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

T. F. Mills phasco at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 18 13:20:05 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:
American_(word) (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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