Happy Birthday to the United States of America!
America’s birthday is generally accepted to be July 4. Independence Day. A day filled with hot dogs, fireworks, and flags. The day our founding fathers banded together to declare independence from Great Britain, marking the end of colonial rule and the birth of a new nation.
And it is. Sort of.
While most people are familiar with the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and adopted on July 4, 1776 (hence the aforementioned Independence Day celebration), many more are LESS familiar with the original resolution, written on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee, a statesman from Virginia. In it, Lee stated “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.”
This original resolution was adopted by Congress on July 2, essentially declaring for the first time the creation of a new and independent nation. It was this day that was commemorated by our founding fathers, not July 4. In fact, John Adams wrote to his wife that July 2 would be remembered and celebrated as “the most memorable Epocha in the History of America.”
It was Lee’s resolution that began the movement toward independence. The founding fathers believed the new nation needed three things in order to begin: a Declaration of Independence, alliances with foreign states, and a plan for the confederation. Jefferson, as you may have guessed, was called to handle the first step; it was only because of Lee’s original resolution that the actual Declaration of Independence was drafted.
And, as we all know, it was this draft that was adopted on July 4, 1776, ultimately overshadowing Lee’s and giving rise to the Independence Day we all celebrate today. But, interestingly enough, Jefferson’s draft also created a conundrum in the new country.
Jefferson’s document contained the first use of the words “the United States of America,” though he also included language from Lee’s original text, referring to the new nation as “these United Colonies” in his closing paragraph.
Thus, for several months, the newly formed nation suffered a bit of an identity crisis, with some referring to it as “The United States of America” with others referring to it as “The United Colonies of America.” For example, Congress itself used the term “United Colonies” when it appointed George Washington as commander in chief of the newly formed United Colonies armed forces. The abbreviation “USA,” however, was stamped on official gunpowder canisters by government inspectors to verify that the powder met government standards.
It wasn’t until the convening of the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia on September 9, 1776, that the issue was resolved once and for all. On this day, a resolution was approved and ratified, asserting “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.'”
The United States of America was officially born.