Civics 101: What's in a name?

J. H. Osborne • Nov 19, 2018 at 2:09 PM

This week in Civics 101: big names in your government.

The colonies won the Revolutionary War and broke from monarchy. A new nation and new form of government was created. But how did they decide on some key names, titles and manners of addressing one another in government?

Q: When did the phrase, "The United States of America," originate?

A: The first known use of the formal term "United States of America" was in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Paine, in February, 1776, had written of "Free and independent States of America." The terms "United Colonies," "United Colonies of America," "United Colonies of North America," and also "States," were used in 1775 and 1776.

Q: How was the manner of address of the President of the United States decided?

A: Both Houses of Congress appointed committees to consider the proper title to give the President, but they could not agree. The Senate wished it to be "His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties." The House considered this as too monarchical, and addressed its reply to the first inaugural speech merely to "The President of the United States." The Senate on later agreed to this simple form.

Q: Why is a member of the House of Representatives referred to on the floor as "the gentleman from New York," for example, instead of by name?

A: It is a custom in all large deliberative bodies to avoid the use of the personal name in debate or procedure. The original purpose of this was to avoid any possible breach of decorum and to separate the political from the personal character of each member.

Source: The U.S. Archives

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