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Chapter 12

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

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.
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Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p94  Chapter XIII

The Second Constitutional Convention — 1785

An election was duly held for members of the convention called to meet November 14, 1785, at Greeneville for the adoption of a permanent Constitution for the State. An amicable settlement with North Carolina seemed probable. The refractory John Tipton took part as one of the delegates of Washington county.

From an early day the Presbyterian church had been planted on the upper waters of the Tennessee by the Scotch-Irish immigrants, and it had grown to such proportions that the parent Presbytery of Hanover, in Virginia, felt that it was advisable to subdivide its territory, and in 1785 Abingdon Presbytery was organized, including in its bounds Southwest Virginia and the contiguous State of Franklin. It was felt that the time had come to make sure of the predominance of that church in the region assigned the Presbytery, and all available ministers were encouraged to lead the advance. Liberty Hall, an educational institution of the Valley of Virginia presided over by Rev. William Graham, was the source from which were to come the laborers in that moral vineyard. Thence years before had come Samuel Doak, who had deserved and won a firm hold on the frontiersmen of Watauga and Nolachucky, and joining him later were the Revs. Hezekiah Balch and Samuel Houston. The latter was awarded a bachelor's degree in 1785, the class of that year being the first to receive degrees under the privilege of a charter granted the school by the Virginia legislature.1

Influential laymen of Franklin had received their education at Liberty Hall under Graham, among them David Campbell and Samuel Newell.

Graham had been a leading figure of the Valley for many years; he was active in the struggle for independence in revolutionary  p95 days; and, later, in the prolonged contest in Virginia for religious freedom. To him, as friend and mentor, the Liberty Hall coterie in Franklin naturally turned for advice and assistance in the working out of the confronting problems of state. A committee, of which Graham and Arthur Campbell were probably the leading spirits, began work on the draft of a constitution for the new Commonwealth which was to be submitted for adoption by the Greeneville convention; and which should also meet the needs of Campbell's greater "Frankland." The name proposed was State of Frankland — to be changed from Franklin.

Samuel Houston who had taken charge (1783) of a congregation near the Washington-Greene county line, in North Carolina, was chosen to be the proponent and advocate of the draft in the approaching Franklin constitutional convention. Some, indeed most, of Graham's notions of government were visionary. He thought that by provisions in the fundamental law the vicious part of society could be excluded from political power. The electoral franchise should belong to the virtuous believers in God, in a future state of rewards and punishments, in the inspiration of the scriptures and the trinity of the Godhead. These ideas were carried into the draft of his Frankland Constitution. By the same section it was provided that no person should be eligible to serve in any office in the civil department "who is of an immoral character, or guilty of such flagrant enormities as drunkenness, gaming, profane swearing, lewdness, Sabbath-breaking, or such like;" and, further, that no minister of the gospel, attorney at law or doctor of physic should be a member of the Assembly.

"Ecclesiastical hierarchies and dignitaries" were prohibited, but every citizen of the Commonwealth should have full and free religious liberty. However, as Caldwell, in his Constitutional History of Tennessee,​2 remarks, "one condition to office holding was a perfect orthodoxy. A citizen might have held whatever opinion he pleased, but he would not have been eligible to office unless his beliefs were entirely orthodox."

Other provisions of this curious document evince suspicion of officials who might run the gauntlet of such safeguards. The governor was to be chosen annually; all bills of public nature introduced in the legislature were required to be printed and submitted to the people "for debate and amendment" before being read in the  p96 Assembly the third time and enacted into law; "except on occasion of sudden necessity" bills should not be passed into laws before the next session of the Assembly. The legislature was to consist of but one body, and was to meet annually.

On the first day of the convention at Greeneville, Samuel Houston, first reading the document as a report of a committee on a draft, proposed that it be made the basis of a permanent constitution, alterations and amendments to be offered for discussion and action. A spectator, Rev. Hezekiah Balch, asked and was granted the privilege of the floor to speak in opposition. He dealt severely with the document. The convention rejected it and adopted the modified North Carolina Constitution, doubtless in the form of the provisional Constitution under which the State was being governed at the time. The only record extant of the members who composed this convention is that shown by a protest against this action signed by nineteen of the delegates: David Campbell, Samuel Houston, John Tipton, John Ward, Robert Love, William Cox, David Craig, James Montgomery, John Strain, Robert Allison, David Looney, John Blair, James White, Samuel Newell, John Gilliland, James Stuart, George Maxwell, Joseph Tipton, and Peter Parkinson.

