Decades before Americans contemplated a break with the British Empire, influential figures planned to promote a revolution beyond the boundaries of the original thirteen colonies. French, Spanish, Russian, British, and Indian groups uneasily interacted with one another in what eighteenth-century observers called the "western territories," then comprising more than two-thirds of what would later be the U.S. mainland. French and Indian encroachments on British settlements, in particular, threatened to encircle the residents of the colonies, imperiling their security and economy. Assembling in Albany, New York, between 19 June and 10 July 1754, representatives from seven of the colonies (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York) responded to these circumstances. They outlined an agenda for the future political unity and diplomatic expansion of American society. Although never officially implemented, the socalled Albany Plan created the foundation for a future revolution on the North American continent and abroad.
Benjamin Franklin, the charismatic Pennsylvania entrepreneur and politician, drafted much of the Albany Plan. He began with a call for unity among the colonies, under the leadership of a president general. This figure would work with a grand council of colonial representatives to "make peace or declare war with the Indian Nations." Beyond issues of territorial defense, the president general would also purchase lands for new settlements outside of the original colonies. On the expanding American frontier, the president general would "make laws" regulating commerce and society. Franklin and the other contributors to the Albany Plan devoted little attention to the interests of the Indians or the French. This was a scheme designed to make the residents of the "western territories" live by American (and British) laws. Trade would be organized according to American customs of contract. Settled farming and industry would replace the migratory livelihoods of many indigenous communities. Most significantly, land would be apportioned as personal property, demarcated, and defended with government force.
The historian Richard White has shown that before the second half of the eighteenth century, the various groups encountering one another in the western territories engaged in a series of careful compromises. European traders negotiated with Indian communities as mutual dependents. They exchanged gifts, accommodated their different interests, and intermixed culturally. White has called this the "middle ground" that naturally existed where diverse peoples, each with expansionist aims, came together.
The Albany Plan was one of the first instances when Americans acted self-consciously to convert the middle ground into clearly American ground. Benjamin Franklin and his successors would not tolerate the uncertainty that came through constant compromise with diverse interests. They rejected a strategy of balance among various groups. The Albany Plan sought to remake the frontier in America's image. It marked a revolutionary application of liberty and enterprise beyond America's then-limited boundaries.
Franklin's 1754 proposals set a precedent for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and subsequent policies that unified the territories later comprising the United States as a single economic market, under a single set of "civilized" laws. Liberty and enterprise became the touchstones for legitimate authority in lands previously occupied by peoples with different traditions of political organization.
Americans had clear economic and security interests in the West, but they also felt a sense of racial and cultural superiority that was exemplified in Franklin's references to "savages" on the frontier. In the next century these assumptions would find expression in an asserted American manifest destiny to revolutionize the "backward" hinterlands.
American policy after 1754 emphasized westward expansion and the export of revolution. This translated into explicit territorial occupation, forced population removals, and the extension of a single nation. Before independence these ideas were recognizable. They became most evident, in North America and across the Atlantic Ocean, at the dawn of the nineteenth century. American support for revolutionary activities would soon extend far beyond the nation's western frontier.