Joseph Galloway’s Plan of Union

Prewar Politics (<1775)

January 26, 2022
by James M. Smith Also by this Author


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Late in September 1774 the Continental Congress was in the middle of an ongoing debate on the means that should be implemented to restore American rights. Most of the discussion was around methods of confrontation with Britain, embargoes, and non-consumption activities, as well as the breaking down of British law and order in the colonies. Most of the petitions sent to the King of England, while purporting to be from “loyal subjects of His Majesty,” were couched in terms of confrontation and demands.

In the midst of all those discussions, Joseph Galloway, a delegate from Pennsylvania, and Speaker of the House of Representatives in that colony, as well as a long-time friend of Benjamin Franklin, stepped forward with a plan that, he felt, would resolve all the outstanding issues between America and Great Britain. Galloway was more than willing to concede that America had “legitimate complaints” with regards to the recent laws passed by the British Parliament respecting the American colonies. The problem, he felt, was that radical leaders, primarily in New England and Virginia, were pushing for a complete capitulation to American demands while making no attempt at compromise. This was leading to ever more talk of independence. Galloway pointed out that the instructions from various colonial legislatures stated that the goal of the Continental Congress was to find a way to redress the differences between America and Britain and restore the harmony between the two that existed prior to 1765, when the Stamp Act was proposed.

On September 28, 1774 Galloway offered his plan to the congress. He said in his opening remarks that the issue between America and Britain was a “simple constitutional problem.”[1]

His plan, he felt, would not just solve the immediate problems, but was a plan in which a mechanism would be set up and that it would solve all future problems between the two countries. It was a plan that was remarkably like the British Commonwealth that was established in the nineteenth century throughout the British empire to order and regulate relations between Britain and the colonies around the world. But it was first proposed in the American Continental Congress in 1774, and was supported by James Duane and John Jay of New York as well as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. What the congressmen were about to hear was a plan that, had it passed, would have stopped any talk of independence as it would have provided a mechanism for both countries to get much of what each wanted and at the same time retain ties between the two countries.

Galloway opened his remarks by saying, “I have wanted to hear a more effectual plan with respect to non-importation. Non-importation will, I think, be too gradual for the relief of Boston.” It must be remembered that what caused the Continental Congress to convene was that the British had blockaded the city of Boston and nothing could get in or get out. Shops were shut down, shipping stopped, unemployment raged, and there was a shortage of food. The people of Boston were in great distress. Non-importation would take a long time before any pressure could be brought to convince the British to withdraw the blockade around Boston. Galloway also pointed out that non-importation would have a negative economic impact on America. In Pennsylvania alone, he pointed out, there would be “tens of thousands of people thrown upon the cold hand of charity; our seamen would be thrown out of bread . . . our shipwrights, our seamen out of employ.”

He went on to explain how in the French and Indian War some colonies, like Pennsylvania, did little to help in the war effort; that the cost of the war was born primarily on the people of Great Britain. He claimed that this

Gave occasion to the stamp act. America, with great reason and justice complained of the stamp act. Had [America] proposed some plan of policy, some negotiation . . . it would have terminated in the most-happy harmony between the two countries. [Parliament] repealed the stamp act, but they passed the declaratory act . . . We want the aid of our mother country. Protection and allegiance are reciprocal duties. Can we lay claim to the money and protection of Great Britain upon any principle of honor or conscience . . . We must come to some terms with Great Britain.[2]

Galloway then outlined his plan.

