particular Circumstances do not make a Deviation necessary, it is understood to be a Rule, that each succeeding Congress be held in a different Colony till the whole Number be gone through, and so in perpetual Rotation; and that accordingly the next Congress after the present shall be held {in the} at Annapolis in Maryland.
     Art. V. That the Power and Duty of the Congress shall extend to the Determining on War and Peace, to sending and receiving ambassadors, and entring into Alliances, [the Reconciliation with Great Britain;] the Settling all Disputes and Differences between Colony and Colony about Limits or any other cause if such should arise; and the Planting of new Colonies when proper.
     The Congress shall also make {and propose} such general {Regulations} Ordinances as tho’ necessary to the General Welfare, particular Assemblies {from their local Circum} cannot be competent to; viz. {such as may relate to} those that may relate to our general Commerce; or general Currency; to the Establishment of Posts; and the Regulation of our common Forces. The Congress shall also have the Appointment of all General Officers, civil and military, appertaining to the general Confederacy, such as General Treasurer, Secretary, &c.
     Art. VI. All Charges of Wars, and all other general Expenses to be incurr’d for the common Welfare, shall be defray’d out of a common Treasury, which is to be supply’d by each Colony in proportion to its Number of Male Polls between 16 and 60 Years of Age; the Taxes for paying that proportion are to be laid and levied by the Laws of each Colony. {And all Advantages gained at a common Expence.}
     Art. VII. The Number of Delegates to be elected and sent to the Congress by each Colony, shall be regulated from time to time by the Number of such Polls return’d; so as that one Delegate be allowed for every [5000] Polls. And the Delegates are to bring with them to every Congress, an authenticated Return of the number of Polls in the respective Provinces which is to be annually triennially taken for the Purposes above mentioned.
     Art. VIII. At every Meeting of the Congress One half of the Members return’d exclusive of Proxies be necessary to make a Quorum, and Each Delegate at the Congress, shall have a Vote in all Cases; and if necessarily absent, shall be allowed to appoint any other Delegate from the same Colony to be his Proxy, who may vote for him.
     Art. IX. An executive Council shall be appointed by the Congress out of their own Body, consisting of [12] Persons; of whom in the first Appointment one Third, viz. 4, shall be for one year, [4] for two Years, and [4] for three Years; and as the said Terms expire, the Vacancy shall be filled by Appointments for three Years, whereby One Third of the Members will be changed annually. And each Person who has served the said Term of three Years as Counsellor, shall have a Respite of three Years, before he can be elected again. {The Appointments to be determined by Ballot.} This Council (of whom two thirds shall be a Quorum), in the Recess of the Congress is to execute what shall have been enjoin’d thereby; to manage the general continental Business and Interests to receive Applications from foreign Countries; to prepare Matters for the Consideration of the Congress; to fill up [Pro tempore] {general} continental Offices that fall vacant; and to draw on the General Treasurer for such Monies as may be necessary for general Services, & appropriated by the Congress to such Services.
     Art. X. No Colony shall engage in an offensive War with any Nation of Indians without the Consent of the Congress, or great Council above mentioned, who are first to consider the Justice and Necessity of such War.
     Art. XI. A perpetual Alliance offensive and defensive, is to be enter’d into as soon as may be with the Six Nations; their Limits to be ascertained and secur’d to them; their Land not to be encroach’d on, nor any private or Colony Purchases made of them hereafter to be held good; nor any Contract for Lands to be made but between the Great Council of the Indians at Onondaga and the General Congress. The Boundaries and Lands of all the other Indians shall also be ascertain’d and secur’d to them in the same manner; and Persons appointed to reside among them in proper Districts, who shall take care to prevent Injustice in the Trade with them, and be enabled at our general Expense by occasional small Supplies, to relieve their personal Wants and Distresses. And all Purchases from them shall be by the {General} Congress for the General Advantage and Benefit of the United Colonies.
     Art. XII. As all new Institutions {are Subject to} may have Imperfections which only Time and Experience can discover, it is agreed, That the General Congress from time to time shall propose such Amendments of this Constitution as {they} may be found necessary; which being approv’d by a Majority of the Colony Assemblies, shall be equally binding with the rest of the Articles of this Confederation.
