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Unpublished Paper
The United States are but One Country: A Short History of Grammar and Liberty
ExpressO (2010)
  • Charles R. Gardner

This legal essay traces the conversion of “the United States” from a plural to a singular noun in United States Supreme Court decisions, in presidential proclamations and inaugural addresses, in diplomatic correspondence and in public discourse. It did not happen with a bang at the end of the Civil War, but with a whimper at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first, the singularity of humanity, for which that conflagration was allegedly fought, still eludes us. It is that latter singularity that inspires and organizes this essay.

Not until the digital age was it possible to pinpoint when the Supreme Court finally stopped treating the United States as a grammatical plural. The change was scattered, hesitant, inconsistent, and appears to have been unconscious. The same scattered, hesitant and inconsistent usage occurred in the executive branch, in our national diplomacy and in our public discourse.

Resistance to our grammatical singularity toward the end of the nineteenth century was rarely founded upon considerations of grammatical nicety.

“The struggle between a singular and a plural United States was never about grammar. It was about a singular versus a plural humanity, and the battle is far from over.”

  • civil rights,
  • race,
  • language,
  • slavery,
  • civil war,
  • federalism
Publication Date
July 1, 2010
Citation Information
Charles R. Gardner. "The United States are but One Country: A Short History of Grammar and Liberty" ExpressO (2010)
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