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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of History of the
Lost State of Franklin

by
Samuel Cole Williams

published by the
Press of the Pioneers,
New York, 1933

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 8

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p39 Chapter VII

The First Constitutional Convention — 1784

Before information reached the Western Country of the repealing act of the North Carolina Assembly, an important and fateful step had been taken. The delegates elected to the second convention met at Jonesborough, December 14, 1784. Among those repenting Washington county were John Sevier, William Cocke, John Tipton, Thomas Stewart and Rev. Samuel Houston; from Sullivan county, David Looney, Richard Gammon, Moses Looney, William Cage and John Long; and from Greene county, James Reese, Daniel Kennedy, John Newman, James Roddy and Joseph Hardin. It is believed that Haywood, followed by Ramsey, gives an incomplete list as above, and that Tirril, Samms, North, Christopher Taylor, Thomas Talbot, Joseph Wilson, William Cox, John Manifee, Gilbert Christian, Carnes, Andrew Taylor, Garrett Fitzgerald, Alexander Cavet, Joshua Gist, Benjamin Gist, Asahel Rawlings, Joseph Bullard, Valentine Sevier, Charles Robertson, Williams Evans, John Maughan, George Maxwell, Vincent, Provincer, William Davis, Samuel Wear, James Wilson, Joseph Tipton, and Captain David Campbell were also delegates.

William Cocke and Joseph Hardin, as a committee to outline a plan of action, brought in the following report:

To remove the doubts of the scrupulous; to encourage the timid, and to induce all, harmoniously and speedily, to enter into a firm association, let the following particulars be maturely considered: If we should be so happy as to have a separate government, vast numbers from different quarters, with a little encouragement from the public, would fill up our frontier, which would strengthen us, improve agriculture, perfect manufactures, encourage literature and every thing truly laudable. The seat of government being among ourselves, would evidently tend, not only to keep a circulating medium in gold and silver among us, but draw it from many individuals living in other states, who claim large quantities of lands that would lie in the bounds of the new state. Add to the foregoing reasons, the many schemes as a body, we could execute to draw it among us, and the sums which many travellers out of curiosity, and men in public business, would expend among us. p40But all these advantages, acquired and accidental, together with many more that might be mentioned, whilst we are connected with the old counties, may not only be nearly useless to us, but many of them prove injurious; and this will always be the case during a connexion with them, because they are the most numerous, and consequently will always be able to make us subservient to them; that our interest must be generally neglected, and sometimes sacrificed, to promote theirs, as was instanced in a late taxation act, in which, notwithstanding our local situation and improvement being so evidently inferior, that it is unjust to tax our lands equally, yet they have expressly done it; and our lands, at the same time, not of one fourth of the same value. And to make it still more apparent that we should associate the whole councils of the state, the Continental Congress, by their resolves, invite us to it. The assembly of North Carolina by their late cession opened the door, and by their prudent measures invite to it; and as a closing reason to induce to a speedy association, our late convention chosen to consider public affairs, and concert measures, as appears from their resolves, have unanimously agreed that we should do it, by signing the following articles:

First. That we agree to entrust the consideration of public affairs, and the prescribing rules necessary to a convention to be chosen by each company as follows: That if any company should not exceed thirty, there be one representative; and thereº it contains fifty, there be two; and so in proportion, as near as may be, and that their regulations be reviewed by the association.

Secondly. As the welfare of our common country depends much on the friendly disposition of Congress, and their rightly understanding our situation, we do therefore unanimously agree, speedily to furnish a person with a reasonable support, to present our memorial, and negotiate our business in Congress.

Thirdly. As the welfare of the community also depends much on public spirit, benevolence and regard to virtue, we therefore unanimously agree to improve and cultivate these, and to discountenance every thing of a contradictory and repugnant nature.

Fourthly. We unanimously agree to protect this association with our lives and fortunes, to which we pledge our faith and reputation.

An advance step was to be considered — the formation of a separate State to take the place of the Association, and its importance was such as to call for a larger representation in the convention than fifteen. John Sevier was president and Francis A. Ramsey was secretary.