     Art. XIII. Any {other} and every Colony from Great Britain upon the Continent of North America and not at present engag’d in our Association {shall} may upon Application and joining the said Association be receiv’d into this Confederation, viz. [Ireland] the West India Islands, Quebec, St. Johns, Nova Scotia, Bermudas, and the East and West Floridas; and shall thereupon be entitled to all the Advantages of our Union, mutual Assistance and Commerce.
     These Articles shall be propos’d to the several Provincial Conventions or Assemblies, to be by them consider’d, and if approv’d they are advis’d to impower their Delegates to agree to and ratify the same in the ensuing Congress. After which the Union thereby establish’d is to continue firm till the Terms of Reconciliation proposed in the Petition of the last Congress to the King are agreed to; till the Acts since made restraining the American Commerce and Fisheries are repeal’d; till Reparation is made for the Injury done to Boston by shutting up its Port; for the Burning of Charlestown; and for the Expense of this unjust War; and till all the British Troops are withdrawn from America. On the Arrival of these Events the Colonies [shall] return to their former Connection and Friendship with Britain: But on Failure thereof this Confederation is to be perpetual.
From Journals Of The Continental Congress 1774-1789, Volume II, 1905, Government Printing Office, Pages 195-199.
Franklin's Short Hints
Towards A Scheme For Uniting The Northern Colonies ~ 1754


     The following are notes that Benjamin Franklin started out with to prepare his Plan Of Union.


     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 whatever is agreed on by him and that 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.
      ~ shillings sterling per diem, during their sitting, and milage for travelling expences.
     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 governor-general to judge of those circumstances, &c., and call by his writs.
     Its fund, an excise on strong liquors, pretty equally drunk in the colonies, or duty on liquor imported, or ~ shillings on each license of a 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 increase as that wealth increases, 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 governor-general and grand council jointly.
     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 garrison the forts, defend the frontiers, and annoy the enemy. Equip guard-vessels to scour the coasts from privateers in time of war, anmd protect the trade, and every thing that shall be found necessary for the defence and support of the colonies in general, and increasing and extending their settlements, &c.
     For the expense, they may draw on the fund in the treasury of any colony.
     The scheme, being first well considered, corrected, and improved by the commissioners at Albany, to be sent home, and an act of Parliament obtained for establishing it.
From Works Of Benjamin Franklin, Volume III, by Jared Sparks, 1840, Pages 22-55
The Albany Plan Of Union ~ 1754


     The following is the Plan Of Union approved by the delegates meeting in the Albany Congress.


     It is proposed that humble application be made for an act of Parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America, including all the said colonies, within and under which government each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act, as hereafter follows.
     PRESIDENT-GENERAL AND GRAND COUNCIL     That the said general government be administered by a President-General, to be appointed and supported by the crown; and a Grand Council, to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several Colonies met in their respective assemblies.
     ELECTION OF MEMBERS     That within - - - - -  months after the passing such act, the house of representatives that happen to be sitting within that time, or that shall be especially for that purpose convened, may and shall choose members for the grand council, in the following proportion, that is to say,
     Massachusett's Bay ~ 7
New Hampshire ~ 2
Connecticut ~ 5
Rhode Island ~ 2
New York ~ 4
New Jersey ~ 3
Pennsylvania ~ 6
Maryland ~ 4
Virginia ~ 7
North Carolina ~ 4
South Carolina ~ 4
     PLACE OF FIRST MEETING     - - - - - who shall meet for the first time at the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, being called by the President-General as soon as conveniently may be after his appointment.
     NEW ELECTION     That there shall be a new election of the members of the Grand Council every three years; and, on the death or resignation of any member, his place should be supplied by a new choice at the next sitting of the Assembly of the colony he represented.
     PROPORTION OF MEMBERS AFTER THE FIRST THREE YEARS     That after the first three years, when the proportion of money arising out of each colony to the general treasury can be known, the number of members to be chosen for each colony shall, from time to time, in all ensuing elections, be regulated by that proportion, yet so as that the number to be chosen by any one province be not more than seven, nor less than two.
     MEETINGS OF THE GRAND COUNCIL, AND CALL     That the Grand Council shall meet once in every year, and oftener if occasion require, at such time and place as they shall adjourn to at the last preceding meeting, or as they shall be called to meet at by the President-General on any emergency; he having first obtained in writing the consent of seven of the members to such call, and sent due and timely notice to the whole.
     CONTINUANCE     That the Grand Council have power to choose their speaker; and shall neither be dissolved, prorogued, nor continued sitting longer than six weeks at one time, without their own consent or the special command of the crown.
     MEMBERS’ ALLOWANCE     That the members of the Grand Council shall be allowed for their service ten shillings sterling per diem, during their session and journey to and from the place of meeting; twenty miles to be reckoned a day's journey.
     ASSENT OF PRESIDENT-GENERAL AND HIS DUTY     That the assent of the President-General be requisite to all acts of the Grand Council, and that it be his office and duty to cause them to be carried into execution.
     POWER OF PRESIDENT-GENERAL AND GRAND COUNCIL; TREATIES OF PEACE AND WAR     That the President-General, with the advice of the Grand Council, hold or direct all Indian treaties, in which the general interest of the Colonies may be concerned; and make peace or declare war with Indian nations.
     INDIAN TRADE     That they make such laws as they judge necessary for regulating all Indian trade.
     INDIAN PURCHASES.     That they make all purchases from Indians, for the crown, of lands not now within the bounds of particular Colonies, or that shall not be within their bounds when some of them are reduced to more convenient dimensions.
     NEW SETTLEMENTS   That they make new settlements on such purchases, by granting lands in the King's name, reserving a quit-rent to the crown for the use of the general treasury.
     LAWS TO GOVERN THEM   That they make laws for regulating and governing such new settlements, till the crown shall think fit to form them into particular governments.
     RAISE SOLDIERS, AND EQUIP VESSELS, &c.   That they raise and pay soldiers and build forts for the defence of any of the colonies, and equip vessels of force to guard the coasts and protect the trade on the ocean, lakes, or great rivers; but they shall not impress men in any colony, without the consent of the legislature.
     POWER TO MAKE LAWS, LAY DUTIES, &c.   That for these purposes they have power to make laws, and lay and levy such general duties, imposts, or taxes, as to them shall appear most equal and just (considering the ability and other circumstances of the inhabitants in the several colonies), and such as may be collected with the least inconvenience to the people; rather discouraging luxury, than loading industry with unnecessary burthens.
     GENERAL TREASURER AND PARTICULAR TREASURER   That they may appoint a General Treasurer and Particular Treasurer in each government, when necessary; and from time to time may order the sums in the treasuries of each government into the general treasury; or draw on them for special payments, as they find most convenient.
     MONEY, HOW TO ISSUE   Yet no money to issue but by joint orders of the President-General and Grand Council; except where sums have been appropriated to particular purposes, and the President-General is previously empowered by an act to draw such sums.
     ACCOUNTS   That the general accounts shall be yearly settled and reported to the several Assemblies.
     QUORUM   That a quorum of the Grand Council, empowered to act with the President-General, do consist of twenty-five members; among whom there shall be one or more from a majority of the colonies.
     LAWS TO BE TRANSMITTED   That the laws made by them for the purposes aforesaid shall not be repugnant, but, as near as may be, agreeable to the laws of England, and shall be transmitted to the King in Council for approbation, as soon as may be after their passing; and if not disapproved within three years after presentation, to remain in force.
     DEATH OF THE PRESIDENT-GENERAL   That, in case of the death of the President-General, the Speaker of the Grand Council for the time being shall succeed, and be vested with the same powers and authorities, to continue till the King's pleasure be known.
     OFFICERS, HOW APPOINTED   That all military commission officers, whether for land or sea service, to act under this general constitution, shall be nominated by the President-General; but the approbation of the Grand Council is to be obtained, before they receive their commissions. And all civil officers are to be nominated by the Grand Council, and to receive the President-General's approbation before they officiate.
     VACANCIES, HOW SUPPLIED   But, in case of vacancy by death or removal of any officer civil or military under this constitution, the Governor of the province in which such vacancy happens may appoint, till the pleasure of the President-General and Grand Council can be known.
     EACH COLONY MAY DEFEND ITSELF ON EMERGENCY, &c.   That the particular military as well as civil establishments in each colony remain in their present state, the general constitution notwithstanding; and that on sudden emergencies any colony may defend itself, and lay the accounts of expense thence arising before the President-General and General Council, who may allow and order payment of the same, as far as they judge such accounts just and reasonable.
From Works Of Benjamin Franklin, Volume III, by Jared Sparks, 1840, Pages 37-55