The Albany Congress

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Mural detail of the Albany Congress
Detail from a set of four thematic murals (each with three historical sub-scenerios) painted by David C. Lithgow for display at the New York World's Fair in 1939. Those murals are in the collection of the New York State Museum. Other modern renderings of the historic conclave are depicted online.

The Albany Congress met in Albany from June 19 to July 11, 1754. Holding daily meetings at the City Hall, official delegates from seven colonies considered strategies for Indian diplomacy and put forth the so-called Albany Plan of Union.

Unsure of its authority to participate, the province of New York[1][2] sent only an unofficial delegation which included Lieutenant Governor James De Lancey and two men with strong Albany connections, William Johnson and Peter Wraxall. The Mohawks and other Native groups were represented at the meetings as well. Livingston son-in-law William Alexander also attended representing his ailing father[3].

Aside from its overall significance, the Albany Congress was a not unimportant event in the history of Albany. The Albany meeting site pointed up Albany's function as the last outpost of European-style civilization before the frontier - a place where settlers, officials, and native peoples had and would continue to come together to consider matters of mutual concern[4]. Among the agendas for the convention, was a plan to replace provincial Indian Commissioners with a Royal Superintendent of Indian Affairs - which was aimed directly at the Albany Indian commissioners who were seen by the British as self-interested merchants whose core ambitions were antagonist to Imperial policy.

The meetings brought Benjamin Franklin and other important Americans to Albany - opening up the inland community to the outside world[5]. The trip was instructive for many of these colonial leaders. Over a month of intensive activity, the convention gave notoriously insular Albany people ranging from mayor Robert Sanders and the city fathers to the rank and file citizenry[6] their first prolonged contact with other Americans whose cultural heritage was substantially different from their own. For all concerned, the summer of 1754 provided images and lessons that many of them would not forget.

With the burning of Hoosick just a month later by Canada based raiders triggering the resumption of overt hostilities between the forces of France and Britain delegates, British officials, native peoples, and everyone in Albany itself had already been accorded a wake-up call to the dangers of unpreparedness and inaction. A long war would follow[7].

The Albany Congress has been accorded its place in most standard American history books and in virtually all the historical accounts of the history of Albany. It also has been the subject of two major monographic studies[8]. Unlike most of the heritage-inspired narratives, these scholarly works begin to place the event[s] in some rational perspective!

  1. The eastern part of the entity that became New York State in 1776 existed in several of geopolitical incarnations after it ceased to be New Netherland in 1664. By the 1750s, it was a royal province and part of the worldwide British Empire.
  2. Province of New York
  3. Married to Sara Livingston Alexander, daughter of Philip Livingston.
  4. The Albany Fur Trade
  5. Newcomers to Albany
  6. Loudoun's Enquiry, November 1756
  7. "The Seven Years War," the "French and Indian War," and the "Great War for Empire".
  8. Robert C. Newbold, The Albany Congress and the Plan of Union of 1754 (Vantage Press of New York, 1955), a self-published but still solid political/diplomatic narrative. Timothy J. Shannon, Crossroads of Empire; Indians, Colonists, and the Albany Congress of 1754 (Cornell University Press, 2000), a social history of the convention and a reinterpretation of its significance. The then existing published articles are noted in these works. Beginning with its Wikipedia entry, the event has and continues to inspire a voluminous and multi-layered print and online exposition.