A Plan of Union

A plan of a proposed union between Great Britain and the (thirteen colonies).
That a British and American legislature for regulating the administration of the general affairs of America be proposed and established in America, including all the said colonies, within and under which government each colony shall retain its present constitution and powers regulating and governing its own internal policies in all cases whatsoever.
That the said government be administered by a President General to be appointed by the king and a Grand Council to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several colonies in these representative assemblies, once every three years.
That the government shall meet at the city of__________.
That there shall be a new election of members of the Grand Council every three years.
That the Grand Council shall meet once in every year if they shall think it necessary, and oftener if occasion shall require.
At such time and place as they shall adjourn to at the last Proceeding meeting, or as they shall be called to meet at by The President General in any emergency.
That the said Grand Council shall have the power to choose their speaker, and shall hold and exercise all the rights and liberties and privileges as are held by and in the House of Commons in Britain.
That the President General by and with the advice and consent of the Grand Council hold and exercise all the legislative rights and powers and authorities necessary for regulating and administering all general policies and affairs of the colonies . . .
That the said President and Grand Council be an inferior and distinct branch of the British legislature . . . and that any of the general regulations may originate . . . either in the Parliament of Great Britain or in the said Grand Council . . . and transmitted to the other for their approbation or dissent and that the assent of both shall be requisite to the validity of all such general acts or statutes.
That in time of war, all bills for granting aids to the crown Proposed by the Grand Council and approved by the President General shall be valid and passed into law without the assent of the British parliament . . .

The plan immediately got the attention of the Congress, some favorable and some not. It was discussed back and forth all day. At one point John Jay asked a rhetorical question: “Does the plan give up any liberty, or interfere with anyone’s rights?” Rutledge said that he felt “the plan may be freed from almost any objection: I think it almost a perfect plan.” The only change he wanted to make was to insert a bill of rights.

Richard Henry Lee of Virginia rose to object, saying that he could not agree to it without consulting his constituents in Virginia. Patrick Henry also objected to the plan. He was afraid the individual colonial legislatures would be weakened by the plan. This was the primary reason that a similar plan offered by Benjamin Franklin during the French and Indian War was killed by every colonial legislature in America. None of them wanted to concede any power or authority to a national legislature.[3] To these objections Galloway replied that in “every government . . . there must be a supreme legislature. I know of no American Constitution. We have a Virginia Constitution, [and] a Pennsylvania Constitution. We are totally independent of each other. Every gentleman here thinks that Parliament ought to have power over trade, because Britain protects it and us. Why will we not declare it?”[4]

Galloway went on by pointing out that in his opinion two factions had formed in the Continental Congress. The first group attempted to define American rights and find a solution in which those grievances could be redressed and a firmer foundation be laid regulating relations between America and Great Britain. The other faction, according to Galloway, had their design, ever since the stamp act, to seek independence and was ready to use “every fiction, falsehood and fraud” to get their way. He reminded the congress that he was sent to the congress with instructions from the Pennsylvania legislature to propose “some mode, by with the harmony between Great Britain and the colonies might be restored on constitutional principles.”

He felt that those members of the American resistance who, on the one hand, declared that parliament had no right to pass laws for America andon the other rejected American representation in parliament as impractical and disingenuous. He found their claim to be “loyal subjects” to the crown of Britain to be ridiculous. The position propounded by the radicals, Galloway felt, could only be understood as calling for American independence, no matter how often they tried to claim it was not.

He did agree that the system of government, as it then existed was not “perfectly constitutional”; therefor there was a need to redress that system and that is what he sought to do with his plan of union. He stated that he wished to see the current government changed so that “the right to participate in the supreme council of the state [was] extended . . . not only to America, but to all the British dominions.”

He pointed out that Parliament’s attempt to tax Americans was “neither unjust or oppressive,” as it was needed to offset the huge debt incurred in the last war against France, but that it was “in want of constitutional . . . authority.” Thus, what Galloway was trying to do was find a way to make the process constitutional and give Americans a voice in those laws and taxes that were passed.[5]

At the end of the day, Galloway thought the plan had a chance to pass. It was to be taken up the next day. However, overnight the radicals were able to gather enough support to have the debate postponed so that, ostensibly, it could be further studied and debated at length. It was ordered to lay on the table for further consideration.

