William Cocke proceeded promptly to New York where the Continental Congress was in session. He arrived May 15, 1785, and the next day1 he presented to the president of Congress the memorial of the Assembly of Franklin praying Congress to accept the cession made by North Carolina and admit Franklin into the sisterhood of sovereign States. This memorial, never before published in full, was as follows:
To the Honorable Continental Congress
This memorial of the freemen, by their representatives in General Assembly met, who were included within the limits ascertained by an act of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina ceding certain vacant lands to Congress,
That having in many instances discovered the friendly disposition of Congress, not only to guard the liberties of the states now in the Union, but also to encourage the erection of new States on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains; and finding the disposition of North Carolina to comply with the requisitions made by Congress requesting liberal cessions of vacant western territory, which requisitions being complied with by North Carolina, she immediately stopped the goods she had promised to give the Indians for the said land which so exasperated them that they began to commit hostilities on our frontiers; in this situation we were induced to a declaration of independence, not doubting but we should be excused by Congress when she came to hear the reasons that called for such a declaration and when she was assured that it was necessity rather than choice, as North Carolina seemed quite regardless of our interest; and the Indians were daily murdering our friends and relatives without distinction of age or sex. And we are sorry to inform Congress that notwithstanding the act of cession must have bound North Carolina at least in honor to have continued the act in force for the space of twelve months from the passing of the same, unless Congress would have refused to accept the cedure, yet North Carolina has repealed the cession act and claims a sovereignty over a country whose prayers she has rejected p83and whose interests she has forsaken. Impressed with every sentiment of our duty and respect, we earnestly request Congress to accept the offered cession and to receive us into the federal union that we may enjoy all the rights reserved to us in the cession act, and which freemen are entitled to. And we humbly pray that you be pleased to call upon our agent for such further information as you in your wisdom shall think proper, in whose integrity we confide, and earnestly pray that you will adopt such suitable measures as may promote the peace and prosperity of those who wish ever to be found a zealous and useful part of the people that form so dignified a union; and your memorialists shall ever pray.
Landon Carter, S. S.
Wm. Cage, S. C.
Thomas Talbot, C. S.
Tho. Chapman, C. C.
State of Franklin, March 12th, 1785.
This is to certify that William Cocke, Esq., was chosen by the General Assembly of this State as an Against to carry and introduce this Memorial to the Congress of the United States of America. And he is further invested with full power and authority to state and explain the local and political situation of this State, and to make such representation as he may find conducive to the interest and independence of this country.
Landon Carter, S. S.
Wm. Cage, S. C.
Thomas Talbot, C. S.
Tho. Chapman, C. C.2
A committee was at once appointed to examine the cession act of North Carolina. The committee consisted of King, Johnson, Grayson and McHenry, and they promptly (May 20th) reported their opinion:
"That the act of cession of the State of North Carolina, of the 2nd day of June, 1784, gives a right to the United States in Congress assembled, at any time within one year from the passing of the act, to accept the cession of western territory therein described, subject to the conditions and reservations in said act contained; and that no subsequent act or law of the State of North Carolina could so repeal and make void the said act of cession as to annul the right of the United States in Congress assembled to accept the territory therein ceded within the period, and subject to the conditions and reservations aforesaid.
p84 "That consistently with the objects of the resolution of Congress of the 6th of September and the 10th of October, 1780, and with the duty Congress owes to the federal union, they cannot decline an acceptance of the cession aforesaid; and therefore recommend:
"That the United States in Congress assembled, do accept the cession of western territory made by the State of North Carolina . . ."
An effort was made to postpone consideration of the report of the committee, but it failed by a vote of seven States in opposition to two in favor, the delegation of one State (South Carolina) being divided.
The report, after a brief debate, was brought to a test vote, and the States of New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Georgia voted in favor of adoption; Maryland and Virginia in opposition. South Carolina's delegation divided — Pickney aye, and Ramsay nay. North Carolina, being interested, did not vote.
