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1784 Two Hundred Years Ago

July 2024
1min read

On December 14 delegates from three western counties recently ceded to the Union by North Carolina met and voted 28 to 15 to form a state of their own, the State of Franklin. They agreed on a provisional constitution and prefaced it with a declaration of independence asserting that being abandoned had “reduced us to a state of anarchy.”

Earlier, Congress had urged states to give up to the Confederation their western lands, and North Carolina’s legislature responded in April by voting to cast off a region that was remote, expensive to protect, and peopled, according to one assembly leader, by “offscourings of the earth.”

The people of Franklin simply wanted to protect their interests. But without knowing it, they were rebelling—North Carolina had decided to rescind the cession on November 20, primarily because the federal government refused to repay the state for Indian expeditions in the area. Word of the cession repeal arrived just after the convention ended, and from then on the Franklin movement was confused, divided, and ultimately doomed.

Soon there were two governments competing for dominion in the region, each with its own courts and militia. The governor of Franklin, the dashing Indian-fighting hero John “NoIachucky Jack” Sevier, insisted that he had been “dragged with the Franklin measures by a large number of people.” Over the next four years Franklin died a slow death, sustained largely by landholders whose interests it served. The state sought and was denied federal recognition, underwent a pamphlet battle over a proposed constitution, saw factional feuds lead to personal combat, signed Indian treaties that conflicted with the Confederation’s, and fought a bloody war against the Cherokees.

In 1788, as Franklin’s authority dwindled, Sevier dabbled with the possibility of an alliance with Spain; later the new governor of North Carolina had him arrested for treason, whereupon he was quickly rescued by his followers. But by 1789 Sevier had made his peace with North Carolina and become one of its congressmen. In 1796 he became the first governor of Tennessee, whose northeast corner encompasses the lost state.

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