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Chapter 19

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 21
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p149  Chapter XX

A High Debate — 1787

In May a convention was held at Greeneville to consider the final adoption of the Constitution promulgated at that place on November 19, 1785. It was resolved that that instrument should be the Constitution of the State, "until the people of said State are received into the Federal Union; or a majority of the freemen of the State of Franklin shall otherwise direct." Several amendments were proposed for consideration by the people and their ratification or rejection at the polls. A search has not brought to view these amendments; they probably were of minor import.

Before the convention closed, Cocke brought before the body a motion in substance as follows: "In view of the fact that Franklin's commissioners who waited on the Assembly of North Carolina last year were not attended to with that respect due to commissioners; and, notwithstanding the illegal manner in which the members from the western counties had been elected in the name of North Carolina, yet they were permitted to take their seats as legislators; and as those members were mortal enemies to our rising Republic, whose citizens the Assembly of North Carolina called their western inhabitants, a separation was thereby prevented. But as we find that some individuals of the said Assembly now warmly express themselves in favor of a separation, upon condition that Franklin would join North Carolina, and send from Franklin members to take seats in their Assembly to effect a separation, such separation would undoubtedly be granted. Therefore, the holding of an election on the same day appointed for the election for the State of North Carolina would enable us to send members to negotiate a separation, and thus we could easily obtain our wish without trouble or hazard."

Governor Caswell had held out to the Franks the hope that the next Assembly of his State might consent to a separation, and Cocke's idea was that that result would be the more likely if tried friends of an independent government in the West should hold seats in that body and advocate the cause from the floor.

 p150  A warm debate followed Cocke's brief remarks in support of the motion, and the substance of the speeches has been preserved in a contemporaneous report of the convention, though the same escaped the research of our historians.​1 Interest is lent to the debate by John J. Sevier's participation. He was not given to public speaking, and in likelihood this is the only speech by him that has been preserved in print. Fortunately, in their remarks he and others adverted to the history of the region and gave a glimpse of its first settlement.

This, being the only account of a Franklin parliamentary proceeding in anything like detail, is given in full and as reported.

The entire debate evinces the ability of those who took part in it, and goes far toward demonstrating that they were by no means as rude as their surroundings. The account is almost certainly Elholm's and is as follows:

Col. Wear said, he did not approve of the motion in any sense; that, besides, the motion required the greatest deliberation and more time for consideration than what the House would admit at present, and that we ought to be exceedingly careful of our safety and of the growing Commonwealth; and he would therefore vote against it.

The Hon. Gen. Cocke observed that he thought the plan not dangerous, but he considered the motion as the only plan whereby we might obtain our wishes through a peaceful channel; and he confessed that, from every observation he had made as a commissioner who had waited on the North Carolina Assembly, he had every reason to believe that numbers of individuals of their legislative branches were warm for a speedy separation and reconciliation with us; and from those circumstances, he thought it his duty to support the motion in its present nature.

The Honorable George Elholm signified his greatest amazement that a debate of this nature should be carried on in this assembly; that to take seats merely as pretended friends of North Carolina, was inconsistent with the character of a people whose bravery in the field had changed the most gloomy aspect to that the most pleasing. They could not sit like old women in council when their  p151 rights and privileges were in question. He wished of heaven that a few ancient Roman senators might arise to touch this council to claim their rights with a spirit compatible with their martial prowess; and, although North Carolina refused to attend to the proposal of our commissioners last session, she might from a second thought receive them; and, even if she should not with a due respect, that so far from its proving fatal, it could in his opinion but turn out at worst an ill conveniency to the State of Franklin, which in a short period could not fail to vanish. He wished, therefore, the motion might not be carried.

The Honorable General Cocke was astonished that prudence in this council should be held out an odium, and not be preferred to the method the honorable gentleman who spoke last highly recommends to this Assembly. He recommended to consider how the interest of North Carolina stood respectively with the State of Franklin. You will find that the latter adds to the former an addition of charges annually to the amount of upwards of 9,000 pounds. If then you will admit North Carolina to possess wisdom in her council, you must also adjudge her as ripe to confirm a separation as ourselves; and I have been an eye‑witness that several gentlemen in that State by their conduct confess themselves sensible of their errors; and I am certain if any member from this quarter will ask a separation, it will be readily granted.