Under a rule of the Articles of Confederation, the report failed of adoption, two- of the States not concurring.
The moral victory was with Cocke on the issue raised by the State of Franklin, that North Carolina had not the right by a repeal of the cession act to defeat acceptance by Congress; and that victory was made the more pronounced by a unanimous vote on another paragraph of the same report:
"That it be recommended to the State of North Carolina to consider the principle of magnanimity and justice that introduced the passage of said act of 2nd day of June, 1784, and evince the operation of the same good sentiments by repealing their act of 20th of November, 1784, and directing their delegates in Congress to furnish a proof of their liberality in the execution of a deed to the United States of the territory ceded by the act of 2nd of June aforesaid."3
Cocke seems not to have pressed further the admission of Franklin into the Confederation. It would have been unwise to do so, in view of the test votes above outlined and of the specific provision in the Articles of Confederation that "No other colony shall be admitted into the same, unless such admission be agreed to by nine States."4
p85 The people of Franklin could but feel a degree of elation. The North Carolina delegates in corresponding degree were chagrined. Spaight wrote home to Governor Caswell complaining that scant courtesy and "a great degree of indelicacy" had been shown the delegation from his State. He thought that too great avidity for western territory had hurried Congress to action.5 Williamson waited until his return to his home at Edenton before reporting to Caswell:
"On the last day of my sitting in Congress, which was two days before the arrival of Cocke in New York, it was moved by a member from Massachusetts and seconded, I believe, by one from New Jersey, that Congress should accept the cession by North Carolina. Whatever my sentiments might have been respecting the policy of the cession or the repeal, you may presume that when the honor or even the competence of the State to make good and proper laws was squinted at, I was not silent. The motion was after considerable debate withdrawn. That was on Friday. On Monday or Tuesday following the very same motion was made, and was, as you will see by the journal, very nearly carried. Cocke was then in town, but I think his presence produced no effect, pro nor con. I question whether Mr. Spaight's health permitted him to attend during the whole of their debate. I am fully informed that the question was lost by the negative of some gentlemen who wished very much for the cession but who were very unwilling to give offense to a State that is admitted on all occasions to be observant of federal measures."6
Thus it is made plain that the State of Franklin came within a scratch of receiving the approval of her crucial contention by the Continental Congress. Cocke's efforts came near to success notwithstanding the depreciatory remarks of Williamson.7
Monroe wrote (June 5, 1785) from Congress to Jefferson, expressing surprise at the strong support and the number of advocates the p86report of the committee brought out. "It is in contemplation to send a committee to North Carolina and Georgia upon the subject of western land and finance, to press their attention to those subjects."8
Jefferson thought that this unanimous appeal of Congress to North Carolina would result in the success of the Franklin movement. "Congress recommended to the State of North Carolina to desist from opposition, and I have no doubt they will do it. It will, therefore, result from the act of Congress laying out the Western Country into States, that these States of Kentucky and Franklin will come into the Union in the manner therein provided."9 He was a consistent friend of the western people. In January, 1786, he wrote: "The people of Kentucky think of separating from Virginia, in which they are right."10
It is interesting to speculate on the fate of the new State had it been named "Jefferson" instead of "Franklin" — linked, so to speak, with a personality of abounding vigor and breadth of vision; to a rising rather than to a setting sun. Jefferson, in 1782 had joined others in a land project — the only one he was ever connected with — to purchase lands in Tennessee; but "while I was in expectation of going to Europe, and that the title to the western lands might possibly come under discussion of the ministers, I withdrew myself from the company," and the other members abandoned the enterprise.11
From Paris, where he was in the service of his country, following peace, as minister to France, he evinced continued concern for the western folk. He thought Vermont occupied too small a territory for a State of the Union. "I am anxious to hear what is being done with the States of Vermont and Franklin. I think that the former is the only innovation on the system of April 23, 1784, which ought possibly to be admitted. If Congress are not firm on that head, our p87several States will crumble to atoms by the spirit of establishing every little canton into a separate State." That this reference was not intended to have application to Kentucky or Franklin, is shown by the next sentence: "I hope that Virginia will concur in that plan as to her territory South of the Ohio and not leave the western country to withdraw themselves by force and become our worst enemies instead of best friends."12 Indeed, he was of opinion that an "occasional rebellion," such, we may assume, as that of the separatist Western Carolinians, was "not wholly inadvisable and ought not to be too much discouraged."
