Who coined the name 'United States of America'? Mystery gets new twist.
Historians continue to debate who came up with the formulation 'United States of America' as the name for the new nation. A new discovery could shift the discussion.
It may seem surprising, but nobody is really sure who came up with the phrase, “United States of America.”Skip to next paragraph
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Speculation generally swirls around a familiar cast of characters – the two Toms (Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson), Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and even a gentleman named Oliver Ellsworth (a delegate from the Constitutional Convention of 1787). But every instance of those gentlemen using the name "United States of America" is predated by a recently discovered example of the phrase in the Revolutionary-era Virginia Gazette.
So who was perhaps the first person ever to write the words "United States of America"?
That was how the author of an essay in the Gazette signed the anonymous letter. During that time, it was common practice for essays and polemics to be published anonymously in an attempt to avoid future charges of treason – only later has history identified some of these authors.
The discovery adds a new twist – as well as the mystery of the Planter's identity – to the search for the origin of a national name that has now become iconic.
Several references mistakenly credit Paine with formulating the name in January 1776. Paine’s popular and persuasive book, "Common Sense," uses “United Colonies,” “American states,” and “FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA,” but he never uses the final form.
The National Archives, meanwhile, cite the first known use of the “formal term United States of America” as being the Declaration of Independence, which would recognize Jefferson as the originator. Written in June 1776, Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” placed the new name at the head of the business – “A Declaration by the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in General Congress assembled."
Jefferson clearly had an idea as to what would sound good by presenting the national moniker in capitalized letters. But in the final edit, the line was changed to read, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” The fact that “United States of America” appears in both versions of the Declaration may have been enough evidence to credit Jefferson with coining the phrase, but there is another example published three months earlier.