September 9, 1776 – The Second Continental Congress Made the Term “United States” Official Replacing “United Colonies”

On September 9, 1776, the Second Continental Congress chose a new name for what had been called the “United Colonies,” changing it to “United States of America.”

Thomas Jefferson is credited as being the first person to come up with the name, which he used while drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration begins with the statement: “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.” The final paragraph includes both names, ending:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Willson Peale

The Christian Science Monitor notes that the use of the moniker “United States of America” by Thomas Jefferson and others credited for the name was predated by a recently discovered example of the phrase in the Revolutionary-era Virginia Gazette.

Beginning in March 1776, a series of anonymously written articles began appearing in The Virginia Gazette – one of three different Virginia Gazettes being published in Williamsburg at that time. Addressed to the “Inhabitants of Virginia,” the essays argued for independence versus reconciliation with Great Britain. The author claimed that the colonies were losing money, writing:

What a prodigious sum for the united states of America to give up for the sake of a peace, that, very probably, itself would be one of the greatest misfortunes! –


Historian Byron DeLear speculates that “A Planter” could have been Jefferson, other well-known Virginians like Patrick Henry, or northerners like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Regardless, the use of the name in the Declaration of Independence resonated with Congress, and the name was officially adopted on this day in history, when the Congress moved to approve several resolutions. The fifth resolution read as follows:

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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