North Carolina Signers of the U.S. Constitution

William Blount

William Blount was born on March 26, 1749, in Bertie County, North Carolina. He became a leading businessman with his brother, John Grey Blount, after Independence. His heavy financial speculation and questionable business activities in the western territories, however, created enormous problems for him later in life.

Blount was first elected to the General Assembly in 1780 as a town representative from New Bern. He was elected to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in 1782, 1783 and 1784. He returned to North Carolina to represent Craven County in 1783, 1784 and 1784-85. He was elected Speaker of the House during the latter session.

On March 14, 1787, Blount was elected as one of the state’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. In 1789, he served at the state convention in Fayetteville and voted for ratification of the newly-written Constitution. Blount then returned to the state legislature, serving in the Senate in 1788 and 1789.

On August 17, 1790, Blount was appointed governor of the territories south of the Ohio River. The appointment gave Blount nearly autocratic authority in the territories. In 1791, he helped negotiate the Treaty of Holston, which resulted in the Cherokee Indians ceding a large portion of their homeland to the United States, much of it already occupied by whites.

In 1794, when the population in the western territories grew large enough to call a territorial assembly, a bill was passed establishing Blount College (a forerunner of the University of Tennessee).

On July 8, 1797, while serving as one of Tennessee’s first two United States Senators, Blount was expelled from the Senate for what was known as Blount’s Conspiracy. A rumor that Spain planned to cede New Orleans and Louisiana to France ignited concern in the U.S. that the move would deny America’s right to the Mississippi River. Blount took charge of a plan already underway to recruit frontiersmen and Indians for a war against Great Britain to seize the Mississippi basin. (Great Britain was bound by the Peace Treaty of 1783 to permit free navigation of the Mississippi River to the United States and France.)

President John Adams obtained a letter, written by Blount, outlining plans for the war. In July of 1797, he turned the letter over to Congress. Blount’s expulsion swiftly followed. On December 17, 1797, the House of Representatives opened Blount’s impeachment trial, the first such legal proceeding in United States history. In 1799, the impeachment proceedings were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

The people of Tennessee still had faith in Blount, however, electing him to the State Senate in 1798, where he was elected speaker. He died in Tennessee in 1800.


Immediately above comes from Pages 853-854 of the 2005-2006 North Carolina Manual, with minor edits.


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