It is true that North Carolina would catch at a straw last session in order not to separate us; but now she has had an opportunity of seeing her mistake; and, therefore, will more readily comply; for which reason I recommend the mode held forth: to carry our own friends in an election, which will simply answer our purpose.

His Excellency, Governor Sevier, who had been waited on by a committee for his opinion, observed that it was well known in general that North Carolina, in compliance with a re­quisition made by Congress in June, 1784, passed a cession act, which gave us the privileges which we now unhappily are obliged to contend for. He then cited the clauses that give those rights to the people of Franklin; and further observed that, on the fourteenth of July following, Mr. Spaight, from North Carolina, laid the act before the Committee of States under the great seal of North Carolina State; and, therefore, he was fully satisfied that, after being thus received, the virtue of the very act itself, deprived North Carolina of the right they presumed in repealing the said cession act on the 20th of November  p152 following. And that Congress is sensible that they have complied with the re­quisition of the said act is fully ascertained by their frequent demands on North Carolina to comply agreeable to the tenor of the same. This cession act, therefore, he said, cannot be compared to any common statute, made only for the regulation of their own internal police, which only respects her own citizens; but it was no sooner constitutionally passed than it became a sacred charter for three different powers, viz., the Congress, the people of the State of Franklin, and North Carolina. Of course it can never be lawfully repealed without the consent of the said three different powers. The people of the West had not released North Carolina from her sacred pledge of an independent separation; and, what was of more importance in regard to the benefit of the Union, neither had the United States relinquished their claim; and he was highly prompted to believe that they never would; but, should such a thing happen, it would then be time enough for the people of Franklin to consult as to what measures to pursue. But as to the independency of Franklin, it existed in full force undeniably. He referred the Convention to take a view of the Constitution of North Carolina, where they would find a clause which mentions that there may be a State or States erected in the West, whenever the legislature gives consent to the same. Now for North Carolina to attempt to insinuate that the said cession act had not been constitutionally passed, and that another is still wanting for that purpose, can only serve to expose themselves in a disadvantageous way to a just and sensible world. He well perceived that tools were set at work among us, but he was sure that North Carolina would stop rather than run the risk of quarreling openly with the United States; that the people of this country have ever proved good, faithful and powerful citizens to the interests of the United States; and they only contended now for the sacred rights and privileges given them already. It was his opinion, however he might be for unanimity, that further application was unnecessary, and that the act of cession and the Constitution of North Carolina were plenary proof of his assertions.

Col. Cage was of the opinion that if we did not hold the sham election proposed under the authority of North Carolina, thereby to get friends to represent us in that Assembly, we should never bring about a reconciliation; and as a friend to peace as well as a faithful friend to the State of Franklin he heartily wished that the  p153 motion now in question might be carried; thus, with their own weapons we should prove victorious over our enemy.

Col. Amis endeavored to support the same very powerfully.

The Honorable George Elholm said that he deemed it miraculous that men of understanding should so largely differ in reference to a plain and simple fact, who were all staunch friends to Franklin and patriots to freedom, and so closely connected in the independence of their country. It was plain that if we suffered any of our friends to represent us in the Assembly of North Carolina, by choice of our citizens under any pretence whatever, we had in fact made void the cession act on our part, and of course reverted insensibly to North Carolina government. Good God of heaven, how long shall the spirit of ill‑timed prudence prey upon us to diminish a former conduct? Let us consider that the esteem conferred on us is the fruit of justice, generosity and our own independent spirit; and if we fly those virtues will we not deservedly sink into disgrace? His Excellency has plainly demonstrated that our government is legal. Let us, therefore, avoid a conduct for which we would have cursed our fathers. We have spent our youth in pursuit of liberty, and let us now in our experienced days support our freedom and leave it an inheritance to our posterity. We have neither sumptuous buildings nor towns that can serve to damp our spirit if we are threatened with an invasion; while our internal riches, on the other hand, are enchanting enough to convert any hostile force sent among us into a real present to strengthen our growing republic. We have a line of conduct drawn before us by the ablest politicians the world had ever produced. If Franklin will pattern them she will prosper. It has been mentioned that North Carolina was as ripe for separation as Franklin, but he thought that argument was an insult to the house; for separation was already effected, which North Carolina endeavored to annihilate. But the cry of that State was, "join us, and then we shall separate immediately." This is another of a grosser nature. We should have been perfect dupes, indeed, to believe that gentlemen in North Carolina who, it was well known, had ever conducted themselves with every sense of delicacy and honor in private life, should indifferently expose themselves in a public character, without an expectation of making a second separation a better bargain at the expense of the people of Franklin. Again, it has been observed that they used our commissioners with every mark of friendship and civility; but it is well known that the same  p154 polite gentlemen had suffered our public officers, chosen by the voice of our good citizens, to be loaded ungenerously with insults in their legislature, with impunity, by men who even violated the laws of their State in taking their seats;​2 and this was a truth too glaring to be denied. Franklin had been constitutionally separated from the government of North Carolina, in every sense, as much as two nations merely in alliance ought to be. Therefore, the State of Franklin could not honorably treat with North Carolina on any other terms than what she could with any other sister State in the Union; and that on such footing he recommended Franklin to send commissioners to endeavor to negotiate peace between Franklin and that State.

