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Constitution Daily

On This Day, the State of Franklin Starts Its Brief Existence

On August 23, 1784, the self-proclaimed state of Franklin broke away from North Carolina and attempted an experiment at self-rule, in a dispute over land grants and sovereignty.

In June 1784, the North Carolina state government agreed to cede three of its western counties to the Confederation Congress in an attempt to assist with the large national debt following the revolutionary war. Upon hearing of North Carolina’s cession, the three counties’ residents met in Jonesborough that August to declare their own independent legal state, separate from North Carolina. Although North Carolina changed its mind by fall of 1784 about handing the three counties over to the federal government, the state of Franklin’s leaders were determined to continue with their plan for independence. They wrote their own Declaration of Independence and proposed a draft constitution in December 1784.

“We unanimously agree that our lives, liberties and Prosperity can be more secure & our happiness much better propagated by our separation & consequently that it is our duty and unalienable right to form ourselves into a new Independent State,” wrote the state of Franklin delegates in their Declaration.

The provisional constitution from December 1784 was modeled after North Carolina’s state constitution. While mostly the same, it lowered the land and wealth requirements for both voters and office holders.

An alternative constitution, called the Houston constitution (endorsed by the Rev. Samuel Houston), was quite different. It called the state “Frankland” and not Franklin. In addition to ministers, lawyers and doctors were barred from state office, as well as those of “an immoral character, or guilty of such flagrant enormities as drunkenness, gaming, profane swearing, lewdness, Sabbath breaking, and such like.”In November 1785, a state General Assembly met to consider the two constitutions, and it agreed to remain with the original December 1784 version.

From that point on, the state of Franklin failed to gain much traction. The Confederation Congress rejected Franklin’s request to become the 14th state. Two leaders, John Sevier and John Tipton, competed for power, and residents dealt with continual fighting and land disputes with the Cherokee Indians.

By 1788, the state of Franklin’s residents grew weary of independence and a year later, North Carolina took back the state of Franklin, turning it over to the federal government as part of the new Southwest Territory. In 1796, the former State of Franklin formed the eastern section of the new state of Tennessee.

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