The convention, being organized and ready for business, the Rev. Samuel Houston, one of the deputies from Washington county, arose and addressed the convention on the importance of their p41meeting, showing that they were about to lay the foundation upon which was to be placed, not only their own welfare and interests, but, perhaps, those of their posterity for ages to come; and adding that, under such interesting and solemn circumstances, they should look to Heaven, and offer prayer for counsel and direction from Infinite Wisdom. The president immediately designated Mr. Houston, and he offered up a solemn and appropriate prayer, in which all seemed to unite.1

Ramsey, making use of the papers left by General Daniel Kennedy, who was a member of the convention, records the following action, but attributes it to the August convention, expressing doubt, however, whether the action was taken then or at a later session:

"On motion of Mr. Cocke, whether for or against forming ourselves into a separate and distinct State, independent of State of North Carolina, at this time, it was carried in the affirmative.

"On motion of Mr. Kennedy, the yeas and nays2 were taken on the above question:

"Yeas. — Mr. Tirrill, Samms, North, Taylor, Anderson, Houston, Cox, Talbot, Joseph Wilson, Trimble, Reese, John Anderson, Manifee, Christian, Carnes, A. Taylor, Fitzgerald, Cavit, Looney, Cocke, B. Gist, Rawlings, Bullard, Joshua Gist, Valentine Sevier, Robinson, Evans, and Maughan. (28)

"Nays. — John Tipton, Joseph Tipton, Stuart, Maxfield [Maxwell], D. Looney, Vincent, Cage, Provincer, Gammon, Davis, Kennedy, Newman, Wear, James Wilson, and Campbell. (15)"

A member of the convention from the door of the rude courthouse announced the result to the large crowd that had been drawn to Jonesborough, and the proclamation was received with joyful acclaim.3

That the declaration for a "separate and distinct State, at this time" was made at the December convention, appears from contemporary communications, to which Haywood and Ramsey did not have access.

p42 Arthur Campbell's correspondent, writing December 20, 1784, said: "Last week in convention we ventured to declare ourselves independent. I confess it was contrary to my opinion."4

Haywood states that on the day when the people were collected in Washington county to elect deputies to the approaching convention, of December 14th, Sevier at Jonesborough ascended the steps of an elevated door and took from his pocket a letter which he had received from Colonel Joseph Martin, who had just returned from the Assembly of North Carolina, giving an account of the repeal of the cession act and of the enactment of conciliatory measures.

The letter itself, not before the historian Haywood when he wrote, discloses that it was written after the adjournment of the December convention. Addressing Sevier, December 31, 1784, Martin wrote:

"I left Governor Martin's the 19th instant. He informed me that Outlaw was sent forward nearly four weeks ago with some dispatches to you, enclosing your general's commission with a number of other papers. He likewise charged me with a letter to you with many others to the different gentlemen in the District. He informed me the first business that the Assembly did was to repeal the cession bill before Congress could meet to accept it. David Campbell is appointed one of the circuit judges. But as Mr. Outlaw has been so long on his way home, I have no doubt but that you have the particulars; and as you have formed a government here, I must beg that you will inform me whether you will persist or let it lay over until you can be better informed, as the governor has sent me on to purchase a large quantity of beef, pork and corn, for the use of a treaty to be held with the Cherokees in April next, which treaty is to attend in person; also many gentlemen from below, in particular General Caswell, who is to succeed the present governor, and Colo. Blount. But if you are determined to oppose the measure, I shall not proceed to purchase. The letters from the governor to the other gentlemen, together with all my own, I left in Mr. Hardin's wagon as I landed with him two nights and when I pushed on forgot them, but expect him down by Monday. Thus shall forward on your letter."5

p43 Evidently it was on the first Monday of January, 1785, county court day, that Sevier made public announcement of the news brought by Martin. The latter had been an active participant in the August convention, and he had learned through Joseph Hardin as he passed through Greene county, that an important and more decisive step had been taken, during his absence, in the formation of a separate government.