Earlier in the month there had been new elections for the seats in the Pennsylvania Assembly. John Dickinson, more famously known as the Pennsylvania Farmer, and Charles Thomson, secretary to the Continental Congress and one of the more radical leaders of the resistance movement in Pennsylvania, were elected to the legislature, along with a number of other new people. This meant that the conservatives were no longer in control of the legislature. They dismissed Galloway as speaker and elected a new man. They also appointed John Dickinson to be a part of the Pennsylvania delegation to the Continental Congress. This made the radicals in the congress very happy, at least for the time being. In the next Congress, in 1775, the radicals, especially John and Samuel Adams, felt that Dickinson was not radical enough.[6] But for now, they were very glad to have Dickinson as it weakened Galloway as the main leader of the conservative group in the congress. John Adams noted in his diary that this event was “no small event . . . [it] will make a great weight in favor of the American cause.”[7]

For the radicals there was to be no compromise offered to Great Britain, it was to be all or nothing. While they never said the word “independence” it was becoming all too clear, in the fall of 1774, to the conservatives in Congress, that independence was exactly what they were after.

The congress waited thirty days before bringing up Galloway’s plan again. By this time the radicals had managed to take control and on October 22 they met to vote on the plan. The radicals had, during this time, garnered enough votes so that they had a majority in each of the thirteen colonial delegations so that the plan was defeated 13-0. A large number of delegates voted for the plan, but as the vote was by colony, there is no record of just how many did vote for the plan. Not only did the plan go down in defeat, the radicals added one more blow to Galloway: they voted to have all references to the plan stricken from the record. It was to be as if it was never mentioned or discussed or even voted on. By striking it from the official records of the congress it was like it never happened. This had to have been a humiliation to Galloway. Samuel Ward, of Rhode Island, noted in his diary, “Congress rejected Galloway’s plan of union.”[8]

By this time sides were becoming so hardened it was becoming dangerous to speak out against the radicals. Samuel Verplank, a resident of New York, and a member of the Committee of 51, a committee set up to enforce the non-importation agreement in New York, asked Galloway to write and keep him informed of what was going on. Galloway wrote back saying, “[when] you requested that I would give you my ‘sentiments occasionally on the state of our public affairs’ did you consider the danger or the difficulty of the task? You did not!” This was not so much of a criticism of Verplank, but a recognition that free speech was becoming dangerous. Galloway went on to complain that these were not the times

when you may think what you please and speak what you think . . . I often mourn to see that country, which ever since its settlement has been deemed the first in the world for virtuous liberty; . . . [it is] now governed by the barbarian rule of ambitious fools and impolitic madmen, whose fury, candor, [and] virtuous quality are equally liable . . . nor did you consider the difficulty, for while such scenes of confusion and destruction maintain the ascent in America; . . . submit the inviolable liberty of the press, [to be] destroyed, [and] America arming . . . in opposition to her parent state, and that state sending over fleets and troops to support her ancient authority . . . From a view of all the facts . . . I have no doubt but that the dispute between the two countries is now near its crises . . . and whenever it be determined, by arms or otherwise, Great Britain will never give up supreme authority.[9]

With this defeat in the congress, Galloway was feeling the pressure around him.

After the congress concluded its session and the members went home to their respective colonies a dejected Joseph Galloway did not stay in Pennsylvania, his home. He went to New York. Having his Plan of Union completely erased from the congressional record meant that it would never be revealed to the public. They would never know that there had been a plan presented that could have solved the issues between the colonies and the mother country and also would have preserved the connection between the colonies and Great Britain. In going to New York, he had access to the one publisher still willing to publish pamphlets written by Tories as well as radicals.

The only reason we know the details of Galloway’s plan to the congress is because the Rivington press agreed to publish a broadside in which Galloway outlined just what happened in the congress and reproduced his Plan of Union for all to read. The few notes left behind in the diaries of John Adams and one two other delegates do not give clear picture of what happened and why. In the Journals published by the Library of Congress on page 51, Vol. 1, the one single sentence referring to Galloway’s motion is struck out and the rest of the record is absolutely silent on the matter. Furthermore, there is no written record of the vote either to place the proposal on the table, nor that it was expunged from the record. In addition, there is no notation in any letters or diaries from any of the radical members of congress as to what happened.

