name of country?
jnoble at DGSYS.COM
Wed Jan 24 14:08:20 PST 2001
At 1:46 PM -0500 1/22/01, Bill Funk wrote:
>I have found it interesting, and so have my students, that at the time of the
>founding the title "The United States of America" took a plural verb, as in
>"The United States of America have created a new government." Today, of
>course, the title is singular, as in "The United States of America is the
>greatest nation in the world." When we talk of context, the context of
>thinking of the nation as a plural is significantly different from thinking
>of it as a singular. I wonder when the title morphed from one to the other.
The plural usage hasn't disappeared, it's just been dropped from the
rhetoric of law and national unity and adopted by the rhetoric of dissent
and division. Compare:
"It is alledged in the Official Journal, that war gives the right to take
the life of our enemy, and that this confers a right to make him a slave,
on account of having spared his life. Is that the principle on which these
United States stand before the world?"
-- John Quincy Adams, Argument before the Supreme Court, United States v.
Cinque and Other Africans Captured in the Schooner Amistad, February 24,
"We affirm the principles upon which these United States of America were
-- America's Party National Platform, 2000
The plural usage abounds in the manifestos of the radical right (by which I
mean Posse Comitatus, not the Moral Majority). As to when and why we began
thinking of it as singular rather than plural, maybe Lincoln's blurring of
the two is suggestive:
"The distinct issue, 'Immediate dissolution or blood'... embraces more than
the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man the
question of whether a constitutional republic or democracy -- a government
of the people, by the same people -- can or cannot maintain its territorial
integrity against its own domestic foes."
-- Abraham Lincoln, Message to Congress in Special Session, July 4, 1861
The plural usage also survives in some quaint (but empty) acknowledgements
of its older sense. I was amused by news reports of the Supreme Court
proceedings in Bush v. Gore before they decided that the construction of
Florida law is a federal question:
"God save these United States"
-- Supreme Court call to order
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