The Honorable General [Cocke] in the manner he expressed the word odium, seemed to intimate that an ungenerous expression had been made use of. If the cap fitted any, it could be but few; and he was confident that the honorable General, a gentleman of the law, who knew how statutes must be interpreted, must even confess it ungenerous to judge of sayings in any other light than one in which they were commonly understood; and he hoped if an apology were requisite, it would be sufficient to confess that the expression arose from a warmth occasioned by a surprise at the nature of the debate. He was as much disposed for peace as any other gentleman present, and only differed about a mode to procure it. This assembly was entrusted with the welfare and rights of about thirty thousand souls, placed in a garden of Columbia, protected by upwards of 9,000 free, able-bodied citizens, and it was the duty of every member to watch each other's conduct with vigilance and in a republican spirit as guardians at this time for their constituents and a free-born offspring.

The Honorable General Kennedy advised the gentleman to withdraw his motion, for he might easily perceive it would not be carried; for it could not be surmised that a plan of that nature could be conducted to any advantage whatsoever to the people of Franklin. A scrutiny must condemn it. He noticed that a few leading persons, of the small inconsiderable faction of deluded citizens on this side of the Appalachian mountains, had joined North Carolina in an endeavor to effect confusion and anarchy in this State. They were, at our first convention, friends to our new Republic; and, it was well  p155 known, they had changed their conduct merely through a disappointed ambition; by which means they became indefatigable political tools for our enemies in North Carolina. Those leaders, in violation of the laws of that State, got themselves secretly elected under a sham sanction of said laws, last year; and the Assembly of that State allowed them seats, pretendedly believing those men to be our representatives of what they styled their "reverted western citizens," and showed themselves careless to every reason, and deaf to every conviction displayed by the commissioners sent by the General Assembly of Franklin. Notwithstanding these illegal members openly confessed that the opposition of only three hundred Franks, commanded by General Cocke, had obliged to hold their election secretly, yet North Carolina received those persons politically as members and protected them as if they had been representatives of the general voice of the western citizens. This being premised, to suppose then that the scheme now debated in the House could prevent that party from sending members to the North Carolina Assembly would be truly ridiculous. Besides, they were now assisted by a late act in favor of secret elections. Should we now, as a convention of the State of Franklin, through folly pass a resolve for our citizens to hold a sham election, under the sanction of North Carolina, in order to choose our friends on the day appointed to elect members of the Assembly of that State? It would certainly give the enemies to the confirmation of separation straws enough (to use the gentleman's own phrase) to fire the government of Franklin with. As they have not convinced us as yet that they will not be as ready in the next Assembly to catch at straws as they were in the last, it would be a crime to believe that it would not leave us, on its vestiges, objects for the laughter of the world. I will admit that we by that means might carry friends to the confirmation of our separation act; but the opposite party, secretly at another place, would surely do the same. What then would be the consequence? North Carolina would then receive the members of that party, announce us as reverted rebels, and have a plea to use us accordingly. If North Carolina will not receive commissioners from Franklin, it should convince us that that State will not negotiate a confirmation; persuade us, in such a case, to rely on it that justice will not let the State of Franklin suffer because North Carolina piqued up a difference with Congress and refused to give her a deed for the western land. Our steady and uniform proceedings  p156 since the adjournment of the North Carolina Assembly must have convinced that State that the citizens of Franklin are determined to live independent of North Carolina. Therefore, members from this quarter could only ask what our conduct had claimed and confirmed; when commissioners, on the other hand, can demand our privileges, and negotiate peace to the honor of our State. But, laying aside all those objections, the measures proposed could never be excusably executed, but to save a government on the verge of destruction. But as this is not our situation at present, then, as a citizen of a brave people who ever scorned duplicity, he utterly condemned the motion, and agreed fully with the gentlemen who would not enter into negotiations with North Carolina, on any other terms than with other sister States in the Union.

