The Lost State Of Franklin: America’s First Secession, by Kevin T. Barksdale
I have to admit that I liked this book, but not as much as I had hoped to. One of the aspects of this book that is important to note is that Franklin was not the first secession in America. At the same time that Franklin was attempting to secede from North Carolina to set up an autonomous Appalachian state, Vermont had successfully seceded from New York, and that is not even including the way that one would define the process by which Connecticut and Rhode Island formed from dissident Massachusetts Bay colonists long before then. This book, unfortunately, does not talk about the New England context of secession but rather focuses on the Southern and particularly the Appalachian context, where states had typically shortchanged the remote valleys when it came to building infrastructure and where Appalachian areas of states like Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia suffered from politically skewed districts. The author’s perspective is certainly interesting and the history of Franklin is certainly compelling, but there is a larger context that this book does not really grasp as well as it could, unfortunately, which would have made it even better.
This book is about 200 pages long and begins with a preface as well as an introduction that looks at the contrast between history and hero-making when it comes to this particular area of history. The author then talks about the backcountry economy of Upper East Tennessee, greatly hindered by its isolation (1) as well as the problem of community, conflict, and control in the region in the time when it was being settled by Americans (2). The author then looks at the rise of backcountry partisanship in 1784-1785 in search of a state that would represent the area’s interests (3) as well as problems of statesmanship and the declining fortunes of the separatist movement in the face of its internal divisions (4). After that the author writes about the tragedy of the state’s Cherokee population (5) as well as the last days of the state of Franklin (6). From here the author looks at the Franklin-Spanish conspiracy (7) as well as the evolution of thinking about Franklin in the period between 1783 and 1861 (8). After that the epilogue looks at the legacy of separatism in the 20th century and the ways that the area of Franklin has a great deal of fondness for its history as an abortive state before Tennessee as a whole was formed.
There are at least a few implications of this book that particularly interested me. For one, the separate identity that Franklin had as a part of Tennessee in the Appalachians encouraged separatist tendencies during the Civil War when the mountainous areas of the South had a much greater Unionist sentiment than their neighbors in the lowlands. For another, the book detailed the internal divisions within Franklin society, a greater degree of diversity than is commonly recognized, as well as a discussion of the fateful conflict between land-hungry American settlers and the indigenous population. Moreover, the book discusses the ways that hopes of infrastructure improvements that would make the land of the Appalachians more profitable repeatedly urged hopes and then dissatisfaction among the people of the mountain valleys of Eastern Tennessee, a problem that continued well into the 20th century and to some extent even to today. It is little wonder that a community that had sought to overcome its isolation by forming its own political community would remember these efforts even though they had been unsuccessful in the face of internal division as well as external hostility. It should also be remembered, though, that even if Franklin had succeeded, it would not have meant obvious prosperity for the local population, as the history to West Virginia, for example, makes plain.