Sevier, Cocke and associates in their plans had it in mind to avail of the implied invitation of Jefferson's Ordinance of April, 1784; and Arthur Campbell was tauntingly quoting Jefferson's scheme for new States to Governor Henry.
The fitting and graceful as well as politic thing to have done was to give to the new Commonwealth the name of "Jefferson" in honor of him who, beyond all other statesmen of his time, embodied in his personality the spirit of independence and friendliness toward western aspirations.
The formation of the new State did not go unnoticed by Great Britain. So pronounced an exhibition of the separation spirit was of no little interest in that quarter. The Gentlemen's Magazine of August, 1785,13 announced:
"An authentic account has been received that the counties of Washington, Sullivan and Greene have declared themselves independent of the State of North Carolina, and have chosen a governor under the authority of the new government. The reason is, the people of the western counties found themselves grievously taxed for the support of government without enjoying the blessings of it."
Britons in America, and their friends, could not repress expressions of hopefulness that the separation movement might result to the advantage of the mother country. One such wrote (June 1, 1785 from Suffolk, Va.), to a friend in Scotland respecting the organization of the State of Franklin: "We are daily in expectation of hearing of a coalition between them and the Vermonters and New Hampshire Grants, who are also disaffected; and it is a matter of doubt whether the balance of power would not be in their favour, even against the United States, if matters should come to an open p88rupture, as there are a great many over the whole continent quite tired of their independence."13a So far as the movement at the South was concerned, this writer misread the signs.
In forming a judgment as to the wisdom of the Franklinites in continuing their efforts for separate statehood at this time, it may be well here to make a summary of the views of other thoughtful men who were, by reason of distance and detachment, able to take a dispassionate and just view of the situation that confronted the western people in 1785.
John Marshall, in a letter to Judge Muter, of the Kentucky district (January 7, 1785) said: "I begin to think that the time for a separation is fast approaching . . . It is impossible that we can, at this distance, legislate wisely for you, and it is proper that you should legislate for yourself."14
Wm. Grayson as one of Virginia's delegates to Congress had not felt that he could give affront to the neighbor State of Carolina and her delegation, by voting in favor of the committee's report of May, 1785; but in a private letter to Governor Randolph, of Virginia, he was able to express his real opinion: "With respect to the state of North Carolina, it must be acknowledged that they have acted with great imprudence. After having given up the country to the United States and the government to the people, they ought not afterwards, on the resumption, to have expected a voluntary obedience."15
Washington in 1783 recommended the laying out of two new States in the western country; and even Monroe had not always been jealous of the rise of the West to power in the national councils. On October 19, 1783, he had written to George Rogers Clark, urging that a new State be set up with the traditions of Virginia, so that the old Commonwealth might have a needed ally in federal affairs. Of like mind was Madison.16
Governor Patrick Henry's view of the propriety and justness of the step taken for separation by "the Overhill Carolina folks" expressed in his message above, was colored by his sense of official responsibility and by his favoritism for William Russell and Joseph Martin. The opinion of Patrick Henry, the man, was expressed with vigor and directness after the passage (1789) of the second act p89of cession by North Carolina. His position was truly an irony of circumstance. The contrast was, indeed, a strange one, and surprising too, if self-interest may not be supposed to have tinctured his later language. "I still think that great things may be done in the Tennessee Country and below. For surely the people of Franklin will never submit to be given away with the lands, like slaves, without holding a convention of their own. . . . I am apprehensive Sevier may be hushed by preferment so as to make no opposition. But really it is a pity some other person would not, as the law is destructive of the people's liberty and that right to choose a form of government which belongs to every free man. Vast injury is done these people in taxes for they have not left the means of paying them. Mr. Ross17 sent me the act, and I do think it a most abominable instance of tyranny. . . . If Sevier has not turned tail on his former professions of zeal for the rights of the Franklin people and means to support their just contents, it will be well to join heart and hand with him or any other person so as to bring about their just claims as Americans. . . . The right to all North Carolina west of the line mentioned in the act is, in my opinion, vested in the people of Franklin, if they will but insist upon it. . . . Being cut off from government, without holding any convention of the people there to consent to it, all rights of sovereignty over the district and laws therein belong to the people there."18
If this letter of Henry to Martin had been shown to John Sevier, he well might have exclaimed, in view of his vain appeal to Henry in 1785: "Where then was Roderick Dhu!"19