His Excellence, the Governor, here taking the floor again, produced an act passed in the last General Assembly of Franklin, which directed the executive to make use of hostility, if nothing else would do, to prevent elections within the limits of the State of Franklin under the authority of North Carolina. Therefore, the tenor of the motion now before the House would bring the friends of independency under the rigor of that act. It is extraordinary that the conduct of the citizens who had sent members here should uniformly support the independency of Franklin, and that those members should also unanimously express themselves in favor of supporting the same, and yet at the same time blindly pursue a method which could not fail to bring a reunion with North Carolina. Let us suppose for a moment that the scheme now in agitation would answer the end supposed by some among us, which it certainly never would. It would in fact only alter our condition from independency to dependency, and ourselves from freemen to servants, and the course would disqualify us from every privilege above mere favors. But let us suppose that it would bring about a second separation as apparently favorable to our Commonwealth as the cession act. The quota of our debt would then be laid proportionally to the number of citizens we have now, which is on a ratio as is four to one to what they were at the time of our separation. Of course in the midst of our frugality we would be obliged to bear part of the expense requisite to support the extravagance and luxury of North Carolina government, besides our proportion to Congress for discharge of the foreign Continental debt. Thus situated, we are equally interested in the character of the cession  p157 act with the honorable Congress; and thereby bound in honor to give it a mutual support. Therefore, were we now to revert, it would remove us from all confidence due to a spirited power, to wallow in disgrace forever. A concise narrative of the settling of Franklin would show that the first colony in the country was settled by Virginians, about fifteen years ago, and that a line afterward run by Virginia and North Carolina left a helpless number of industrious citizens destitute of any more protection than what their own inconsiderable strength afforded them against the outrageous warlike tribes of Indians. That, in this situation of that settlement, the British superintendents, Cameron and Stuart, offered them protection on condition that they would transplant themselves further down toward West Florida, which their abhorrence of British tyranny at that time made them refuse. Soon after, in the year 1776, they applied to a convention held at Halifax, North Carolina, to become citizens of that State, in order to prevent that they might be thought inimical to the Revolution, which would have added to their distress. Their petition underwent a high and long debate before it was favorably received by North Carolina;​3 and in that convention the clause inserted in the North Carolina Constitution which makes the cession act constitutional and just. The people of Franklin territory had paid large sums of money for the greatest part of their land before the Revolution of North America took place. Besides this, the settlers had held it by the sword, a mode that has confirmed the most powerful charters round the globe. Now going on ten years, the savages laid waste their buildings, carried off their stock and other movable property, killed and scalped several families and obliged the rest to fly to the safety of forts for the space of twelve months. In their helpless condition, the Virginians had proved their warmest supporters. He was, therefore, fully satisfied that if the matter were thoroughly discussed no impartial judicial power would judge North Carolina entitled to govern that territory which nature had formed a castle for a Commonwealth. Our enemies would find to their sorrow that it is garrisoned by brave, independent people should they concern unjustly with the western citizens, and we adhere to our former virtue. But should this day involve an offspring into slavery, it would fall a heavy curse on our own heads.

 p158  Colonel Doherty begged the House to beware of a danger not yet noticed. After the lower [seaboard] interest in North Carolina had made an instrument of the re­quisition of the United States to curtail the frontier, and thereby balance the scale of politics in favor of the seaboard citizens, a company of land speculators arose and formed a plan to throw us into confusion wherewith to prevail on us to revert to North Carolina to give them an opportunity of locating our land and improvements over our heads.​4 We must countermine that danger or a few years will bring a deluge of those speculators on our territory, who will infest our country with slavery that will be an evil equal to the thraldom inflicted formerly on the English by a swarm of Norman barons. He recommended it to every Frank, like men of spirit, to guard against it.

