This is a common question. In fact, writer William Safire answered this question in the New York Times magazine. His report says that Benjamin Franklin used the name United Colonies of north America around the time of the war for independence from Britain in seventeen-seventy-five. But another name appeared on the Declaration of Independence that was approved on July fourth, seventeen-seventy-six. The declaration used the name United States of America.
Mr. Safire's readers wrote to him with more information. He learned that the name United States of America had been used in two letters, each written a month before the Declaration. One was published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post newspaper on June twenty-ninth, seventeen-seventy-six.
Mr. Safire also heard from a history expert, Ronald Gephart. He searched delegates' letters to the Continental Congress between seventeen-seventy-four and seventeen-eighty-nine. This is what he found. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia made the proposal in the Congress on June seventh, seventeen-seventy-six, to declare that the United Colonies should be free and independent states.
This proposal led to the creation of three committees to write three important documents. One wrote a Declaration of Independence. Another wrote Articles of Confederation. The third wrote a treaty plan. All three groups worked together and used the name United States of America. Mr. Gephart said the term developed from one or more members of the committees during these meetings. We also know that the Articles of Confederation included the statement "The name of this confederation shall be the United States of America."