The “United Colonies” Become “United States”
On September 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared that the United Colonies would now be known as the United States.
Richard Henry Lee may have been one of the first people to officially refer to America as the “United States.” On June 7, 1776, he submitted a resolution to Congress stating “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” Congress approved his resolution on July 2 – a date future president John Adams believed would be one of the most celebrated in American history. However, the approval of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence two days later received that honor.
Jefferson is also largely credited with introducing the phrase “United States.” In the rough draft of his declaration, he included a headline that read, “A Declaration by the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in General Congress assembled.” This was changed in the final version to read, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” His Declaration also stated “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.” For these inclusions, Jefferson is often credited as having coined the phrase.
By September, the Declaration of Independence was drafted, signed, and sent to Great Britain. When Congress met on September 9, they passed a number of important resolutions, including payments for the army. Their fifth resolution that day read, “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.'”
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