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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 23

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 25

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p183  Chapter XXIV

Franklin and the West in the Constitutional Convention — 1787

Having failed to get favorable action on the part of the Continental Congress, the Franklin leaders ventured now to hope that the convention, called to consider how the frame-work of the national government could be strengthened, might do something for them.

A writer from the State of Franklin, in the Maryland Journal, of July 27, 1787, observed that the people of that Commonwealth "are in hopes that the Federal Convention will invest Congress with power to have a deed executed to them for the territory ceded by the State of North Carolina on the 2nd of June, 1784, as Congress was in possession of the act of cession of said State at the time it was repealed; and, also that it could not with propriety be repealed as the time Congress had to consider of and accept the territory so ceded was made one of the stipulations of said act. . . . They have opened an office in the State of Franklin for the disposal of the lands given up to them by the Cherokee tribe; the money arising from the sale of said lands is to be reserved in the treasury for the express purpose of paying their quota of the federal debt, as they are friends to the federal government, if they can enjoy it."

This provision for covering the proceeds of the domain into the treasury was a bid for national favor, and was meant to be in contrast to the attitude of North Carolina toward the central government.

The North Carolina delegation to the federal convention, in its personnel, was not friendly to the aspirations of the western people. Caswell had declined the appointment as a delegate, and Blount took but little part in the deliberations. These two men had some appreciation of what the great hinterland was and was to be. And William Richardson Davie had been on the Watauga as a practi­cing lawyer at an earlier day and was well disposed; but he, too, took but a small part in the debates. Alexander Martin, Richard Dobbs Spaight and Hugh Williamson, as may well be conceived,  p184 were adverse — the last named in particular. He was by far the most active member of the delegation in debate and in the molding of policies. He it was, who had intervened to bring about the repeal of the North Carolina cession act of 1784, while Alexander Martin was governor.

So far, therefore, as this delegation was concerned, nothing could be expected.

Jealousy on the part of some of the delegates from the seaboard States toward the rising West was first exhibited in a debate on the basis of representation in Congress.

Gouverneur Morris, of Pennsylvania, looking forward "to that range of new States which would soon be formed in the West" thought that the rule of representation should be so fixed as to secure the Atlantic States a predominance in the national councils. The new States would know less of the public interest than these; would have an interest in many respects different. This would not be unjust as the western settlers would previously know the conditions. The busiest haunts of men, not the remote wilderness was the proper school of political talents.

John Rutledge, of South Carolina, agreed that if numbers should be made the rule of representation, "the Atlantic States will be made subject to the Western."

Gorham, of Massachusetts, made the point that the States would vary in relative extent by separations of parts of the largest States. "A part of Virginia is now on the point of separation. In the province of Maine, a convention is at this time deliberating on a separation from Massachusetts." King, of the same State, insisted that Jefferson's scheme for new States was impolitic, in that it amounted to a compact with the settlers that as soon as their number reached the size of the smallest of the original States admission into the Union might be claimed. "The plan as it respects one of the new States, is already irrevocable, the sale of lands having commenced, and the settlers will immediately become entitled to all the privileges of the compact."

Williamson, of North Carolina, urged that the Western States should stand on a different footing since their property was not rated as high as that of the Atlantic States.

Madison was opposed to determining "human character by the points of the compass." No discrimination against the West was admissible either in point of justice or policy.

 p185  Gerry, of Massachusetts, agreed that new States in the West "will oppress commerce and drain our wealth into the Western Country. There was a rage for emigration from the Eastern States into the Western Country, and he did not wish those remaining behind to be at the mercy of the emigrants."

As to the number of senators, Gorham preferred two to three from each State. "The number of States will increase. Kentucky, the province of Maine, and Franklin will soon be added to the present number."1

Touching the admission of new States, Butler was opposed to recognition of their equality in the Union being anchored in the Constitution.

Madison insisted that the Western States neither would nor ought to submit to a Union which degraded them from an equal rank with other States.

Mason, of Virginia, said: "If it were possible by just means to prevent emigrations into the Western Country, it might be good policy. But go the people will as they find it to their interest, and the best policy is to treat them with that equality which will make them friends, not enemies."2

Williamson was against treating the Western States on terms of equality with even the small States of the East.

When it was proposed to make the admission of new States, erected within the limits of then existing States, dependent upon the consent of the legislature of such State, that old lion, Luther Martin, of Maryland, came into the arena roaring opposition. Nothing would so alarm the limited States (with no western lands) as to make the consent of the large States, claiming western lands, necessary to the establishment of new States within their limits. "Shall Vermont be reduced by force in favor of States claiming it? Franklin and the western country of Virginia (Kentucky) were in a like condition."

