BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
More than two centuries ago, Greene County and two other counties played a major role in the formation of the United States Constitution through rebellion and a strong belief in the right of local citizens to make their own decisions.
This unusual piece of U.S. history -- unknown to most Americans -- was the subject of a documentary aired Tuesday night by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The title: "The Mysterious Lost State of Franklin."
The documentary deals with the 1780s, a time when the Revolutionary War was over but there were still only 13 states, and the U.S. Constitution had not yet been written. The states were bound together under the Articles of Confederation.
This area, and the rest of what would later become the State of Tennessee, was in the 1780s part of the State of North Carolina, but a remote, western part that felt little relationship with the rest of N.C.
Billed as "the story of a pivotal but forgotten post-Revolutionary War rebellion and attempted secession," the 30-minute documentary detailed the years in the mid-to-late 1780s when Greene, Washington and Sullivan counties withdrew from North Carolina and banded together to form what they wanted to become a separate state of the new American nation, named for Benjamin Franklin.
The State of Franklin effort fell two votes short of the nine votes in Congress needed to receive formal recognition as a state.
But the very attempt at statehood by leaders of the Franklin movement sparked enough debate in the still-forming nation to play a central role in how the U.S. Constitution's Article 4, Section 3 allows a new state to form from an existing state.
The key portion of Article 4, Section 3, according to the documentary, is wording dictating that a new state must have the parent state's consent -- which was not at all the situation when the State of Franklin formed, or tried to, out of what was then North Carolina.
The documentary explained that the federal government placed taxes and regulations on states such as North Carolina that held unused "western" lands.
The purpose of these taxes and regulations, according to the documentary, was to persuade such states to turn over these lands to the federal government.
North Carolina nearly did just that, prompting the "westerners" living in Greene, Sullivan and Washington counties to feel "largely ignored" and unprotected in the 1780s, and begin discussion of forming their own state.
These discussions were enough to change North Carolina's opinion about losing its western land, including this area.
However, that state's change of mind about this area of its lands was not enough to keep the three counties from moving forward with their plan to form their own state.
The documentary goes on to detail the bitter battles and political intrigues that developed from this attempt at secession, including the fierce divide that developed between area political leaders John Sevier, who had been chosen as the Governor of Franklin, and John Tipton, a fierce opponent of the secession movement.
Although not mentioned, Greeneville's replica of what is believed to have been the State of Franklin's capitol building was pictured near the end of the documentary.
Greeneville served as the capital -- the seat of government -- of this almost-official state from 1785 to 1788, when the original log building believed to have been the official capitol of Franklin during those years sat at the corner of Main and Depot Streets.
The replica of that structure is located on College Street, across from Greeneville Town Hall.