Benjamin Franklin and the Need for Unity among the Colonies

Benjamin Franklin

Found in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753

Benjamin Franklin was one of the earliest promoters of the idea of a union of the English colonies in North America, as can be seen in the following quotation.

…I imagine such an union might thereby be made and established; for reasonable, sensible men, can always make a reasonable scheme appear such to other reasonable men, if they take pains, and have time and opportunity for it; unless from some circumstances their honesty and good intentions are suspected. A voluntary union entered into by the colonies themselves, I think, would be preferable to one imposed by parliament; for it would be perhaps not much more difficult to procure, and more easy to alter and improve, as circumstances should require and experience direct. It would be a very strange thing, if Six Nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming a scheme for such an union, and be able to execute it in such a manner, as that it has subsisted ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like union should be impracticable for ten or a dozen English colonies, to whom it is more necessary and must be more advantageous, and who cannot be supposed to want an equal understanding of their interests. (FROM: Philadelphia, March 20, 1751)

This is taken from a letter Franklin wrote to his friend James Parker on March 20, 1751, in which he both bemoans the inability of the colonies to unite (in part because of poor relations between royal governors and democratic assemblies) and points to the Iroquois Confederacy as an example that should be followed. He believed that friendship with the Confederacy would be easier if the colonies were united, and he further argued that being on good terms with the Indians would be crucial if war should ever break out between English and French colonialists. A few years later, the “Rupture with the French” that Franklin feared occurred. In an item Franklin published on May 9, 1754, Franklin reported on French advances and British losses along the Monongahela River. The report concluded, “The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies, and the extreme Difficulty in of bring so many different Governments and Assemblies to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures for our common Defense and Security; while our enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one Direction, with one Council, and one Purse.” Immediately under this report was the first editorial cartoon in an American newspaper bearing the caption, “JOIN, or DIE.” Franklin continued to support the idea of union with the Albany Plan and later with the Declaration of Independence and at the Philadelphia convention in 1787.