It was left to Galloway himself to explain things as best he could. He titled this publication A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great Britain and the American Colonies with a Plan of Accommodation.[10] He published this pamphlet, he said, because he felt that the American people had a right to know that there was a plan that had been put forth in the congress that might have avoided the confrontation that was looming. He pointed out that in his plan he was open to “revisions and alterations.” He further pointed out that the plan had been seconded and was “thought worthy of further consideration” by a number of members of the congress and that at the end of the day it was ordered to lie on the table for further consideration, whereupon he thought that it would be further discussed the next day; that it took thirty days before congress revisited his plan, only to have it defeated and all references to it expunged.

Galloway said in his Candid Examination that some delegates said they had no authority to consent “to a political union between the two countries.” Galloway felt that this was a “curious argument” as they were still, and always had been, members of the British Empire, considered themselves British subjects and were claiming the rights of British citizens. It would seem that there already existed a kind of political union. The only question was what was the nature of that union? What Galloway’s plan was trying to do was clarify that union and put it upon a sound constitutional foundation that protected American rights and interests.

Others argued that the members of the Grand Council, as proposed by Galloway, could “be corrupted and betray the interests of the colonies.” That could be true of any legislative body. In fact, the settlers in the more western parts of several colonies were sure that was true of their own colonial legislatures. The more rural settlers tended to mistrust their own legislatures as they were dominated by the richer planter and merchant class that lived along the coast.

Galloway pointed out to the congress that he did agree with the radicals in America on one point, that America was not represented in Parliament, therefore could not be lawfully taxed by Parliament. He agreed that Americans had “grievances to complain of” but disagreed with the mode of obtaining redress.

Galloway pointed out that America had three choices. The first was that America must submit to parliamentary authority. The second was to be a conquered people. The idea that America might actually be victorious in an armed struggle against the might of the British Empire and gain independence was still a novel idea in the minds of most people.[11] The only realistic outcome of such a struggle was that Britain would impose its will by force and then Americans would be totally conquered. The only real option, for Galloway, was a third option, to seek redress in a union with the mother country in a constitutional form that protected America and acknowledged British sovereignty over the colonies. That was just what Galloway was trying to do with his plan. Historian William H. Nelsonpoints out that “Galloway went to the heart . . . of the constitutional impasse between Britain and America”.[12]

Galloway tried to point out that a “legislative union with Britain would not only exempt the colonies from onerous parliamentary restrictions, it would enable the colonies to contribute to the cost of empire, without any loss of freedom”.[13] It was a win-win solution as far as Galloway could see. But it was not to be. By now most radicals and some moderates had come to view the British parliament as a corrupt body full of corrupt men. Benjamin Franklin was a man who had been very much in favor of the concept of a grand British Empire, who had until recently hobnobbed with rich and powerful men in Parliament, and had just proudly watched his son be made Royal Governor of New Jersey. But with the publication of the Hutchinson papers and the reaction by Parliament, he now had a very different view of that same Parliament. Upon hearing of Galloways plan he wrote, “When I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this old, rotten state, and the glorious public virtue so predominant in our rising country, I cannot but apprehend more mischief than benefit from a closer union” with Britain.[14]

Galloway began his defense of his plan by explaining to the American people the problems in America as he saw them, painting a dark picture:

When we see freedom of speech suppressed, the liberty and secrecy of press destroyed, the voice of truth silenced: a lawless power established throughout the colonies . . . depriving men of their natural rights and inflecting penalties more severe than death itself . . . it is the duty of every man of the least ability to try and retain them from their folly and to save them from destruction before it is too late. With this design I am resolved to review the most important controversy that ever was agitated between a state and its members, in the hopes that my countrymen . . . will at length listen to reason and truth.[15]

He went on to outline the situation facing his fellow citizens in plain words. “In order to ascertain the constitutional extent of parliamentary authority; to determine whether the colonies are members of the British state, and, if they are,[16] to mark out their just rights, and to propose a remedy to reconcile them upon principles of government and liberty.”

