A Patriot during the Revolutionary War, Jesse Franklin later served his state in the House of Commons, as a state senator, as a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator (president pro tempore), and finally as governor of North Carolina.
A native of Virginia, a sixteen-year-old Franklin moved with his parents in 1776 to Surry County, North Carolina. During the war, he fought at the Battle of King’s Mountain and the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Soon after helping the United States become independent from England, Franklin represented Wilkes County in the House of Commons (1784-1787, 1790-1792).
He returned to Surry County and then shortly afterward represented Surry countians in the House of Commons from 1791 to 1795 and from 1797 to 1798. In between those terms and before political parties existed in the United States, Franklin served one term in the U. S. House of Representatives.
He served his constituents at the federal and state levels during the early 1800s. In 1799, Franklin once again went to the national capital, but this time as a Democratic-Republican; by 1798, political parties had evolved in the nation. After he served one term as a state senator in 1805, he went back to Washington and served as a U.S. Senator from 1806 to 1813. During his senatorial term, he opposed a central bank and supported Madison’s pro-war measures during the War of 1812. After being defeated by Nathaniel Macon and Francis Locke in subsequent elections, Franklin was appointed in 1817 to negotiate with the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations; Andrew Jackson had requested his appointment.
With his last public office as governor, Franklin ended his political career at the state level. He represented Surry County as a state legislator for four consecutive terms (1816-1820). At sixty years of age, he was elected governor. During his one term, he earned a reputation for being a practical, fiscal conservative. He also urged the legislature to settle border disputes with neighboring states and wanted the state militia to be reformed. He may be more famous, however, for being Governor when Canova’s statue of George Washington was placed in the Capitol and for supporting Archibald D. Murphey’s reform of the state’s penal code. The latter eliminated mutilation, branding, whipping, and confinement in stocks for minor crimes.
After his term, an aging Franklin returned to Surry County, where he died in 1823. He is now interred at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.
Malone, Dumas, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. 6 (New York, 1930); North Carolina Historical Marker Program, “Jesse Franklin”, http://www.ncmarkers.com/Results.aspx?ct=ddl&k=Keywords&sv1=Keywords&sv2=Governors (accessed on April 20, 2008); William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Vol. II (Chapel Hill, 1986).