Did Washington Name Our Country?

Aide's 1776 letter calls it 'United States of America'
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2013 8:28 AM CDT
Did Washington Name Our Country?
This undated file photo shows Gilbert Stuart's 1796 oil on canvas portrait of George Washington on display at Washington's National Portrait Gallery.   (AP Photo, File)

It makes sense that the father of our country would have named it, too—and new evidence suggests that may just be the case. History hasn't quite settled on who coined the term "the United States of America," though in 1998, experts announced that it was Thomas Jefferson (he wrote those words in a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence around June 11, 1776). But a letter written by one of George Washington's top military aides suggests otherwise. The letter from Stephen Moylan to Col. Joseph Reed, dated Jan. 2, 1776, discusses bringing the "full and ample powers from the United States of America" to Europe in search of backing for the revolution.

Days earlier, Moylan had used the phrase "United Colonies" in a document—but that was before the Continental Army learned of an inflammatory speech King George III gave against the colonies, and before the first American flag was unveiled. Washington may well have used the term around that time, and even if he didn't initially utter the phrase himself, Moylan's voice was deeply linked to that of his boss, the Christian Science Monitor notes. It writes, "Whether Washington, Moylan, or even Reed should be credited is somewhat beside the point. In many matters, all three spoke with one voice—the voice of the commander-in-chief of what would become the United States of America." (Read more George Washington stories.)

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