As noted in three prior posts—herehere, and here—there were very many documentary antecedents to the Constitution. This series is designed to correct the claim that the Constitution’s framers had little available guidance and/or that they “just made things up.”

This fourth and final post in the series thumb nails yet another of the Constitution’s predecessors: The Albany Plan of Union.

The Albany Plan of Union was drafted by Benjamin Franklin. In 1754 he was serving as a commissioner from Pennsylvania at a convention of colonies in Albany, New York. (Conventions of colonies were frequent, and were the predecessors to conventions of states.) Also in attendance were representatives of the Iroquois tribes.

The colonies represented in Albany decided to recommend Franklin’s Plan of Union, but the Plan subsequently failed to win the support from the colonial legislatures or from the British Parliament. However, the Americans learned from it. Some of the Plan’s features foreshadowed the Articles of Confederation, some foreshadowed the Constitution, and some foreshadowed both. These features included:

* A grand council—unicameral as Congress was under the Articles, but weighted in representation by state as under the Constitution. The grand council would be elected by colonial legislatures for three year terms, as Congress was under the Articles.

* The grand council was to choose its own speaker, as Congress did under both later systems.

* As under the Constitution, there was to be an independent unitary executive. He was called the president-general, but he was appointed by the Crown rather than elected.

* As under the Constitution, the president-general could veto bills passed by the grand council. However, the president-general’s veto would not be subject to override.

* The executive and legislature were to enjoy enumerated powers, as Congress did under the Articles and as the federal government was to receive under the Constitution. As under both the Articles and the Constitution, these powers included authority over military matters and trade with the Indians. As under the Constitution, the Albany Plan would have granted the legislature the power to tax.

* The president-general was to make treaties, as the president was to do so under the Constitution.

You can find the Albany Plan of Union here.

Rob Natelson

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