The proposition, notwithstanding, was carried by reason of the voting strength of the States that asserted title to the western regions as against the Nation: New Hampshire voted no; Massachusetts, aye; Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, no; Maryland, no; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye; and Georgia, aye.

Article XVII, as amended, stood for consideration as a whole.  p186 Langdon, of New Hampshire, agreed with Martin: "dangerous opposition to the plan would be excited."

G. Morris: "If the forced division of the States is the object of the new system, and is to be pointed against one or two States, I expect the gentleman in the chair [George Washington] would pretty quickly leave us."

This intimation, if meant to imply opposition to new States in the West, was distinctly not justified. Washington shared Jefferson's views as to the new‑state movement, even when it affected his own Virginia. He was on record,​3 time and again to the contrary, and never more plainly than in these words to Jefferson: "The inhabitants of Kentucky have held several conventions, and have resolved to apply for a separation. Opinions, as far as they come to my knowledge, are diverse. I have uniformly given it as mine to meet them upon their own ground, draw the best line, and make the best terms we can, and part good friends."​4 Nor was Washington frightened by the spectre of separation. To Jefferson he had written: "I am not less in sentiment with you in respects to the impolicy of the States grasping at more territory than they are competent to the government of; and, for the reason you assign, I very much approve the mouth of the Great Kanawha as a convenient and very proper line of separation."5

In the progress of the debate Rutledge ventured the assertion that there could be no room to fear that North Carolina would call on the United States to maintain her government over the mountains.

Mr. Williamson protested that North Carolina was well disposed to give up her western lands, but attempts at compulsion was not the policy of the United States. He was for doing nothing in the Constitution in the present case and for leaving the whole matter in statu quo.

Luther Martin urged the unreasonableness of forcing the people of Virginia beyond the mountains, the western people of North Carolina and Georgia, and the people of Maine, to continue under the States then governing them. The majority might place the seat of government among themselves for their own convenience and still keep the injured parts of the States in subjection, under  p187 guaranty of the general government against domestic violence. "When the great States are to be affected, political societies are of sacred nature."

The Articles of Confederation had made the admission of a new State to depend upon the affirmative vote of nine States; but, following the action taken at the close of the debate, such admission, practically speaking, was made to depend upon the consent of that old State which claimed sovereignty over it, since little, if any, of the western lands was unclaimed by some one of the Thirteen States.

The debate has been outlined somewhat at length for the reason that the result sealed the fate of the State of Franklin, in that it placed her recognition and admission securely at the option of North Carolina. It remains only to be observed that in this convention of patriots no voice was raised to urge an equitable right to self-determination on the part of the western people, since they by their bravery and fortitude had conquered the western wilderness and given it value in the esteem of the claimant States; and more, had turned to aid in prizing the foot of the British invader from seaboard soil, which the invader was determined to claim on the basis of uti possidetis.

Luther Martin refused to sign the Constitution and went home resolved to prevent the ratification of that instrument by the legislature of Maryland. In making a report to that body, under the title of "Genuine Information" (November 29, 1787) he said:

"The States of North Carolina and Virginia . . . reach from the seacoast unto the Mississippi. The hardship, the inconvenience, and the injustice of compelling the inhabitants of those States who dwell on the western side of the mountains . . . to remain connected with the inhabitants of those States, respectively, on the Atlantic side of the mountains and subject to the same State governments, would be such as would, in my opinion, justify even recourse to arms to free themselves from and to shake off so ignominious a yoke.

"It would be too absurd and improbable to deserve a serious answer, should any person suggest that these States mean ever to give consent to the erection of new States; but should this Constitution be adopted, armed with a sword and halter to compel their obedience and subjection, they will no longer act with indecision; and the State of Maryland may, and probably will, be called  p188 upon to assist with her wealth and her blood in subduing the inhabitants of Franklin, Kentucky, and Vermont, and the provinces of Maine and Sagadahoc, and in compelling them to continue in subjection to the States which respectively claim jurisdiction over them."​6

Martin's statement was overcolored. He mistook, so far as North Carolina was concerned, the marrow of the policy to be there pursued: that of holding under leash the Western Country for further exploitation of the land, to the acquisition of which the Trans-Appalachians were regarded chiefly as way‑breakers. There was little or no concern for the continuance of mere political control of the people beyond the mountain ranges.​a

The Author's Notes:

1 Doc. Hist. Constitution, III, 410‑412.

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2 Ib., 643.

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3 Ante, p27.

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4 Sparks's Writings of Washington, IX, 134.

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5 Ib., 33.

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6 Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, III, 224 et seq.

Thayer's Note:

a If with respect to the actual case at hand Luther Martin does seem to have exaggerated the dangers, in the final analysis, as we all know, he was right: the Northern States would demonstrate it in 1861, refusing to let go of the Southern States in what became an unsuccessful War for Southern Independence.

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