Martin, since May, 1783, had been in the employ of North Carolina as agent to the Cherokee and Chickamauga Indians; and the result of his visit to the State's Assembly was the chilling of his enthusiasm for separation. He was not prepared to hazard his place by coming to a breach with the State's authorities. He also knew that Sevier's heart, as well as his own, was fixed on the speculation in lands in the Bend of the Tennessee, which enterprise was calling their associates Caswell and Blount to the West.

Sevier himself was on the point of veering. He promptly wrote his confidential friend, Colonel Daniel Kennedy, of Greene county, under date of January 2, 1785:

"I have just received certain information from Colonel Martin that the first thing the Assembly of North Carolina did, was to repeal the cession bill, and to form this part of the country into a separate District, by name of Washington District, which I have the honor to command. I conclude this step will satisfy the people with the old State, and we shall pursue no further measures as to a new State. David Campbell, Esq'r. is appointed one of our judges. I could write to you officially, but my commission is not yet come to hand."6

Sevier later issued an official address to the people of Greene county, giving information of what had been done by the Assembly of North Carolina for the relief of the people west of the mountains; and, with a view to composing controversy and confusion, urged that they decline to take further action toward establishing a new government.7

The December convention largely devoted itself to the work of preparing a temporary constitution for the new State, which, from the outset, was called the State of Franklin, and not Frankland, as p44is sometimes stated.8 The document was unique in form in that it was prefaced by a Declaration of Independence, in which was set forth the "reason which impels us to declare ourselves independent of North Carolina," — "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" making it proper.

There follows the usual bill of rights, under the title "Declaration of the State of Franklin"; and next in order is the governmental scheme, the latter closely modeled after the North Carolina Constitution of 1776.9

The closing paragraphs declare that the instrument was not intended to preclude the convention then in session from making temporary laws for the well ordering of the State until the General Assembly, organized under the Constitution "shall establish government agreeable to the mode herein described." It is believed, however, that the convention did not undertake to legislate under this power.

It recommended the temporary Constitution "for the serious consideration of the people during six months," after which period and before the expiration of a year, another constitutional convention should be held to pass upon its adoption as the permanent fundamental law, or to amend it to conform to the popular will.

William Cocke and David Campbell probably collaborated in the preparation of this document.

Nowhere, in any document discovered, are the boundaries of Franklin formally defined. By implication jurisdiction was assumed over all of the ceded territory. Thus, the boundaries were coincident with those of the present Tennessee, though for practical purposes the Indians had possession and ruled over large portions of the domain.


The Author's Notes:

1 Ramsey, 292.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Influential members of the first convention are not recorded as voting — Doak, Donelson, Outlaw and Carter. Leaders such as Hardin, Talbot, John Tipton, Valentine Sevier and Reese, who were not delegates to the August convention, are here recorded as voting.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Ramsey, 288.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Gazette of the State of South Carolina, Charleston, of February 24th, 1785. The writer had heard the debate.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Draper Collection, Shelby MSS., vol. II, 76. Allison in Dropped Stitches in Tennessee History (p28) is yet more confused. He states that delegates met at Jonesborough in November, "but broke up in confusion because of the repeal of the cession, John Sevier having received official information."

[decorative delimiter]

6 Ramsey, 292.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Ib.

[decorative delimiter]

8 The news reached Charleston, S. C., in May and was communicated from there to England: "The new State is named Franklin." London Chronicle, Aug. 20, 1785. Arthur Campbell consistently wrote the name "Frankland" — his preference.

[decorative delimiter]

9 This document escaped the search of Haywood and Ramsey. A certified copy of it was transmitted to the State authorities of North Carolina; and was found, in 1904, in a small paper box in the office of the Insurance Commissioner of North Carolina, and not in the State Archives. The complete instrument appears in Appendix, infra. See also American Historical Magazine, IX, 399. "The form of government established is under a constitution similar to that of North Carolina." London Chronicle, Aug. 20, 1785.


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