There are fifty states in the United States, with the most recent addition, Hawaii, joining the Union in 1959. But over the course of the last two-plus centuries, other groups have tried to form states. Who came the closest? A group of once-North Carolinians and the “State” of Franklin.
At the close of the American Revolution, many states had run up significant debts, with no clear way to pay them. In 1784, North Carolina opted to cede the nearly 30 million acres of its territory west of the Appalachians to the federal government, as repayment of debts. This went over poorly with the settlers of the ceded territory, which feared that Congress would sell their land (and homes) to a foreign power. While North Carolina rescinded its cessation a few months later, the damage was already done. In 1784, residents congregated and declared their independence from North Carolina. In 1785, the territory — then called Frankland — received seven votes (out of 13) for statehood, two shy of the requisite two-thirds. So, they re-branded. Frankland became “Franklin,” an homage to Benjamin Franklin, hoping that aligning with the elder statesman would further their cause. (Mr. Franklin declined to get involved.)
Franklin, now neither a state nor a part of North Carolina, became a de facto independent nation, and remained that way until 1789, when the volume of aggression from neighboring Native American tribes required rejoining North Carolina and gaining the benefit of its militia. A year later, North Carolina again ceded the area to the federal government. The territories ended up becoming the eastern part of Tennessee, and John Sevier, the governor of Franklin, became the first Governor of the State of Tennessee in 1796.
Bonus fact: In 1784, Benjamin Franklin sarcastically suggested, in a letter to the Journal of Paris, that France adopt something akin to Daylight Savings Time. Franklin noted that the Parisian elite had a habit of long nights and waking at noon; he suggested that, in order to save on candles, they simply shift their days to be awake when the sun was in the sky. Over a century later, DST would be formally introduced, using the same energy-saving rationale.
From the Archives: The Principality of Sealand: A quasi-independent floating micronation off the coast of England.
Related: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson, 4.5 stars on 254 reviews.