The State of Franklin

Location of the state of Franklin

Location of the state of Franklin

Following the American Revolutionary War there were 13 states that had been officially admitted to the Union. The 14th state to try their hand at joining the Union was a state originally called Frankland but later changed to Franklin. In April of 1784, North Carolina ceded an eastern part of their state between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian Mountains in what is today a part of Tennessee. When the war was over Congress was penniless and many states owed money to the government for war debts. As North Carolina could not afford to pay their debt in currency, the government agreed to the 29 million acres offered as payment for their debt. This agreement also stated that Congress would assume all responsibilities of the offered land within 2 years as it was not owned by the country as opposed to the state of North Carolina.

During the period where Congress had yet to fulfill their duties of responsibilities and North Carolina no longer owning the land, the residents living there decided that they wanted to be their own state. The decision was made after a combination of attacks from the Native Americans, who believed the land should still be theirs, and the government, who had all but abandoned the people living there, that led to the declaration of the new state Frankland. An elected governor, John Sevier, assumed his role and promptly hired a legislature, wrote a constitution and began holding court all within the new state.

It was now time for the state to petition to be an official member of the Union so in May of 1785 that is exactly what happened. Sevier decided that he wanted to change the name from Frankland – meaning Land of the Free – to Franklin, supposedly to win the favour of Benjamin Franklin. The hard work and even the name change was all for naught as Congress denied Franklin entrance into the Union when they did not receive two-thirds of the votes needed for statehood. Even though the state was not official, it did succeed at being its own independent nation for the next 4 years.

John Sevier

John Sevier

The United States did not accept Franklin but one important aspect of the petition that came to be was the addition of a clause into the U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section III: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress”.

Once an independent republic, Franklin set up their own government in the newly declared capital of Greeneville. The very first meeting of legislature occurred in December of 1785 where a permanent constitution was drawn up. Laws were put into place, such as fixed taxes, opening of courts, a bartering system instead of currency, and a two-year reprieve of taxes. Sevier also made peace treaties with the Native American tribes of the area, all except the Chickamauga Cherokee who continually threatened and attacked the people of Franklin as they believed it was rightfully their land.

It was just not enough. Trouble seriously started in 1786 when North Carolina had a renewed interest in the ceded land. What this meant for Franklin was that it no longer had the support of the North Carolina militia and to try to win their land back, North Carolina offered to waive all back taxes. Franklin was still on North Carolina land since the government rejected their admittance into the Union so the independent republic had an obligation to pay taxes to North Carolina. Sevier rejected the offer.

The struggles of the bartering system and a reprieve of taxes had weakened Franklin’s economy so in a last ditch effort to save the independent republic, Sevier asked the Spanish for financial aid in 1788. The decision to ask for aid outside the United States was a bold and terrible move; as soon as North Carolina heard the news they were instantly panicked at the thought of having a Spanish border state. In response, North Carolina had Sevier arrested for treason to stop the deal being finalized. Once Sevier was no longer in Franklin to defend his land, North Carolina once again took back the territory in 1789. Not long after North Carolina gained Franklin back, they ceded it back to the government to form what was to eventually become the state of Tennessee as the 16th state admitted to the Union.

As for Sevier, he escaped punishment on the charge of treason and even went on to become the first governor of Tennessee in 1796.

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