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bitter religious controversies, these last giving rise frequently to public debates, in which the representatives of the different sects were supported and applauded by immense audiences. These conditions fostered the natural tendencies of the people toward democracy and personal independence, and active interest in public affairs, and when the time came for the full assertion of the rights of the common people, Tennessee was at the front of the movement, and furnished in Andrew Jackson its undisputed leader. Such were the characteristics of the pioneers of Tennessee and of the generation that succeeded them.
The fact that such an organization as the Watauga Association existed for five years, and was acceptable to the people, is convincing proof of the wisdom and worth of the men who founded and administered it.
When, in 1777, North Carolina created Washington County there was no disturbance, and almost no change in public affairs or administration. In most instances the Watauga officers were appointed to corresponding places in the State, and matters went on as before.
The law was administered with the same directness, informality and efficiency, and the connection with the State was little more than nominal. As late as 1784 the Watauga country was not fully organized as a part of North Carolina, and at no time were relations .satisfactorily adjusted.
The Watauga Association has been made prominent by recent writers and some, having a just pride in it, have made claims for it, that, in certain respects, are excessive.
It has been called the “first free and independent government in America,” and in a sense this is true. It was the first of the series of temporary, selfdependent, and thoroughly American governments established on our western frontier in the revolutionary period. The Tennessee historians, as a rule, are content to say that its Compact was the first written Constitution west of the Alleghanies, and Roosevelt concurs in this and adds that it was the first free and independent government established on this continent by men of American birth.
John Fiske, speaking of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the best known and the most radical of the early New England attempts at Constitution making, says: "it was the first written Constitution, known to history, that created a government, and it made the beginning of American democracy.'
It is to be remarked, however, that the Connecticut settlers of 1639 were Englishmen, while the Watauga pioneers were Americans. This detracts nothing of course from the credit due the makers the Fundamental Orders. That admirable instrument, while it did not make suffrage universal, and did not allow complete religious liberty, contained no reference to the King, and upon its face, was as much the organic
21 John Fiske's “Beginnings of New England,” page 127.
law of an independent people as was the Watauga compact. Naturally the Watauga Americans of 1772 were of a more advanced and liberal democracy than the English colonists of 1639, and theirs was purely a political, and in no sense a religious movement. They established no religious test, and, apparently, allowed all men equal rights upon the simple condition of signing the compact.
In 1772 this country was almost ready for revolution. The growth of the spirit of independence had been demonstrated by the persistent assertion of the . right of self taxation and by such occurrences as the Tryon rebellion in North Carolina. Owing, as it appears, to purely fortuitous circumstances, the Watauga settlers were the first to embody the principles of American democracy in actual institutions. It may be claimed, justly, that they were the best prepared for this step as well as compelled to it by their conditions, but however this may be, they were the first native Americans to establish a pure democracy.
They did not consciously imitate any one, but simply obeyed the dictates of their own good sense and brave hearts, setting an example which has had the most salutary influence upon succeeding generations, and affording good grounds for the pride with which they are regarded by the people of Tennessee.
"Like almost all those in America who have ascended to eminent celebrity, he had not a noble lineage to boast of, nor the escutcheoned armorials of a splendid ancestry. but he had what was far more valuable, a sound mind, a healthy constitution, a robust frame, a love of virtue, an intrepid soul, and an emulous desire for honest fame.” These are the flowing words with which John Haywood, the first historian of Tennessee, a just man and tenacious of his rhetoric, describes James Robertson, the pioneer leader of Watauga, and of Cumberland.
Much has been written in praise of Robertson, but not more than he deserves. His origin was obscure though not unworthy. His early life was one of constant hardships and privations, and his mature years were full of dangers and the most trying responsibilities. He grew up illiterate, but acquired as a man, a little of the education which others receive in childhood. He was a plain and simple man, but his mind was not only sound, but also alert and vigorous. As a hunter, scout, and Indian fighter, he was not inferior
to Boone, whom he surpassed so far in intelligence, in influence, and in actual public service, as to belong to an entirely different class. He was one of the founders of the Watauga settlement, its staunchest defender, and, on one memorable occasion, indisputably its pre
His name is most intimately connected however, with the history of Middle Tennessee, because he was in a very special sense the founder of the Cumberland settlement, its unfailing reliance in the trying time of its infancy, and its foremost citizen for many years. He was as kindly and unselfish as he was brave and resolute, and to all these admirable qualities must be added exceptional abilities, as a leader of men and as a builder of institutions. Though like others, he had his limitations and imperfections, history and tradition alike fail to attribute to him any unworthy or unmanly act. He had none of Sevier's brilliancy of mind or conduct, but little of his suavity and gift of personal attraction, was distinctly inferior to him in constructive capacity, but surpassed him in solidity of character, in firmness, and in soundness of judgment. He was a wise, brave, persistent Scotch Irishman, capable of self sacrifice, and born to public service, and was, in practical affairs, the safest and surest of our pioneer leaders.
The settlements on the Cumberland must be connected with the Transylvania purchase, as one of the tracts of land claimed by Henderson & Company, was bounded by the Cumberland River.