Hardly breaking news, I know, but still—57 states?
Secessionist movements are all the rage these days. A handful of counties in Colorado tried to secede from the rest of the state earlier this year. There’s an attempt to create the State of Jefferson (northern California/southern Oregon) via ballot initiative in 2014. And there’s plenty more.
What would the U.S. look like if all of the secession movements in U.S. history had succeeded? Well, Mansfield University geography professor Andrew Shears built a map to answer that question. (It covers secession movements through the end of 2011.)
Turns out, succession is as old as the Republic!
The State of Franklin (also the Free Republic of Franklin or the State of Frankland) was an unrecognized, autonomous “territory” located in what is today eastern Tennessee. Franklin was created in 1784 from part of the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains that had been offered by North Carolina as a cession to Congress to help pay off debts related to the American War for Independence. It was founded with the intent of becoming the fourteenth state of the new United States.
The creation of Franklin is novel, in that it resulted from both a cession (an offering from North Carolina to Congress) and a secession (seceding from North Carolina, when its offer to Congress was not acted upon, and the original cession was rescinded).
Attempt at statehood
On May 16, 1785, a delegation submitted a petition for statehood to Congress. Seven states voted to admit what would have been the 14th federal state under the proposed name of “Frankland”. This was less than the two-thirds majority required under the Articles of Confederation. The following month, the Franklin government convened to address their options and to replace the vacancy at Speaker of the House, which had been held by William Cage. They elected Joseph Hardin to the position of Speaker of the House. In an attempt to curry favor for their cause, delegation leaders changed the “official” name of the area to “Franklin” (ostensibly after Benjamin Franklin). Sevier even tried to persuade Franklin to support their cause, but he declined, writing:
…I am sensible of the honor which your Excellency and your council thereby do me. But being in Europe when your State was formed, I am too little acquainted with the circumstances to be able to offer you anything just now that may be of importance, since everything material that regards your welfare will doubtless have occurred to yourselves. …I will endeavor to inform myself more perfectly of your affairs by inquiry and searching the records of Congress and if anything should occur to me that I think may be useful to you, you shall hear from me thereupon.
—Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Governor John Sevier, 1787
After the failed statehood attempt (and still at odds with North Carolina over taxation, protection, and other issues), Franklin operated as a de facto independent republic. Up to this point, the government had been assembling at Jonesborough, mere city-blocks from the rival, North Carolina-backed, seat of government. Because of this, Greeneville was declared the new capital. The first legislature met there in December 1785. At Greeneville, the delegates adopted a permanent constitution, known as the “Holston Constitution,” (and heavily modeled on that of North Carolina). John Sevier also proposed to commission a Franklin state flag, but it was never designed.
The new legislature made peace treaties with the Indian tribes in the area (with few exceptions, the most notable being the Chickamauga Cherokee). It opened courts, incorporated and annexed five new counties (see map below), and fixed taxes and officers’ salaries. Barter became the economic system de jure, with anything in common use among the people allowed in payment to settle debts, including corn, tobacco, apple brandy, and skins. (Sevier was often paid in deer hides). Federal or foreign money was accepted. All citizens were granted a two-year reprieve on paying taxes, but the lack of hard currency and economic infrastructure slowed development and often created confusion.
The year 1786 was the beginning of the end of the small state, with several key residents and supporters of the state withdrawing their support in favor of a newly interested North Carolina. Until then, Franklin did not have the benefit of either the national army or the North Carolina militia. In late 1786, North Carolina offered to waive all back taxes if Franklin would reunite with its government. When this offer was popularly rejected, North Carolina moved in with troops, in 1787, under the leadership of Col. John Tipton (great-uncle of future Senator from Indiana John Tipton) and re-established its own courts, jails and government at Jonesborough. The two rival administrations competed side by side. The meeting of the Franklin legislature in September 1787, was its last. At the end of 1787, loyalties remained divided among residents, and coming to a head on February 29, 1788, when Sevier and a group of his supporters attacked Tipton and his supporters at Tipton’s farm in the “Battle of Franklin”. Sevier and his men were defeated.
Boy, if Forgottonia (see modern Illinois) isn’t a perfect alternate name to Bloodthirstan, I don’t know what is.