He then outlined those principles of government that were, he felt essential to any government. First there was no position more established in any state than there must be, what he called, a “supreme legislative authority, universal in its extent, over every member [of the state]. This truth [is] the principle upon which all governments from their earliest ages have established [and] uniformly demonstrated.”

The second principle of government, he declared, was that there needed to be a united people sharing “common lawsto which they all submit with one accord.

He quoted Lock in saying that the first “fundamental positive law” was “establishing the legislative power.The legislative is not only the, supreme power of the commonwealth, but [that principle] is sacred and unalterable . . . and there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which, all the rest are, and must be, subordinate. Without these two principles there can be no civil society.”

Galloway went on to make, what was for him, a key point: “Either the colonies must be considered as complete members of the state, or so many different communities, in a state of nature, and independent of it.”

He then addressed an important factor in the British constitution that most American radicals simply were ignoring, that the king ruled through Parliament. Galloway found it absurd for Americans to constantly protest that they were loyal subjects of the king and yet disobey the laws passed by Parliament in the king’s name and with his signature. “All the resolves and petitions of the American assemblies, town meetings, provincial committees and even the proceedings of the Continental Congress” were mistaken and irrelevant because in submitting these petitions to the king only, they refused to recognize that his power existed only in Parliament. Galloway pointed out that the oaths of allegiance given to the king were made to him, not as a supreme ruler, but rather as a “supreme executive of the law,” made by a joint power of him and Parliament. All obedience “ultimately terminates in the supreme power of the legislature.”He explained petitions sent by Americans to the king were bound to fail because they refused to recognize this fact. The king could not, on his own power, overrule any act of Parliament.

The American declaration of rights proposed by the Continental Congress asserted “that the colonies are entitled to a free and exclusive right, or powers of legislation, where their rights of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign.” Galloway concluded that “no words can convey a more perfect claim of independence, from the British legislature.” The key problem for Americans was to “reinterpret this political theory” of “king in parliament’ into their argument that the colonial legislatures were equal to Parliament and  at the same time claim they were not seeking independence. “This was their conundrum.”[17]

Men like Galloway and Thomas Hutchinson, the Royal Governor of Massachusetts,[18] as well as political theorist John Locke, recognized that after 1688 all the legislative authority in the British government lay with Parliament. American radicals kept insisting on recognizing the sole authority of the king as separate from that of Parliament. They failed to recognize that the king had absolutely no authority to do what they wanted. The king recognized the limitations of his authority, therefor he refused to recognize the American petitions and never bothered to answer any of them.

Galloway did recognize that Americans had rights which they at present did not enjoy, and that these rights “are as firmly established as those of parliament,” but from where those rights came, and how to express them, had been lost. Galloway pointed out that those rights “can be traced to no other foundation but that wherein they originate.” They could be located “in the constitution of the British state.” He argued that what was needed was not some earth-shaking redefinition of rights nor complete independence, nor complete submission. Galloway went on to do a short review of the history of the English Constitution and pointed out that when English settlers came to America, they came before the British constitution was completely formed in 1688. Their settlement, predating the current form of the constitution, while guaranteeing the rights of Americans as British subjects, had no provision, no mechanism, in place to make those rights a reality. He pointed out that for the first several decades no one gave the problem any thought as Parliament never thought to tax Americans directly. Galloway argued that his plan of union could create the mechanism needed to guarantee American rights and satisfy the supremacy of Parliament. He felt that in rejecting his plan of union the American radicals had painted themselves into a corner in which the only way out was through the window of independence. As he saw it, the margin of error in seeking resolutions to the dispute between America and Britain “was perilously small.” In rejecting his plan any hope of compromise was missed. One recent historian has observed, “If ever accepted by both the colonies and the crown, the plan would have served the cause of reconciliation much more effectively than Royal Governors and redcoats . . . it could have remedied the alarming deficiency of communication between opponents of a radical resolution throughout the colonies.”[19]

