Every country has a name. Usually one it calls itself, and one other countries call it — respectfully, of course. We are the United States of America, and everyone knows it. But why? Where did that name come from? Why are we the United States of America?
On September 9, 1776, The Second Continental Congress officially gave its union of colonies the name United States of America. This was not, however, the first time the collection of colonies and territories had been called that. A letter dated January 2, 1776, from Muster-Master General of the Continental Army, Stephen Moylan, Esq., to Lt. Col. Joseph Reed, ordered that the “full and ample powers of the United States of America” were to be carried to Spain to assist in the revolutionary war effort, is the earliest historical mentioning.
The first known public use of “United States of America” was on April 6, 1776. It was mentioned in the Williamsburg, VA, newspaper, The Virginia Gazette. And the first official documentation of the name was in the June 17, 1776, second draft of the Articles of Confederation, where it is stated that, “The name of this Confederation shall be the ‘United States of America.’” Also in June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote in all caps “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” across the top of his working rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. It is not known who used it first, between Jefferson and Dickinson’s Articles of Confederation draft.
In the final, official (July 4th) draft of the Declaration of Independence, the uncapped ‘united’ is used: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” Further, the full “United States of America” is used in the Preamble of the Constitution.
While the Second Continental Congress of the United States of America lasted from May 10, 1775, to March 1, 1781… the ratification (and officialization) of the name we use today came on Novermber 15, 1777, when the Congress approved the Articles of Confederation. The first article of the Articles of Confederation explicitly states: “The stile of this Confederacy shall be ‘The United States of America'”.
So now that we got all that official naming stuff out of the way, let’s get to this America-ness…
The usage of the name America goes back to 1507 — just 15 years after the journey of Christopher Columbus. The name was used on a map of the world. The German cartographer applied the name to what is now South America, to honor the Italian explorer who mapped its coastline: Amerigo Vespucci. And in 1538, the cartographer Gerardus Mercator (where we get the Mercator map projection) was the first to name the ENTIRE Western Hemisphere “America”.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “American” was regularly used by the British for the people of the British Colonies in America, even before the Declaration of Independence. Apparently, the name stuck and spread. So by the time the Americans began their climb to independence, then established their own nation as the United States of America, the name became reasonably exclusive. Although both continents in the Western Hemisphere both hold “America” in their name, no other nation in the Western Hemisphere used the word in their name.
So, here we stand: Americans of these United States.
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