Franklin, the American State that Wasn’t

Map depicting the roads and railroads of North Carolina in 1854 / Wikimedia Commons

Franklin was the 14th state of America. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because it only lasted for four years.

By Matthew Wills

In 1784, white settlers in what was nominally western North Carolina (and is now eastern Tennessee) organized the State of Franklin. As historian Jason Farr writes, the separatist state, named after Ben Franklin, “was most interested in stability so they could secure land claims and gain commercial access to the Mississippi River.” Leaders like James White and Franklin Governor John Sevier assumed that western settlements would ultimately form into their own entities, and decided to start their own, intending it to be the fourteenth state. Thus began the four-and-a-half year history of the State of Franklin.

The obscure history of this “lost state” serves as a good reminder that the ultimate shape of the United States was never pre-destined. The tidy number of fifty states was never inevitable. Victory in the Revolutionary War didn’t even guarantee the success of the new nation. The idea of Manifest Destiny only came later, decades after the Treaty of Paris marked the formal peace between Great Britain and the sort-of-united thirteen original colonies.