Joseph Galloway was to play no further role in American politics. He found that his ability to get anything meaningful done in the legislature was past. He resigned his seat, and worked on his publication to vindicate his Plan of Union. After fighting broke out he became a loyalist and stayed in Pennsylvania until after the British army vacated Philadelphia in 1778. He fled to Great Britain. He left his wife behind in Philadelphia and in possession of his house and estate, thinking that by leaving it in her name it would not be confiscated by the radical authorities. He was sadly mistaken; the house was confiscated and she was thrown out and forced to live with friends. While in Britain Galloway was asked to testify before Parliament on what the American situation was as far as he knew. After his testimony he lived out his life in Britain, never to return home. His long-time friendship with Benjamin Franklin was over and they never communicated again.

A French philosopher of the mid-twentieth century, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in an obituary of his friend who had been a collaborator during the German occupation of France, said that “a traitor was a patriot whose cause was lost”. This could well be said of Joseph Galloway.


[1]William H. Nelson, The American Tory (Oxford University Press, 1961), 9.

[2]John Adams Notes on Debates, September 28, 1774,Letters of Delegates to Congress, Paul Hubert Smith & Ronald Gephart, eds. (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1976-2000), 1:109 (LDC).

[3]This was the problem with the Continental Congress. It had no power to order the various colonies and their legislatures to do anything. They could only request that the various colonies pay their fair share of the continental budget, they could only request that the states send various militia units to reinforce the Continental Army or to take part in any given campaign.

[4]John Adams notes and John Galloway plan, LDC, 1:109-129.

[5]Joseph Galloway statement on his Plan of Union, September 28, 1774, LDC, 1:119-127.

[6]John Adams to Abigail Adams, October 7, 1774, LDC, 1:155.

[7]John Adams Diary, October 1, 1774, LDC, 1:138.

[8]Samuel Ward Diary, October 22, 1774, LDC, 1:234.

[9]Joseph Galloway to Samuel Verplank, December 30, 1774, LDC,1:283.

[10]Joseph Galloway, A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great Britain and the American Colonies With a Plan of Accommodation on Constitutional Principles (New York: Printed by James Rivington, 1775).

[11]At this point no actual fighting had yet started, though it was only just a few short months away. What no one foresaw was that France would form an alliance with the United States, thus widening the war into a world war and that French money, French soldiers and especially the French Navy would tip the balance of power in favor of independence for America,

[12]Nelson, The American Tory, 59.

[13]Italics added.

[14]Robert J. Calhoon, “I Have Deduced Your Rights: Joseph Galloway’s Concept of His Role,1774-1775,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies Vol. 35, No. 4 (October, 1968), 367.

[15]Galloway, A Candid Examination,142.

[16]Italics added.

[17]Calhoon, I Have Deduced Your Rights, 374.

[18]Thomas Hutchinson’s family came to settle in Massachusetts in the 1630s. One of his ancestors was Anne Hutchinson, the fiery religious leader who was banished from Massachusetts for having he audacity to preach even though she was a woman and who emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit and preached that authority came from the Holy Spirit and not ordained preachers. Hutchinson often compared the zealots who hounded his ancestor to the zealots who hounded him and burned his house and destroyed his property.

[19]H. James Henderson, Part Politics in the Continental Congress (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1974), 39.

One thought on “Joseph Galloway’s Plan of Union

  • “He left his wife behind in Philadelphia and in possession of his house and estate, thinking that by leaving it in her name it would not be confiscated by the radical authorities.”

    I think it’s important to note that most of Galloway’s estate was, at least in theory, more his wife’s than his, as he had inherited from her father. It resisting its confiscation, Grace Growden clearly claimed the property as her own. Thus, I don’t think it’s accurate to depict the plan as entirely Galloway’s.

    Maybe it’s also worth noting that Grace Growden was attempting to hold on to it not for her husband, but for her daughter, who Joseph had whisked away to London without his wife’s consent. He would later also work to turn his daughter against them memory of her mother.

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