The proposed Federal Constitution was submitted to North Carolina for adoption, and on December 5, 1787, the two houses of the Assembly met in joint conference to take into consideration the mode of action thereon. A state convention was called for July, 1788, to be composed of delegates from each county.
Undoubtedly the discussion of the Constitution and the election of delegates had some effect in bringing back to allegiance to the old State many men of the West who otherwise would have been without voice and influence in the solution of the great problems involved in the proposed national fundamental law.
All the western counties of Carolina sent delegates; Greene county: Ashael Rawlings, James Wilson, and James Roddy; Hawkins county: Stockley Donelson, Thomas King, and William Marshall; Sullivan county: Joseph Martin, John Scott, John Dunkin, David Looney, and John Sharpe; Washington county: Robert Allison, James Stuart, John Tipton, John Blair, and Joseph Tipton.
Sevier and his partisans indulged a faint hope that this convention might in some way cede the western territory, or otherwise provide for a separation; but the body adjourned without doing anything in furtherance of their desire; and, indeed, without taking any step favorable to the ratification of the Federal Constitution. Tipton and his friends voted against favorable action.
Sevier and his friends had been advocates of the Constitution, and now sought to make capital of the convention's failure to ratify.
Roosevelt incorrectly states that Sevier suddenly became a Federalist; and, "doubtless, not because of Federalism, but to show his hostility to North Carolina."1
As early as December, 1787, the Sevier element had spoken out in favor of the new system of government in the petition presented to the Assembly of Carolina, praying for separation,2 and the same p246 sentiment was reflected in the vote taken in the Assembly upon the call for a second convention to consider ratification.3
In the Carolina Assembly of 1788 (November) a majority of the delegates from the trans-Alleghany country were friends of Franklin and in favor of separation. In the senate from Greene county was James Roddy; from Hawkins country, Thomas Amis; from Washington county, John Tipton. James Robertson represented the counties on the Cumberland river. In the house of commons, Greene county was represented by Joseph Hawkins and Alexander Outlaw; Washington county by James Stuart and John Blair; Sullivan county by George Maxwell and John Scott; Hawkins county by Thomas King and Wm. Cocke. The last named, it seems, delayed attending until near the end of the session (ten days). Davidson county sent Elijah Robertson and Thomas Hardiman, and Sumner county sent William Walton and James Clendenning.
In the senate, on the second day of the session, a committee was appointed to take under consideration the situation of "the inhabitants on the Western Waters," Amis and Tipton of the number. Fortunately, Richard Caswell and Wm. Blount were also members.
Willie Jones, another friend of the western people, promptly presented a bill in the senate providing for once more pardoning and consigning to oblivion the offenses of certain persons in the counties of Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, and Washington. On a motion to amend so as to except John Sevier and to exclude him from the benefits of the act, Tipton alone of all the members from the West, gave the amendment support. During the debate on this measure4 Amis warmly opposed the amendment which would except Sevier, and in doing so gave offense to the irascible Tipton. A personal encounter on the floor of the senate was with difficulty prevented. Further discussion was postponed until the following day. Roddy, senator from Greene, during the evening, made an effort to mollify the enraged disputants. He reproached Amis for having used language calculated to exasperate Tipton and urged him thereafter to pursue a course that would "soothe his feelings." It was agreed p247 that on the next day Roddy should conduct the debate from the standpoint of Sevier's western friends, as less likely to give further offense to Tipton. When next morning, the discussion was resumed, Roddy took the floor but he had not proceeded far when Tipton became enraged, sprang from his seat and seized Roddy by the throat. Amis now called out to Roddy, "Soothe him, Colonel, soothe him!" The combatants were separated, but a challenge for a duel was issued. Mutual friends interfered and composed the controversy.
The vote in the senate following the debate was 24 to 19 against Tipton's contention.
In the house of commons an effort was made to defeat outright the pardon bill, but it was passed by a vote of 52 to 33, the friends of Tipton voting in the negative, and the friends of separation, joined by the delegates from Davidson and Sumner counties, voting aye.5
Willie Jones also introduced in the senate a bill to cede to Congress the Western Country.6 Tipton seconded an amendment by which the words "west of the Alleghany Mountains" should be deleted and "west of the Cumberland Mountains" should be inserted.7 Tipton would have thus severed and held for all time the Franklin counties and all of what is now East Tennessee under the jurisdiction of North Carolina. His motive was apparent. The amendment met a decisive defeat, 15 to 30. All the western senators voted in the negative save Tipton.
The isolation of Tipton was further emphasized when the senate acted on the bill providing for a second convention to consider the ratification by North Carolina of the Federal Constitution. He alone of the western senators voted against it;8 and his bill "to prevent vexatious lawsuits" in the four Franklin counties was rejected on the first reading.9
A majority of the eastern members shared the view of the majority of those who represented the West, that Tipton was not blameless in respect of the disorders across the Alleghanies. He and p248 his followers were rebuked when the Assembly came to elect officers for the western territory, and in a way that caused them to wince. William Cocke was elected State's attorney; Thomas King, colonel; Landon Carter, first major, and Francis Alexander Ramsey, second major of cavalry, for Washington District — all Sevierites.
The Assembly passed an act providing for the establishment of a military station at a proper place on the north side of Tennessee river for the protection of the frontiers, to be garrisoned by a company of thirty‑six officers and men. The expenses, however, were to be payable from taxes in Washington District, and "out of no other fund whatsoever." Regulation from eastern Carolina was imposed; but financial support withheld.
The cession bill was laid over till the next session; and the act of oblivion as finally passed censured Sevier's course by declaring him barred of the enjoyment of any office of profit or trust in the State.10
On the whole, the western people were pleased; they were led to believe that separation, now urged by the Cumberland people as well as by those of Franklin, was not far off.
1 Winning of the West, IV, ch. IV.
4 Ramsey erred in following the statement of Isaac Lane which related the debate to the 1789 Assembly. Tipton, Roddy, and Amis were members of the 1788 Assembly, while only Amis, of the three, was in that of 1789. So the incident could not have occurred at the time stated in Ramsey's Annals, 432.
5 N. C. St. Rec., XXI, 77.
6 Ib., XX, 513.
7 Ib., 535.
8 Ib., 514. The Tiptonites in the house of commons also opposed a further consideration of the Federal Constitution, while the friends of Sevier favored it. N. C. St. Rec., XXI, 130.
9 Ib., 577.
10 N. C. Act 1788, chapter 4. Sevier stood pardoned and no longer an outlaw, under this act; though his biographer says he continued to be an outlaw. Turner, Life of Sevier, 183.
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