Cultural Compass

How Did ‘American’ Become the Nationality for US Citizens?

A voyage through history for Independence Day.

Raul Guerrero
Jun 22 · 5 min read
1507 planisphere by the German cartographer Martin Waldeseemüller. The American Continent, the New World, to the left.
Waldseemüller published a set of gores for constructing globes. To the right, we can see the name America over South America.

The United States of America

When did America become officially an integral part of the United States? It is somewhat of a mystery. Thomas Jefferson introduced the name in the Declaration of Independence: UNITED STATES OF AMERCA.

The Declaration of Independence, National Archives.

The 4th of July

The 13 British colonies formally declared independence on July 4, 1776. And set out to solidify words on the battlefield. It took seven years of bloody war, both at home and internationally, before Britain signed the 1783 Treaty of Paris — negotiated by representatives of King George III and the US representatives Benjamin Franklyn, John Adams, and John Jay — recognizing the independent Republic of the United States of America.

The Committee of Five presents their work to Congress. Detail of John Trumbull’s 1819 painting Declaration of Independence. The Committee: Benjamin Franklin, representative of Pennsylvania, known as one of the most famous of the Founding Fathers and the first U.S. Minister to France; Roger Sherman, representative of Connecticut, the only person to sign all four of the U.S. state papers: the Continental Association, the Declaration, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution; Robert Livingston, representative of New York, who later negotiated the Louisiana Purchase as the Minister to France; Thomas Jefferson, representative of Virginia, who became the third U.S. President; and John Adams, representative of Massachusetts, who became the second U.S. President. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Historical Trivia

The second Treaty of Paris also ended the 20-year British domain over Florida. Britain had invaded the island of Cuba in 1763. Cuba was the gateway to the New World, so Spain traded off the Island for Florida and 4 million pounds. The British had plans to colonize Florida with Protestants from Europe, mostly British and Swiss. The American wars of independence broke out and the Florida colonizing plans were tabled — Brits probably thought the Independence Fever would pass in time. South Florida remained a tropical wilderness under Spanish rule until becoming an American Territory in 1822.

False Cognates

America and the Spanish América do not mean the same. Since Colonial days, the British used America for the colonies. For the Spanish Crown, América encompassed the entirety of the continent. Latin American independence did not alter the differing assignations. For citizens of the new United States, America was their country and American their nationality. For Latin Americans, América continued to be the continent.

American Unofficial Anthem

Katharine Lee Bates wrote America the Beautiful. She was an author and professor of English literature at Wellesley College, 1885 to 1925. Her America the Beautiful and Other Poems was published in 1911. The music was composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. The opening strophe from the 1911 version: “O beautiful for spacious skies, / For amber waves of grain, / For purple mountain majesties / Above the fruited plain! / America! America! / God shed His grace on thee / And crown thy good with brotherhood / From sea to shining sea!”

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Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami

Raul Guerrero

Written by

Editor, Downtown NEWS. Director, Downtown Arts + Science Salon, DASS, (DASSMIAMI.COM). His latest book is Curiosidad/Curiosity.

Downtown NEWS

Local Perspective - Downtown Miami