“Life in these United States,” an old Readers Digest humor feature, had many amusing stories. Like this one:

The teacher in one of our local grade schools was showing a copy of the Declaration of Independence to her pupils. It passed from desk to desk and finally to Luigi, a first-generation American. The boy studied the document reverently. Then, before passing it on, he gravely added his own signature. –Katherine T. Floyd

Fifty such stories are available here. But the mention of the Declaration of Independence is connected to the title, if accidentally. Immediately following the date, it begins:


The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.

As with the expression “these United States,” the phrase “thirteen United States” treats the name as a group of states, not a single country. The Constitution has many references, some of which refer to the country as a whole, and some to the collection of states who were together creating the Constitution itself.

What’s in a name?

It occurs to me that the entire history of the country’s loss of federalism — the takeover by the central power of those things the individual states were to be responsible for — might have been very different if the name of the group had been unambiguous. At one point (peaking in 1792), there was a push to call the new nation “Columbia” (after Christopher Columbus) — the District of Columbia is a surviving artifact of that, as are some other parts of the country with that name. In fact, much of the current DC attempted to become a state of the Union, to be called “New Columbia,” in 1980. It was not approved.

But if it had happened, and just a bit earlier — if the Constitution was absolutely clear when it was referring to a duty or power of the Nation versus duties or powers of the several States independently, that clarification might have preserved some state power now long gone. Preserved it for a while, at least.

As it is, we’ve done way too much damage to our founding principles, including interpreting a power to resolve disputes between states to now be the control of every aspect of commerce in the country, including the ability to force citizens to buy things. The rationale is that every activity could conceivably have some impact on commerce between states. Thus, the nation must control it … and us.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle