Plans of Union, Colonial

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PLANS OF UNION, COLONIAL, were proposed by both the crown and the colonies throughout the colonial period, to promote a stable power structure (especially with regard to arbitration of trade and boundary disputes), to exercise greater control on the part of the crown over colonial assemblies, and to foster increased collaboration between colonies in the name of common interests. Each of the plans proposed a governing structure for the American colonies, whether crown appointed, popularly generated, or some combination of the two.

There was no effective union in colonial America until the Revolution; the colonies, each established separately—the result of corporate, proprietary, and royal interests—struggled with multiple agendas and intercolonial jealousies. There were, however, interests that united two or more of the colonies at a time, which resulted in diverse plans for union. Prime among the issues prompting plans for union was that of military defense against Native Americans and the protection of lands claimed by the British. Plans of union also addressed competition with Dutch and French trading interests in North America, in some instances related to competing trade agreements with Native Americans.

Frontier defense prompted several of the most prominent plans. The first known proposed union was the United Colonies of New England, a loose confederation including Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven, formed in 1643 for the purpose of uniting in common defense against Indians. (Attempts by the confederated commission to mediate boundary and trade disputes failed, largely because it was not sufficiently empowered to take action on those issues.) Similarly, in 1689, New York, Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut entered into a temporary military league, the Intercolonial Congress, to provide for frontier defense. The crown also proposed a union for common defense in 1698, to be administered by the earl of Bellomont, commissioned as governor of Massachusetts, New York, and New Hampshire. Colonial representatives proposed several plans in the early eighteenth century to the Board of Trade.

Notorious among the crown-instituted plans was the Dominion of New England (1686), which revoked the charters of Connecticut and Rhode Island, and merged them with Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth. These colonies, with the addition of New York and New Jersey in 1688, were joined in a royal dominion under one governor, Sir Edmund Andros, who was empowered to abolish all legislative assemblies.

Plans of union varied greatly with regard to the level of detail and proposed structures of governance. Several organized the colonies under a governor or director general appointed by the crown, assisted by an advisory council composed of an equal number of representatives from each of the colonies; others recommended the formation of an intercolonial assembly or congress. The Albany Plan was drafted by Benjamin Franklin and presented at a meeting in Albany, New York, in 1754, attended by representatives from seven colonies. Among the most detailed plans, it proposed a crown-appointed president-general and an intercolonial council with membership apportioned according to both wealth and population. Although accepted by the Albany Congress, the plan was rejected by the state legislatures and the crown.

The divergent interests that hobbled early plans for colonial union presaged the conflicts between colonies over the structure of a federal government in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.


Craven, Wesley Frank. The Colonies in Transition, 1660–1713. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

Dickerson, Oliver Morton. American Colonial Government: A Study of the British Board of Trade in its Relation to the American Colonies. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962. The original edition was published in 1939.

Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years' War in America. New York: Norton, 1988.

Johnson, Richard R. Adjustment to Empire: The New England Colonies, 1675–1715. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1981.

Leslie J.Lindenauer

See alsoFrontier Defense ; New England Colonies .

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