Francis A. Ramsey was secretary of the convention, and John Sevier or William Cocke was probably the president.

Houston felt aggrieved, and smarted under the defeat of the proposed constitution; and some of the members of the convention, who did not have over-concern for orthodox religion, made its defeat the occasion for schism. Two factions arose; one to defend the merit of the Graham-Houston system and another to decry it; and the debate waxed warm and then hot. Something unknown on the border now occurred; pamphlets were printed and circulated by the disputants. The Franklin Commonwealth Society bore the expense of publishing one of these on the "Principles of Republican Government by a Citizen of Frankland."​3 Balch violently assailed the position of his adversaries, and the contest grew so bitter that strife was engendered among the people. Some were so irritated  p97 that an effigy of Graham was burned. Hearing of this, and attributing the blame to Balch, Graham published an open letter to Balch, in pamphlet form, which was replete with satire, keen even to bitterness. Balch called his opponent to answer before the judicatory of the church.

Graham also published a pamphlet in defense of the proposed Frankland constitution in which he declared that the article which excluded immoral persons from the legislature was one of the "wisest and best . . . whether the people of Frankland be wise enough to adopt it or not. To this article it is objected that it excluded some men of great ability and experience who might do good. The devil has great ability and long experience."4

Governor Sevier had experience in subduing Indians who were on the war‑path, but was comparatively helpless in quelling a controversy between the two ministers and their followers. Ramsey deciphers from the minute book of the Washington County court this entry which relates to a phase of the dispute:

"On motion being made by the Attorney for the State, who at the same time exhibited a hand-bill containing an 'Address to the Inhabitants of Frankland State,' under a signature of a citizen of the same, the Court, upon the same being read publicly in open court, adjudged it to contain treasonable insinuations against the United States, and false and ungenerous reflections against persons of distinction in the ecclesiastical department, fraught with falsehood, calculated to alienate the minds of their citizens from their government and overturn the same.

"Upon mature deliberation, the Court condemned said hand-bill to be publicly burned by the High Sheriff, as a treasonable, wicked, false and seditious libel."​5

Strange to say, the deep feeling created by this controversy operated to weld the loose-knit elements of discontent into a faction  p98 that only wanted, for one reason or another, an opportunity openly to oppose the new State's authority. The agitation continued for more than a year. Samuel Houston published and circulated the "Frankland Constitution" in 1786, with a preface from which it appears that he still hoped to have the people adopt it when "the loud and bitter outcry that has been raised against the Report and its friends," should subside.6

The Author's Notes:

1 Other members of this class were Revs. Samuel Carrick and James Priestly who also became pioneers in educational work in the Tennessee Country. Carrick became the president of Blount College, at Knoxville; Priestly of Cumberland College at Nashville, and Balch of Greeneville College, in Greene county.

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2 Caldwell, 2nd edition, 55.

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3 Ramsey, 324, where it is said that Francis Bailey of Philadelphia, was the printer. Houston was doubtless the author. Ramsey says of one of the prefaces put out by the Houston faction: "They sent it in manuscript by express to Newbern, N. C., and had it printed and distributed extensively." — The Magnolia Magazine (of Charleston), IV, 312.

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4 For a full account of this controversy, see Ruffner, "Early History of Washington College" (Washington and Lee Historical Papers), 60; Grigsby, "Founders of Washington College" (W. and L. Hist. Papers No. 2); Foote, Sketches of Virginia, 457. The church trial went for review to the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, which had jurisdiction over the Southern Presbyteries. It found that Graham's attack appeared to be a very unwarrantable treatment of a brother. Balch had the testimony of William Cocke to show that he was blameless as to the burning of the effigy.

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5 Ramsey, 403. The Greene County Court took similar action. Balch resided in that county.

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6 The "Frankland Constitution" appears in full in American Historical Magazine, I, 49‑53. Graham made the provision in Section 42 of the draft: That the legislature "shall employ some person, at public expense, to draw it (the Constitution) out into a familiar catechetical form" for its being taught in schools.

The opening of the General Assembly was to be with a sermon by a minister of the Gospel.

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Page updated: 23 Jul 13