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Chapter 36

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.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p282  Chapter XXXVII

Survival of the Conception and Spirit

The concept of Franklin as a State did not die, but survived to appear at later stages of the history of East Tennessee. The joinder of what was Franklin territory in government with the Cumberland Country and West Tennessee never accorded with the dictates of nature.

Gilbert Imlay, who watched the development of affairs on the frontier in behalf of Great Britain, about 1790 predicted that the Cumberland Country would form the next State to follow Kentucky into the Union, the difficulty of communication between it and North Carolina being so great as to compel its separation. "The mountains [Cumberland] will most likely be its eastern limits; its southern limits will be, either the partition line continued between North Carolina and Georgia, or it will be run southerly until it strikes the ridge of hills which divides the Tennessee [river] country from the country of the Choctaws; thence a due west course to the Mississippi, or following some one of those branches which rise in those hills and pursuing its course to that river."1

Imlay's was an approach to Arthur Campbell's conception of Franklin's proper domain. Thus:

The country upon the headwaters of the Tennessee stands next in the list of advancement [into the Union]. This country includes the settlements of Clinch, and the settlements of Powell's valley which are part in Virginia and part in North Carolina; besides the settlements of Nolachucky and French Broad. This last settlement  p283 will be extended to the borders of Cherokee country which will bind this State to the southward. Its western boundary will be the Cumberland mountains . . . Its northern limits will be the ridges of hills that divide the waters of Tennessee and the Great Kanawha, and its eastern boundary will be the high hills that divide the eastern and western waters . . . This State will be in extent upwards of two hundred miles north and south, and the average width from east to west nearly an hundred and fifty.

This country has mountains on every side but the southwest, and is interspersed with high hills in most parts of it. The valleys are extremely fertile and everywhere finely watered. The climate in the upper part of the country is not so temperate as that of Kentucky, though its lies in the same latitude, which is owing to the neighboring mountains. Many parts of this district are well settled, and cultivation was brought to such considerable perfection that the inhabitants had it in contemplation to become independent seven years since, under the distinction of the State of Franklin. Its population is not only considerable, but its respectability in every consideration will very soon entitle it to the rank of a distinct State; though it may require some time to effect a unity of sentiments and a consolidation of its various and detached settlements into that order which the organs of government require.

A distinguished Frenchman, François A. Michaux, in his Travels of 1802, recorded his impressions of East Tennessee.​2 After referring to the frustrated attempt to establish the State of Franklin, he says:

It is still very probable, and has already been in question, that East and West Tennessea [West Tennessee as descriptive that time of all the country west of the Cumberland Mountains] will ultimately form two distinct States, which will each enlarge itself by a new addition of part of the territory belonging to the Cherokee Indians. The natives, it is true, will not hear the least mention of a cession being made, objecting that their tract of country is barely sufficient to furnish, by hunting, a subsistence for their families. However, sooner or later, they will be compelled to yield. The division of Tennessea​3 cannot be long before it takes place, whether under the consideration of convenience or the enterprising dispositions of the Americans. It is commanded, on the one hand, by the boundaries that Nature herself has prescribed between the two countries, in separating them by the Cumberland mountains; and on the other, by their commerce, which is wholly different, since Cumberland carries on its trade by the Ohio and Mississippi, while  p284 Holston does most by land with the seaports belonging to the Atlantic States, and has very little to do with New Orleans by the river Tennessea, and scarcely any with Cumberland and Kentucky.

In 1796, in the Constitutional Convention met to organize the State of Tennessee, Alexander Outlaw moved, and Joseph Anderson seconded, the insertion in the document of a clause providing "that, if we be not admitted by Congress as a member State of the General Government, we should continue to exist as an independent State."

The next proponent of a new State was Andrew Johnson, who at that time, as a member of the Tennessee senate, was barely started on a career that led to the presidency of the nation.

As early as 1809, the State of Tennessee in her polity was compelled to reckon with the geographical peculiarities that had from the outset presaged three grand divisions; and the Constitution of 1834 gave formal recognition to such divisions. Divisional feeling appeared first when the Cumberland Settlements failed to join in the Franklin movement, and again when a large majority of their inhabitants voted against statehood in 1795. The Chickasaw purchase of 1818 gave rise to a third grand division, West Tennessee, between the rivers Tennessee and Mississippi.

As Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee developed, and population increased, primacy in State affairs passed from East Tennessee. In 1840 the control was, for all practical purposes, with the middle division. It was felt by the other two divisions that this power was unfairly wielded.

The year 1841 was marked by high tension, in politics in Tennessee. In October of that year, the first suggestion of a division of the State, in order to the creation of new ones, came from West Tennessee.4

An editorial in the Nashville Whig (Dec. 6, 1841) commenting upon the proposal expressed the opinion that it was impracticable, since "East Tennessee intends to set up for herself and become a free, sovereign and independent member of the Confederacy." It was not suspected by the writer that there might come about an alliance for dismemberment between the East and the West.

 p285  That stormy petrel, Andrew Johnson, now offered in the senate a joint resolution which called for the appointment of a joint committee to take under consideration the propriety of ceding East Tennessee to the general government for the purpose of forming an independent State to be called the State of Frankland.​5 The Whig at once perceived and declared that the separation of East Tennessee was "in serious contemplation."

Johnson's plan was a reversion to Arthur Campbell's State of Franklin. One of the ablest West Tennesseans, John A. Gardner, of Weakley county, offered a similar resign on the 15th, which looked to the creation of the new "State of Jacksoniana" out of the territory of the Chickasaws.6

On January 18th Johnson called for a consideration of his resolutions, and in a speech which consumed an hour urged their passage. He wished the deliberate vote of the senate on the subject; the project did not originate with him, he said, but with the people of East Tennessee. He adverted to the period when that part of the State had been under the sovereignty of the State of Franklin, and to the republican simplicity to which his people would return.7

The resolutions were adopted by the senate, there being seventeen "ayes" and six "nays." All of the six negatives were cast by senators from Middle Tennessee. A combination between the other grand divisions was evident. The Nashville Whig, granting that Johnson had placed the claims of East Tennessee "in a strong light" and that the people of that division were anxious for a separation, continued to combat the proposal as impolitic.

 p286  Samuel Milligan​8 of Greene, called up the senate resolution in the house of representatives on January 22nd, and advocated concurrence. Brookins Campbell,​9 of Washington county, urged, favorable consideration, "not upon the ground that East Tennessee was disposed to complain of her connection with Middle and West Tennessee, but because of the dissimilarity of her interests and of the difficulty of legislating for a people separated from the balance of the State by a great natural barrier, and whose local wants could not be correctly appreciated by their brethren west of the Cumberland mountains."

The resolution was finally approved by the house of representatives, after amendments, one of which was the striking out of the direction that the governor open a correspondence with Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The resolution as amended did not reach the senate in time for action before the adjournment of the Assembly. The increasing importance of Tennessee as a pivotal State in national campaigns, and the close and bitter contests between the Whigs and the Democrats for control of the State, shunted aside the separation issue for two decades.10

Another period of stress and turmoil once more brought the separation of East Tennessee to serious discussion. Strangely enough, the movement for the separation or secession of Tennessee from the Union precipitated it. After the passage of the ordinance of independence by the legislature of Tennessee, a convention was held  p287 (May 30, 1861) in Knoxville, composed of members who were loyal to the national authority. A vigorous "declaration of grievances" was promulgated and published in pamphlet form. Commissioners were appointed to appear before the State legislature, then in session, to ask "its consent that the counties composing East Tennessee . . . may form and erect a separate State." "Desiring, in good faith, that the General Assembly will grant our reasonable request, and claiming the right to determine our own destiny" — was a declaration, and steps were taken for the holding of another convention in case the legislature refused independence.11

In the debate in the Assembly at Nashville, following the presentation of the memorial, the name of Franklin was proposed for the projected State.

After the Civil War was ended, the newspapers of that division announced that "East Tennessee will ere long take the preliminary steps for a separate State organization" — encouraged, doubtless, by the successful rape of Virginia in the organization, recognition and admission of West Virginia as a State.12

Even in recent years there have been suggestions of the revival of the Franklin Commonwealth — faint echoes of the early period that has always appealed to Tennesseans. The mountain and hill country of greater Franklin is today often referred to as the "State of Appallachia."º A community of feeling and interest — a real homogeneity — is demonstrated by the fact that several of the most influential churches disregard state lines and maintain conference and synod boundaries in keeping with geographical, social and economic demands.

The Frank's spirit of independence, the passionate and not sterile restiveness under undue restraint or dictation, has time after time burst into flame in the history of Tennessee as a Commonwealth.

