The Lost American State
An Unknown Chapter in America’s History
August 27, 2018
I once pastored a church in Western North Carolina. But I never knew that on August 23, 1784, several counties in Western North Carolina had declared their independence to become the State of Franklin. Though part of North Carolina at the time, the counties were in an area that would one day be part of Tennessee. This collection of frontiersmen came very close to becoming the 14th US state.
Fearful that the new U.S. government would sell their territory to pay its mounting war debt, the counties of Washington, Sullivan, Greene, and Spencer (today named Hawkins) declared their independence from North Carolina. Over time, four more North Carolina counties joined them. On May 16, 1785, they formally requested statehood from the Continental Congress in the name Frankland.
In a PR move to gain Benjamin Franklin’s support, Frankland changed its name to Franklin - but to no avail. Franklin wrote that he had been in Europe when the secession took place and was not familiar enough with the circumstances to offer his assistance. A majority of the states of the Union voted to grant the petition - but not the two-thirds majority needed to pass.
Having been denied statehood, Franklin ignored Congress and operated as an independent republic for four years. It elected revolutionary war hero John Sevier (after whom Sevierville, TN is named) as its Governor. It had its own constitution, Indian treaties, and financial system.
But in 1778, when three different Indian tribes began attacking its citizens and towns, Franklin wasted no time in rejoining North Carolina for protection. When the counties of the former republic later became part of Tennessee, Franklin Governor Sevier became the first Governor of Tennessee.
Although this interesting state only existed for four years, it left a lasting legacy. Not surprisingly, the Northeastern elites were already at work even in those early days of our nation. Up until the rebellion of Franklin, the original 13 states had largely ignored the needs of the Western territories. Many assumed that these areas would be controlled by the Union, but would never be part of it. The State of Franklin made the political elites of the day realize that they would ignore the West at their peril. Franklin paved the way for many other states to join the previously exclusive USA.
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