Major Newell perfectly agreed with Colonel Doherty, and added that we were constitutionally placed in an independent condition, and that we had both the spirit and the power within ourselves sufficient to support the independency of our rising Republic; and that as his sentiments on this were already sufficiently expressed, he would only mention that he could not agree to any other mode of negotiation with North Carolina than on terms claimed by any other sister State; and he called for the ayes and nays.

Colonel Barton agreed that Franklin had sufficient strength within herself to support independency, but he urged that that strength ought to be nourished by sound policy. He was not the least apprehensive that the petition sent by the small inimical party to North Carolina for men, ammunition and arms to subdue our infant Republic would meet with success. For, laying aside the Continentals of that State, and a few counties besides which had joined with patriotism and resolution in the last war, North Carolina had not proved to be very alert. He was certain that those men would not now assist to enthral those of their brethren who received and protected the records of North Carolina when Governor Caswell could raise only about twenty-five men among themselves to escort the records over the mountains to Franklin.

He feared the plan in debate would tend to check our government by confusing weak minds, and therefore condemned it utterly and recommended their uniform conduct to be ardently pursued. It had already brought Franklin respectable and powerful friends and the applause of justice.

 p159  Captain Chisholm was tired of the state of administration in Franklin as it now stands; and was, therefore, urgent for a reconciliation; but he declared himself incapable of pointing out the readiest mode to obtain a better, and therefore called for a decision of the house.

The Honorable General Cocke, next speaking, said he found that the plan was discovered and had, therefore, lost its virtue; and he now condemned it as useless. But he still believed it might, undisclosed, have conducted peace smoothly into our Commonwealth. His argument in support of the motion had been severely handled; not more so than he knew it would suffer from undergoing debate. But, in regard to duplicity, he scorned it equally with any member on the floor. No less despicable conduct than that practiced by those inconsiderable characters, attended to by General Kennedy, could have made him support such a scheme to counteract an enemy.

The motion was withdrawn and another agreed to: That Commissioners be appointed to wait on the North Carolina Assembly with instructions from the General Assembly of Franklin to negotiate peace with the State of North Carolina consistent with the honor of, and with justice to, those two States as independent of each other.

It will be seen that, speaking broadly, those who favored the plan of Cocke repented the upper and longer-settled counties, while those who opposed were from the lower or frontier counties of Franklin.

Governor Sevier communicated to General Shelby a copy of the resolution that was adopted, along with a friendly letter which also sheds some light on the failure of the Sevier-Shelby compromise of March. Under date of May 30th, Sevier wrote:

I have the pleasure to enclose you a copy of a resolve of our last convention which will discover to you the friendly disposition of the Franklin people towards you, and evince to world the wish for peace and unanimity in the Western Country. Your letter by Mr. Bowman, I have before me. I must inform you that Parkinson​5 refused to comply with your orders. Informed Mr. Bowman that had such orders been issued from any of his superior officers of his own county, that he would have obeyed them; but that you have  p160 been much censured, and he thought himself not bound to obey you; therefore sold the guns for a trifle. I wish you, once more, to quash such rash proceedings, and to call them to an account yourself for such conduct, otherwise, however disagreeable it may be to me, I shall be under the necessity of doing it.

The Author's Notes:

1 Georgia State Gazette (Augusta) issues of July 14th and 28th, 1787, in DeRenne Library, "Wormsloe," Savannah, Ga. The space given to the debate, in the few columns devoted to news by the print of that day, demonstrates the deep interest of Georgians in the progress of events in Franklin.

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2 The reference here is to Tipton and the other members from the western counties in the 1786 Assembly.

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3 Gov. Sevier was a delegate to the Convention and Provisional Congress of 1776, and he speaks from personal knowledge of the debates.

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4 For justification of this charge, see ante, p20 and post, p191.

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5 Captain Peter Parkinson; see sketch, post, p337. Sevier here imputes blame to Parkinson for the failure of the March compromise.

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