The State of Franklin



One of the fascinating aspects of American history is the great number of alternate paths that history could have taken if only a few events had been slightly different.   One of the more interesting might have beens is The State of Franklin.

In 1784 North Carolina ceded territory occupied by North Carolina settlers in what is now north-eastern Tennessee to the Continental Congress.  North Carolina, as a result of a new legislature coming into office, attempted to take the gift back a few months later, but the abandonment of the area by North Carolina fueled a secession movement.  On August 23, 1784, delegates meeting in the town of Jonesborough proclaimed the area independent of North Carolina, named the area the State of Franklin, in honor of Benjamin Franklin and organized a government.

On May 16, 1785, a delegation from Franklin presented a petition to the Continental Congress for statehood under the name of Frankland.  Seven states voted in favor of the petition, falling two short of the votes necessary to win approval.  Changing the name back to Franklin, the government of  the would be state wrote to Benjamin Franklin to enlist his support for a second try at statehood.  Artful as ever, Dr. Franklin refused to commit himself:

I am sensible of the honor which your Excellencey and your council do me, but being in Europe when your State was formed I am too little acquainted with the circumstances to be able to offer you anything just now that may be of importance, since everything material that regards your welfare will doubtless have occurred to yourselves. …I will endeavor to inform myself more perfectly of your affairs by inquiry and searching the records of Congress and if anything should occur to me that I think may be useful to you, you shall hear from me thereupon.

Eventually North Carolina briefly reasserted its authority over the area before, in 1790, ceding the territory once again to the Federal government.  The old state of Franklin became part of the new state of Tennessee which was admitted to the Union in 1796.

The odd thing about this whole affair is that this section of Tennessee remained quite different from the rest of Tennessee.  Slavery never took hold here on a large scale, indeed a strong abolition movement operated in this area early in the 19th Century, and during the Civil War the area was a hotbed of Union sentiment and armed resistance to the Confederacy.  After the Civil War the area  industrialized quickly with capital from the North, Tennessee Union veterans flocked to settle there, and this part of Tennessee routinely defied the rest of the Solid South by electing Republicans to Congress.  If this area had been a separate state, it is entirely possible that a free state would have existed within what became the Confederacy, greatly complicating the creation of the Confederacy.  Two more states voting to admit the state of Franklin to the Union in 1785 might well have had an enormous impact on the future course of American history.   

Published in: on February 4, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The State of Franklin