America’s Lost State —- The State of Franklin
After the American Revolution the Continental Congress was drowning in war debts. To help pay off the debt, the State of North Carolina voted to donate some of its western counties to the Congress. The people living in those territories, mostly small farmers, trappers, and rugged frontiersmen were resentful about having their part of the state pawned off to other governments. They even feared that the Continental Congress might sell the land to a foreign power, such a France or Spain.
On August 23rd, 1784 delegates of the counties that were part of the donated land met at Jonesborough and decided to declare themselves independent of North Carolina. Later in December they attempted to draft a new constitution, but because it contained a clause that forbid, “lawyers, doctors, and preachers” from running for office, it was never ratified. Rather, the Constitution of North Carolina was used instead. The purpose of declaring independence revolved around a bid for statehood. On May 15th, 1785 the territory presented a petition to Congress for statehood, a petition which failed to garner 2/3rds support from the states, which was the majority needed under the Article of Confederation to pass a law.
Since the territory failed to become the 14th state, the people of the territory decided to strike out on their own. Forming a new sovereign and independent republic, they created courts, an executive branch (president), a congress with two houses (senate and house of representatives), and formed their own capitol in Jonesborough. They even built their own special capitol building that served as the heart of the new republic’s government (pictured above). Finally, the people also gave their new nation a name; Franklin, named after founding father Benjamin Franklin.
The Republic of Franklin was disorganized country, with a small militia for a military, no police system, no currency, and no practical way to raise taxes. It was not uncommon for public servants and government officials to be paid in tobacco, corn whiskey, food crops, and brandy. Even the Governor (President) of Franklin, John Sevier, was paid a salary of deer hides. Regardless, the Republic of Franklin was somewhat prosperous, even undergoing an expansionist phase in which it annexed territories and conquered lands from neighboring Native Americans. However, the disorganized nature of the republic and the lack of organized national defense began to wear away at the seams of the new government.
The beginning of the end of Franklin occurred in 1786 when North Carolina offered to waive all back taxes if Franklin reintegrated with the state. The allure of reinstatement became stronger as Franklin’s position with its neighbors weakened. Native American tribes who had been attacked by Franklin’s forces began to strike back. Worse yet foreign powers such as France and Spain began to eye the territory. Without a strong military it appeared that Franklin was in trouble. In 1788 a civil war occurred when those who supported reinstatement clashed with Franklinite patriots. The small skirmish, called “The Battle of Franklin” literally involved dozens of people with no casualties. By the summer of 1788 Cherokee and Chickasaw forces converged on Franklin. In a desperate act, President Servier attempted to cede Franklin to the Spanish. At that point the government of Franklin collapsed entirely. In 1789 the North Carolina militia drove away the Cherokee and Chickasaw, then reintegrated Franklin back into the state. The territory was once again donated to Congress, which in turn used it to form a new state called Tennessee.