Andrew Jackson was made to feel its power when he sought to compel Tennesseans to support Van Buren, as his own successor, against Hugh Lawson White, the able and beloved Tennessean, son of a devoted Franklinite. White carried the State by a majority of 10,039 over Van Buren and Harrison, and the party of Jackson was unable to carry the State in a national contest until 1856.

The same characteristic was manifested by the State in her withdrawal  p288 from the Union in 1861, and, in turn, by the eastern division in resisting secession and itself seeking reparation.

In 1910 and 1914, the dominant political party was brought to defeats in the assertion by the people of the State of their faith in a free and independent judiciary.

The genius of the people has always been of an intensely democratic type. They have been responsive to leader­ship, but susceptible to waves of punitory resentment when that leader­ship has shown a tendency to harden into dictation.

The Author's Notes:

1 Imlay, in Winterbotham's View, III, 170. Imlay's forecast of the future of the Indian tribes proved truer to the event. He foresaw that the settlers in North Georgia would in a very few years bid defiance to the Cherokees in that quarter. "The settlement of [French] Broad, aided by Holston, have nothing to fear from them [the Cherokees] and the Cumberland is too puisant to apprehend any danger. . . . The settlements at the Natchez and above will soon extend to the southern boundaries of Cumberland; so they will be completely enveloped in a few years. Our people will continue to encroach upon them on three sides and compel them to live more domesticated lives and assimilate them to our mode of living or to cross to the western side of the Mississippi." Winterbotham's View, III, 175.

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2 Michaux, Travels, 248. Thwaite, Early Western Travels, III, 281.

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3 So written by Michaux, the younger. His father, in his earlier Travels, spells the name "Tennasse" and "Tenassee." Thwaite, Early Western Travels, III, 74.

Thayer's Note: The 1804 edition of Michaux's Voyage à l'ouest des monts Alléghanys consistently spells Tennessée.
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4 The Huntingdon Advertiser proposed the formation of a new State by adding to the western division, the northern portion of Mississippi and that part of Kentucky which lies west of the Tennessee river. Thus was purposed the consolidation into a State of the domain of the Chickasaws.

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"Resolved by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, that there be a joint select committee appointed to consist of two members on the part of the Senate, and three on the part of the House of Representatives to be chosen from the eastern portion the State (commonly called East Tennessee) to memorialize the general government for the purpose of being formed into a sovereign and independent State to be called the State of Frankland; and said Committee shall report by bill or otherwise.

"Resolved, That his excellency, Governor James C. Jones, be and he is hereby required to open and hold a correspondence with the Governors of the States of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia for the purpose of ascertaining their opinions in relation to ceding a portion of the territory of their respective States, to the general government, to be included in the State of Frankland when formed, and for the further purpose of requesting them to lay the subject before their respective legislatures at their next ensuing session."

Tennessee Senate Journal, 1841‑2; Nashville Whig, of December 10, 1841.

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6 Tennessee State Journal of 1841‑2, 288, 345.

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7 Nashville Whig, January 18th, 1842.

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8 Afterward an associate justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court and a judge of the Court of Claims at Washington.

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9 Member of Congress, 1852‑3. The advocates of emancipation had their stronghold in Upper East Tennessee and they favored separation. At the Anti-Slavery Convention which met in London in 1843, Joseph Leavitt, of Boston, made the interesting statement that "the people of East Tennessee, a race of hardy mountaineers, find their interests so little regarded by the dominant slaveholders of other parts of the State that they are taking measures to become a separate State. They are holding anti-slavery meetings and meetings of political associations with great freedom, discussing the question, rousing the people and showing how slavery curses them, in order to bring them to the period of action." Proceedings of the Anti-Slavery Convention, London, 1843. A contemporary (Nov. 27, 1841) argument in favor of a separate State is found in Letters of an East Tennessee Abolitionist, E. T. Hist. Soc. Pub., III, 144‑5.

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10 The resolution for the establishment of the "State of Jacksoniana" was defeated in the Senate by a vote of nine to fourteen. But recurrently and to the present time, agitation has been renewed for a new State covering the same territory with the city of Jackson or Memphis as its capital.

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11 Journal of Convention, pamphlet, in Lawson McGhee Library, Knoxville.

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12 Draper Collection; newspaper clippings.

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Page updated: 31 Mar 14