[PW] Meaning of the term 'America' in 1900?

T.F. Mills veritasvictrix at gmail.com
Wed Apr 13 00:03:18 PDT 2022


Hi Allen,

The simple answer is that "America" was no more exact in 1900 than it is
now (except in physical geography.).

The Wikipedia article is probably a good place to start, but maybe not
specific enough:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_(word)

1900 had approximately the same complicated and ambiguous meanings as
today, but with different evolutionary shades.  The Spanish-American war of
1898 had a huge impact on the roles and power of the USA and Spain in the
world and a commensurate shift in popular usage of language.  It could be
said that this is approximately when calling USians Americans took on
shades of hubris (both from the inside and out.)  I haven't
checked scientifically , but I think British colloquial usage today is
equally "America" and "the States" (and to a much lesser extent, "the
colonies.")

English-speaking colonials were calling themselves Americans before the
Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation cemented the term
-- with emphasis on "United States" to distinguish those former colonies
from the larger land mass outside of that union.(mostly Spanish America,
which was generally unaware that the anglophones thought of themselves as
"Americans.")  By 1900 the USA had greatly expanded (mostly at Hispanic
expense, the "frontier" was closing, and the continental USA as we know it
was almost complete (in geographic form,, yes, but not in governance.)  By
then, the American parts not in that union were evolving away from the
original need for the qualifier (British America, French America, Spanish
America, etc.), but a better term for the USians never gained widespread
usage.

Canada was also evolving with equal ambiguity both about its union
(1867-70) and its relationship to Britain and the world.  "British North
America" had recently meant the combination of Ontario and Quebec (the
remnant of former French America) as well as informally the other
colonies/provinces.  (Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1947.)  Canada
is much less "American" today than it was in 1900 (not to mention much less
"British".)  Meanwhile, the British Royal Navy had a "North America"
command until 1956.

P.S.  I have been having tech difficulties, and I know a lot of my email
has gone astray, so apologies to anybody who was expecting to hear from me
and didn't.

T.F. Mills


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