United Colonies

The "United Colonies" was the name used by the Second Continental Congress for the emerging nation comprising the Thirteen Colonies in 1775 and 1776, before independence was declared. It emerged as a colloquial phrase to refer to the colonies as a whole. The precise origin is unknown, but John Adams used the phrase "united colonies" as early as February 27, 1775, in a his sixth letter entitled "To the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay" published in the Boston Gazette:

A 1776 eight-dollar banknote featuring the "United Colonies" name with the inscription ""EIGHT DOLLARS. THIS Bill entitles the Bearer to receive EIGHT Spanish milled DOLLARS, or the Value thereof in Gold or Silver, according to a Resolution of CONGRESS, passed at Philadelphia February 17, 1776." ; Within border cuts: "Continental Currency" and "The United Colonies". ; Within circle: “MAJORA. MINORIBUS. CONSONANT". ; Verso: "EIGHT DOLLARS. PHILADELPHIA: PRINTED BY HALL & SELLERS. 1776."
A 1776 eight-dollar banknote featuring the "United Colonies" name.

They have declared our cause their own—that they never will submit to a precedent in any part of the united colonies, by which Parliament may take away Wharves and other lawful estates, or demolish Charters; for if they do, they have a moral certainty that in the course of a few years, every right of Americans will be taken away, and governors and councils, holding at the will of a Minister, will be the only legislatives, in the colonies.[1][2]

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, after receiving instructions and wording from the Fifth Virginia Convention, proposed to Congress what became known as the Lee Resolution, which was seconded by John Adams. It was passed on July 2, 1776. Referring to the United Colonies, it read in part:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

On September 9, 1776, Congress formally dropped the name "United Colonies" in favor of the “United States of America".

Calling on the United Colonies to mobilizeEdit

Congress called on the colonies to rename themselves as states, with new constitutions. On March 14 1775 as proposed by John Adams the Congress:

Resolved That it be recommended to the several Assemblies, Conventions and Committees or Councils of Safety, of the United Colonies, immediately to cause all Persons to be disarmed, within their respective Colonies, who are notoriously disaffected to the cause of America, or who have not associated, and shall refuse to associate to defend by Arms these united Colonies, against the hostile Attempts of the British Fleets and Armies...."[3]

After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the New England militias mobilized to surround the British in Boston. On July 6, 1775, Congress issued, A declaration by the representatives of the United Colonies of North America, now met in General Congress in Philadelphia, setting forth the causes and necessity of their taking up arms. They concluded, "We mean not to dissolve that union which as so long and so happily subsisted between us, in which we sincerely wish to see restored....We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states."[4]

On May 10, 1776, Congress unanimously resolved:

That it be recommended to the respective Assemblies and Conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs hath hitherto been established, to adopt such government, as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents, in particular, and America in general.[5]

In preparation for independence, Congress defined treason as levying war against the United Colonies, adhering to the King, or providing aid or comfort to the enemy.[6]

In early 1776, the cause of independence was widely promulgated in Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense. He called on the 13 colonies to write a new constitution:

let their business be to frame a CONTINENTAL CHARTER, or Charter of the United Colonies; (answering to what is called the Magna Charta of England) fixing the number and manner of choosing members of Congress, members of Assembly, with their date of sitting, and drawing the line of business and jurisdiction between them: (Always remembering, that our strength is continental, not provincial.) Securing freedom and property to all men, and above all things the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; with such other matter as is necessary for a charter to contain.[7]

Congress voted Independence on July 2, 1776, and issued on July 4, 1776 the "Declaration of Independence":

in the name and by the 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; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.[8]

New agenciesEdit

Congress appointed George Washington "General & Commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies and of all the forces raised or to be raised by them", and instructed him to take charge of the siege of Boston on June 22, 1775.[9] Congress created a series of new agencies in the name of the United Colonies, including a Navy, [10]

On September 14, 1775, Congress instructed Colonel Benedict Arnold to invade Québec, seize military stores, and try to convince the French Canadians to join the revolution. [11]

On September 9, 1776, Congress formally dropped the name "United Colonies" in favor of the “United States of America." Congress ordered, “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.'”[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Adams Papers Digital Edition - Massachusetts Historical Society". www.masshist.org. Retrieved 2021-08-25.
  2. ^ ""To the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay."". AAS Catalog Record. 1775-01-23. Retrieved 2021-08-25.
  3. ^ See "Thursday March 14. 1776"
  4. ^ Merrill Jensen, ed., English Historical Documents: volume IX: American Colonial Documents to 1776 (1955) pp 843–847; also see online.
  5. ^ John R. Vile (2015). Founding Documents of America. ABC-CLIO. p. 94.
  6. ^ Holger Hoock (2017). Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth. Crown/Archetype. p. 118.
  7. ^ Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
  8. ^ Mary Beth Norton (2007). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, Volume I: To 1877. Cengage Learning. p. 466.
  9. ^ See "Instructions from the Continental Congress"
  10. ^ See "Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies" November 28, 1775
  11. ^ see "Instructions to Colonel Benedict Arnold"
  12. ^ George Henry Moore (1886). Prytaneum Bostoniense: Notes on the History of the Old State House, Formerly Known as the Town House in Boston, the Court House in Boston, the Province Court House, the State House, and the City Hall. Cupples, Upham. p. 40.

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