1 Spaight to Governor Caswell, June 5, 1785, N. C. State Records, XVII, 464.
2 State Department MSS., Library of Congress.
3 Journal of Continental Congress (Way & Gideon) IV, 525, et seq.
4 Art. XI.
5 June 5, 1785, ante. "The report does not much credit to the gentlemen who drew it, though it convinces me that my opinion is right — that they are willing to have lands on any terms." Ib.
6 Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Dreer Coll., Members of the Old Congress, V, 74. The quoted paragraph is, for some reason, omitted from the reprint of this letter in N. C. State Records, XVII, 477. "Possibly what appears in the State Records was an unfinished draft." (Edmund C. Burnett.)
7 Grayson to Short, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Dreer Coll., Members of Old Congress, II, 50; Pennsylvania Magazine of Hist., XXIX, 203.
8 Monroe's Writings, I, 89. At this time Monroe was opposed to the admittance of western applicants for statehood. "On the part of the Union or rather the States upon the Atlantic, it is, in my opinion, their policy to keep a prevailing influence upon the Ohio, or rather to the Westward. . . . When the Mississippi shall be open, removed at a distance, they will necessarily be but little interested in whatever respects us; besides, they will outnumber us in Congress unless we confine their number as much as possible." Monroe to Jefferson, August 25, 1795.
9 Ford's Jefferson's Writings, IV, 458 (Sept. 5, 1785).
10 Ib., V, 74.
11 Jefferson to Madison (November 1784) Ford's Jefferson's Writings, IV, 368.
12 To Richard Henry Lee (July 12, 1785) Ford's Jefferson's Writings, IV, 434.
13 Volume LV, page 656.
13a London Chronicle, Aug. 6, 1785.
14 Tyler's Quarterly History and General Magazine, I, 28.
15 Cal. Virginia State Papers, IV, 206.
16 Winsor, Westward Movement, 207, 245, 247.
17 David Ross, a wealthy Virginia merchant, planter and speculator, at the time associated with Henry in the Virginia Company which had secured a grant of a vast tract of territory in the Bend of the Tennessee from Georgia. He was the father of the celebrated Reverend Frederick Ross, of the Presbyterian church. Ross also wrote to Sevier (Feb. 20, 1790) protesting that the terms of the cession were not favorable but dangerous to the western people. And, stranger still, another letter of like trend was written to Sevier by Ex‑Gov. Alexander Martin.
18 Henry to Joseph Martin, Draper Coll., King's Mountain MSS., XI. He advises Martin to locate in Franklin and secure lands there. The letter is not included in Henry's Life of Henry.
19 The attitude of the Henry is hard to understand. Ruffner, writing in justification of the Virginian Franklinites, says: "It is sufficient to say that, four years later than the birth of the State of Franklin, in the Virginia convention of 1788, Patrick Henry threatened to form a State out of the lower western tier of counties on the North Carolina line and of those identical counties that were to compose the State of Franklin." — Founders of Washington College (Virginia), 25.
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