On July 5, 1784, Hugh Williamson, a delegate in Congress, having returned to North Carolina on the adjournment of that body, wrote to Governor Martin, saying that while he had not seen the act of cession he was surprised to hear that it contained no provision for passing the expenses of the State's Indian expeditions to her credit in account with the Federal Government. He presumed that the Assembly when it reconsidered this matter, would suspend the cession; and he called attention to the fact that certain of the New England States were advancing extraordinary claims for credit; and he also suggested that North Carolina should do likewise.1
In the political campaign of the summer of 1784, those who had opposed cession at the spring meeting of the Assembly made it an issue, and created much sentiment against the act. William Hooper confided his troubles to James Iredell, in a letter of July 8th: "I have absolutely refused to serve in the Assembly again. Butler doubts. At the close of the session his and my conduct were severely animadverted upon by a few fools in the county for having patronized the cession bill — wretches stimulated to it by that prince of fops and fools, A. M. [Alexander Mebane] whose conduct, Mr. Johnston will inform you, was highly singular and unbecoming while the bill was in agitation. . . . All clamor here is at an end. Butler and I may go if we like. The people only want information to do right."2
Williamson, finding his own views supported, addressed another letter to the governor on September 30th, in which he discussed at least state and federal relations, and asked consideration of the points developed in his earlier communication. He urged that the State of Georgia, which had rendered comparatively little service in the war, had obtained by the peace a very extensive territory, p36 and should cede a part of it. "If we should immediately complete the cession we shall give up the power of making advantageous terms, and shall lose the argument which may bring others to adopt federal measures. . . . The situation is critical. Perhaps it is most consistent with prudence and sound policy to make a pause. Whatever shall finally appear to be for the honor and true interest of the State may be done twelve months hence as well as now."3
This letter was evidently intended to be used in influencing the action of the Assembly which was soon to convene. How far, if at all, Williamson was prompted to write so insistently by the fact that he was interested in land grants within the rich Chickasaw domain (the present West Tennessee) one may only surmise. The fact is he held large surveys in that faraway region which could be more advantageously perfected and preserved should North Carolina retain jurisdiction over the West.4
Although Virginia and other States had ceded western lands, Georgia had not. Georgia could of course retort on North Carolina in kind. The possible loss of making more advantageous terms for North Carolina was, at any rate, the major incentive for a repeal of the cession act.
In August, an election was held for assemblymen, and in October, the Assembly met at New Bern. The people did not approve the cession act, and the new Assembly was in sympathy with Davie and his followers. An act of repeal5 was passed by a vote of 37 to 22 in the House of Commons, and by a vote of 19 to 11 in the Senate. There was, of course, not a full delegation in the Assembly from the three western counties which had joined in the forming of an independent governmental Association. At a comparatively late date, Alexander Outlaw did appear as a representative from Greene county.6
The action did not fail to call out vigorous dissent. In the Senate Gen. Allen Jones entered a protest on the journal signed by himself and seven others, stating:
(a) "The act of the former Assembly evidently vested an optional right in Congress, and the repeal is attempted before that body could accede."
In the House of Commons, a protest, drafted by John Hay, presented by A. Maclaine and signed by twenty members, recited:
(a) The grant by the act of cession is irrevocable on the part of the State, and therefore the repeal is disgraceful.
(b) We prove ourselves unworthy to receive for North Carolina any benefits resulting from the liberal cessions by other individual States.
(c) "During the confusion which must naturally spring from such situation, the numerous inhabitants resident in the country contended for may from necessity erect themselves into a distinct government" and the repeal "may produce confusion and distress to our brethren westward of the Alleghany mountain."
The champions of repeal were in an unenviable plight on the first ground, since Davie and his followers had themselves in the protest filed at the previous cession, taken the position that the cession as made, was an irrevocable step.8
Both factions were thus in agreement, and of record, on that construction.
Maclaine further manifested the depth of his resentment by writing to his friend, George Hooper: "The Assembly have very rapidly and very disgracefully passed an act to repeal the cession of the western territory to Congress, which they certainly had no power do."9
p38 A member of the Senate, and Alexander Outlaw in the House of Commons, pending the repeal, introduced a bill to authorize the creation of a third Carolina by empowering "the inhabitants of the Western Territory, by and with the consent of this State, to form themselves into a separate State to be known by the name of West Carolina, which is reserved to them by the cession of 1784, and to open a land office to sink the North Carolina specie tickets occasioned by the late war, and to explain how far that reservation extends." The bill was rejected. Its introduction was an effort to make the State the beneficiary of the proceeds of the back lands; with a now sovereign State created by the State itself. This would have conformed to Patrick Henry's original contention as to Virginia's proper action in regard to her western lands — "instead of ceding the parts lopped off, he is for laying them off into small republics."10
Documents of that time11 show that the distance between the frontier settlements and the seat of government in Eastern Carolina could be covered by a traveller in twelve or fifteen days; so it is not improbable that news of the action taken in the August Convention at Jonesborough had reached the General Assembly and may account for the phraseology of the Maclaine protest. At any rate, it was thought wise to enact laws that might tend to quiet discontent and conciliate the over-mountain people. The judicial district of Morgan was divided and the four western counties "declared to be a distinct and separate district by the name of Washington."12 An assistant judge, David Campbell, was appointed to preside over a superior court in the District, and the militia was formed into a brigade with John Sevier as brigadier-general.
1 N. C. St. Rec., XVII, 81; also Sioussat, The North Carolina Cession, 53.
2 McRee's James Iredell, II, 107.
3 N. C. St. Rec., XVII, 94.
5 Acts 1784, October Session, Chapter 16; N. C. St. Rec., XXIV, 678.
6 N. C. St. Rec., XIX, 761.
7 N. C. St. Rec., XIX, 460.
8 Ante, page 26. The soundness of this view has been demonstrated by many later judicial decisions. If it be premised that the offer of North Carolina to Congress was either under seal or based upon a valuable consideration (and that there was a concurrence of both seems certain) then it was not within the power of the offerer to withdraw within the period of one year allowed to Congress for consideration and acceptance. The offer was irrevocable within that period. Nor was the right of Congress lost by reason of the fact that North Carolina repealed the cession act or refused to perform before Congress could accept and demand performance. If there had been in existence a court with jurisdiction to pass upon the rights of the two sovereigns involved, a specific performance would have been grantable on the prayer of the National Government. O'Brien vs. Boland, 166 Mass. 481; Pomeroy, Specific Performance, sec. 169; Waterman on Specific Performance, sec. 200. The courts of the three jurisdictions concerned have since concurred in holding to this doctrine. — Richardson vs. Hardwick, 106 U. S. 252; Bryant Timber Co. vs. Wilson, 151 N. C. 154, and Bradford vs. Foster, 87 Tenn. 9.
9 N. C. St. Rec., XVII, 185.
10 Jefferson to Madison, June 17, 1783, Jefferson, Writings.
11 See letter Joseph Martin to Sevier, Dec. 31, 1784, Draper Coll., Shelby MSS. XI, 76, later quoted.
12 Acts N. C. 1784, October Session, Chapter 28.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Lost State of Franklin
History of Tennessee
History of North Carolina
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 22 Jul 13