Franklin: The Lost State

Franklin: The Lost State

( – It’s common for people to lose items. Many misplace keys, some lose their phones, and others find items simply disappear, never to return. But how does a country lose an entire state, and how many Americans even know it happened?

The story begins in 1784, in a newly formed US, when an area of land known as Franklin, now part of Tennessee, decided it would become the 14th state.

After the Revolutionary War in 1783, the Continental Congress faced an insurmountable war debt. North Carolina agreed to give Congress 29 million acres of land to repay what the state felt was its fair share of the debt. This land sat between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, and the state bequeathed the territory with a catch. The government would have two years to achieve full responsibility for the western territorial land, ultimately leaving settlers without protection from Cherokee natives who were still attempting to protect their land from the new nation.

Fearful Congress would sell off the gift to France or Spain, North Carolina took back the land with the intent of turning it into four counties. However, residents of this region, unhappy with the change of hands and unaware that North Carolina had taken the territory back, chose to become Franklin, the 14th state of the Union. They chose John Sevier, a Revolutionary war veteran, as their serving governor, and Franklin declared itself an independent state in December of 1784.

Because the 13 colonies and the western territories hadn’t seen eye to eye during the revolution, most people assumed Franklin would not join the Union, so when it declared statehood, the Founding Fathers became concerned about keeping the new nation together. The new Constitution required official approval from two-thirds of the existing states the bring a new state into the Union. Franklin submitted its petition for statehood in May of 1785.

Franklin fell two votes shy of the required majority to become a state, and it didn’t wish to be part of North Carolina. Statehood fell beyond Franklin’s reach. Instead, it became an unchartered, independent republic.

Ruling under the Holston Constitution, Franklin created counties, built courts, assessed taxes, and made treaties with local tribes. Because it established no currency of its own, the economy relied heavily on barter and accepted all other foreign monetary notes. The republic found its ability to organize a government was limited, partly because it lacked infrastructure and allowed settlers a two-year tax reprieve to encourage immigration.

Franklin continued as an independent republic for approximately four years. In 1788 Sevier’s term expired, and the region’s leaders opted to rejoin North Carolina.

Though Franklin never officially became a state of the Union, it did contribute to the US Constitution under the New States Clause, Article IV, Section 3 and influenced how new states could form.

Copyright 2023,