I saw a “trivia” nugget (which often is not so trivial) on my Old Farmer’s Almanac calendar that really surprised me. This is something I don’t think was ever covered in my U.S. History classes. Had you ever heard that there was a State of Franklin?

I went to Wikipedia and found out that it was an unrecognized, autonomous “territory” located in what is today eastern Tennessee. It was sometimes referred to as the Free Republic of Franklin or the State of Frankland. It was created in 1784 from part of the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains that had been offered by North Carolina as a cession to Congress to help pay off debts related to the American War for Independence.

The intention was that it would become the fourteenth state of the new United States. Franklin was never admitted into the union, but it had extra-legal state status for four and a half years. It would be considered a republic.

It is a unique piece of history because it resulted from both a cession (an offering from North Carolina to Congress) and a secession (seceding from North Carolina, when its offer to Congress was not acted upon, and the original cession was rescinded).

I only found one book on Franklin online – The Lost State of Franklin: America’s First Secession – though I am sure it comes up in some books on Benjamin Franklin or history.

People settling the frontier to the west were dissatisfied with North Carolina’s governance and wanted to establish a separate and independent state. On August 23, 1784, delegates from those North Carolina counties (in present-day Tennessee) convened in Jonesborough and declared the lands to be independent of the State of North Carolina.

This wasn’t just an idea. It had a capital at Jonesborough (in late 1785 it moved to Greeneville) and ran as a “parallel government” along with a re-established North Carolina bureaucracy.

On May 16, 1785, a delegation submitted a petition for statehood to Congress. Eventually, seven states voted to admit what would have been the 14th federal state under the proposed name of Frankland. This was less than the two-thirds majority required under the Articles of Confederation.

Why did it happen?

After the War for Independence, Congress was in heavy debt. The 13 colonies that were now states had debts owed to Congress. In April 1784, the state of North Carolina voted “to give Congress the 29,000,000 acres lying between the Allegheny Mountains” (that’s what the Appalachian range was then called) “and the Mississippi River” to help offset its war debts.

Those early leaders wanted the official name of the area to Franklin, after Benjamin Franklin. A letter was written Benjamin Franklin to get his support, but he declined in writing:

… I am sensible of the honor which your Excellency and your council thereby 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.   —  Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Governor John Sevier, 1787

The North Carolina Legislature rescinded the offer of cession when it was realized that the land could not at that time be used for its intended purpose of paying the debts of Congress. By 1789, the government of the State of Franklin collapsed and the territory returned to the control of North Carolina. North Carolina soon after again ceded the area to the federal government to form the Southwest Territory which was the precursor to the State of Tennessee.

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