The State Of Franklin (1784-1788)

What Was the State of Franklin?


In the 1780s, what would become the state of Tennessee was almost an entirely different entity with a completely different name than what it currently is. Residents of the upper east side of Tennessee originally formed a government named Franklin, after one of the most influential founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. In 1784, the state held elections, appointed a governor and legislature, wrote a constitution, and even conducted daily governmental operations such as collecting taxes and raising an army. It did all this even though North Carolina claimed ownership over the region. In 1788, the government came to an end and rejoined the parallel, co-functioning North Carolinian government of the area.

The Problem: Why Did the State of Franklin Even Exist?


Westward Expansion, or more precisely the lack of permission for such an action, was the main reason why an entire group of people wished to form their own independent territory. The same animosity colonists felt towards the Proclamation of 1763 was present in the founding of the state of Franklin. Beginning in the later 1770s, North Carolina settlers had begun moving onto lands close to where Native Americans, particularly the Cherokee, resided, infringing on lands claimed by the Cherokee. Violence between the Cherokee and the settlers was frequent. The settlers turned to the North Carolinian government for protection and support, but just as Great Britain had not wanted to be financially responsible for the security of these western pioneers, the North Carolina government declined to defend the settlers.

The North Carolinian government decided to turn to Congress to get help with its issue of these remote western settlers. In 1784, it voted to cede the 29,000,000 acres of western landWashington District: Specifically, the area of land lying between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River to the federal government for two reasons. The first was that the agreement stipulated that Congress accept responsibility for the area, thus making any hostility between the settlers and Indians the federal government’s responsibility and not the state’s; this essentially meant that North Carolina was no longer obligated to or responsible for the citizens residing in that part of the land. The second was the cession would pay off overdue expenses still owed by the state to the federal government from the Revolutionary War. However, feeling abandoned and isolated by its own state and federal governments, the citizens of this ceded territory, known as the Washington District, set up their own form of community and government.

A few months later, North Carolina decided to rescind its offer of the land to Congress. Already content with their setup and feeling lots of resentment from being pawned off to the national government “one group of North Carolina frontiersmen could no longer stand the unresponsiveness of state leaders to their growing demands … [and the] citizens declared their region independent from North Carolina, forming the state of Franklin, ‘an independent and separate government from that of North Carolina.’”1

The government of Franklin survived for four years in direct defiance of the United States of America. They had their own constitution, negotiated their own treaties with Indians, and established their own governmentally endorsed system of barter in lieu of paper money or currency. After two years of Franklin’s government operating without intervention by the government of North Carolina or the United States of America, North Carolina decided to try to reclaim the territory and therefore in 1786, North Carolina setup its own form of a parallel government in this region. This new government worked in competition against and certainly not harmoniously with the state of Franklin. After four years of existence, in 1788 Franklin Governor John Sevier was forced by a weak economy and attacking Chickasaw Indians to rejoin North Carolina to gain its militia’s protection from imminent attack and destruction.


Americans wanted to move west and claim more of the continent for themselves. However, there were Indians that occupied those lands and the settlers could not encroach on any more land without engaging physically with the Indians. No government wanted to be involved in any additional wars after the costly - in terms of both lives and money - Revolutionary War and so resisted western calls for Military assistance and refrained from antagonizing the Indians in anyway they could. To westerners, it seemed like neither the state nor federal governments felt that their lives were worth protecting. In Franklin, the citizens decided to form a government of their own after they were left isolated by their state and federal governments.

Important Names/Dates/Places


Benjamin Franklin: the State of Franklin was named after him; founding father
John Sevier: the governor of Franklin


1784: Franklin founded
1788: Franklin ended


Franklin: the Washington District area
Washington District: the area between the Allegheny Mountains/Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River
Tennessee: present day location of Franklin
North Carolina: territory Franklin seceded and joined

Further Questions to Ponder

1. Would the western settlement of the United States have happened sooner if the North Carolinian government had decided to send the state militia to help the western settlers defeat the Indians?
2. How should the defiant frontiersmen be viewed? Are they heroic, rebels, outlaws, champions of their causes?
3. Should the federal government have done more to oversee the state of Franklin or was it right for the federal government to not control local problems and give Franklin full autonomy?


1. "In search of the state of Franklin." Tennessee History for Kids. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <>.
2. "The Mysterious Lost State of Franklin." Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <>.
3. Toomey, Michael. "State of Franklin." The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <>.
4. Toomey, Michael. "State of Franklin." North Carolina History Project. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <>.
5. "State of Franklin Declares Independence." History. Web. 12 Oct. 2014. <>.
6. "Proclamation of 1763." US History. Web. 13 Oct. 2014. <
7. 1. Barksdale, Kevin T. The Lost State of Franklin : America's First Secession. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

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