Jorge laughed as he presented me with a thick coin on my birthday a couple of weeks ago. “Now you have something to spend when you decide to go to Mexico. It might be enough to buy you a secondhand birthday card.” I thanked him then examined the gift.
The 100-Peso coin is quite handsome. The thick disk features a portrait of Venustiano Carranza on the obverse. The reverse has the eagle and serpent symbol. The country’s name arches over the symbol. It says, “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” (United Mexican States or United States of Mexico).
I then fished out a US quarter dollar from my pocket to verify that our coins are labled “United States of America”. We were soon caught up in some small historical questions. Among them were, “Why the name United States of America?” “When did it happen?” “Who was responsible?” I had a faint memory of a history lesson involving the Declaration of Independence and the use of the name, but very little else to go on.
I picked up an old history book and came across an entry about early America. There was a paragraph about a Continental Congress declaration that was dated September 9, 1776. The excerpt reads, “That in all continental commissions, and other instruments, where heretofore, the words ‘United Colonies’ have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the ‘United States’.”
Well, we had the answer to when the name was officially instituted. That satisfied Jorge, but not me. He said that I had homework to do and that the topic might be a good one for my blog. I said, “Yes, for the blog post on September 9th.”
The name, “United States of America” was used inexactly before September of 1776. The name has also been found in a few papers written before the Declaration of Independence.
Historian, Ronald Gephart, discovered a stash of Continental Congressional Delegates’ letters dated between 1774 and 1789. He came across one from the Virginia Delegate, Richard Henry Lee dated June 7, 1776. Lee stated that, “…the United Colonies should be free and independent states.”
There was at least one diplomatic use of the name in a pre-Declaration of Independence document. George Washington’s aide de camp Muster Master General Stephen Moylan wrote a letter to Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Reed, that he intended to carry the “full and ample powers of the United States of America” to Spain for help in the revolutionary war.
Often noted, is that Thomas Jefferson wrote the name “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” in all caps as the header for the first rough draft of the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. The final header ended up as “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America”.
If there remained any doubt afterwards, The Articles of Confederation were ratified in force on March 1, 1781. The official outline of the Government stated in Article I: “The Stile of this Confederacy shall be ‘The United States of America.'”
The grouping of colonies had become a confederation and then a united nation on the verge of total independence from Great Britain. The brand new name represented these factors.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes a letter from Thomas Paine, written January 13, 1777. “‘The United States of America,’ will sound as pompously in the world or in history, as ‘the kingdom of Great Britain'”.