Will Scott County Secede Again and Will the Lost State of Franklin Be Found?

On June 8, 1861, the voters of Tennessee went to the polls for a special referendum, and by a vote of 108,339 to 47,233, decided to secede from the United States of America. But the good people of Scott County were having nothing of this nonsense. They had voted overwhelmingly against secession. And so when the Volunteer State left the Union, Scott County promptly seceded from the  State of Tennessee.

The Scott County Court approved a resolution forming the “Free and Independent State of Scott.” This resolution stayed on the books for 125 years before it was finally repealed in 1986. This prompted life-long Scott County resident Senator Howard Baker Jr. to reflect that he was not really the Senator from Tennessee, but rather the Senator from the Free and Independent State of Scott.

While Scott County officially rejoined the Volunteer State over a quarter century ago, in the words of that great Constitutional scholar Yogi Berra, it may soon be déjà vu all over again. Yes, Scott County may once again secede from Tennessee after Tennessee secedes once again from the Union. That may sound like an unlikely scenario, but more than 30,000 Tennesseans have recently signed a petition demanding that the Volunteer State do exactly that!

The latest Tennessee secession movement began in November just a few days after the re-election of President Barack Obama.

In recent years, Tennessee has definitely become a “red state,” although as a life-long Vols fan, I still hope the Volunteer State is an orange state. (Note to my Vanderbilt friends: Yes, the Commodores did beat the Vols last November for the second time since the Reagan administration, but don’t delude yourselves into thinking Tennessee will soon become a “black and gold state.”)

A lot of red Tennesseans were very upset that President Obama was re-elected. In some parts of the state, you would have thought they were filming Blazing Saddles II, starring Cleavon Little as President Barack Obama, Gene Wilder as Vice President Joe Biden, and Madelyn Kahn as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Faster than you can say “Shiloh,” a petition began to circulate around the Volunteer State, calling upon Tennessee to once again secede from the Union. It was not clear whether in doing so, Tennessee would seek to rejoin the Confederacy (a difficult task given Appomattox), or form the Free and Independent Red Republic of Tennessee.

The petition spread across the state like kudzu, obtaining tens of thousands of signatures. Then, curiously enough, the petition was sent to the White House. I’m not sure why a secession petition would be sent to the White House. It’s not like President Obama could grant it. I guess the petition was sent to the White House because Jefferson Davis is dead and his old office in Richmond is now closed.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is a conservative Republican who supported Massachusetts Recovering Liberal Mitt Romney in the recent presidential election. However, when asked about the secession petition, Gov. Haslam made the political understatement of the year, saying, “I don’t think that’s a valid option for Tennessee. I don’t think we will be seceding.”

This comment raised suspicion among many Tea Party Tennesseans that Gov. Haslam is actually a closet moderate who does not support the Second Amendment right of Tennesseans to wear holsters and six-shooters in bars.

Meanwhile, in Greeneville, there are apparently no plans to bring back the lost state of Franklin. In 1784, 10 years before Tennessee became a state, seven counties in what is now upper East Tennessee seceded from the State of North Carolina, creating their own state, named in honor of Benjamin Franklin. (Interesting fact: The official state flag for Franklin was a kite.)

The United States Congress never officially recognized Franklin as a state, and so for a number of years Franklin declared itself a free and independent nation with its capitol in Greeneville.

While the lost State of Franklin disappeared more than 220 years ago, believe it or not, there is a Franklin State Bar Association. I’m a proud member of the Franklin State Bar Association. My good friend and former TBA President Howard Vogel moved my admission. I’m not quite sure how I got admitted, as there is no Franklin State Supreme Court. As I recall, I sent Howard the admission fee of 25 cents and a coupon from a cereal box top.

But now that there is an ongoing campaign for Tennessee to once again secede from the union, the Free and Independent State of Scott may make a comeback, and the lost state of Franklin may be found again.

If so, I’m hoping that the great Tennessee statesman Howard Baker will come out of retirement and run for governor of the Free and Independent State of Scott! And as a proud member of the Franklin State Bar Association, I intend to run for chief justice of the Franklin Supreme Court.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.