As the Official Language of the United States

By Washington J. McCormick

Washington J. McCormick, a Republican Congressman from Montana, in 1923 proposed to displace English in favor of "American" as the national language. Apparently, this was the first official-language measure ever considered by the U.S. Congress. The bill died in committee, although it was adopted later that year by the state of Illinois. McCormick's rationale for the change was quoted in The Nation on April 11, 1923:

I might say I would supplement the political emancipation of '76 by the mental emancipation of '23. America has lost much in literature by not thinking its own thoughts and speaking them boldly in a language unadorned with gold braid. It was only when Cooper, Irving, Mark Twain, Whitman, and O. Henry dropped the Order of the Garter and began to write American that their wings of immortality sprouted. Had Noah Webster, instead of styling his monumental work the "American Dictionary of the English Language," written a "Dictionary of the American Language," he would have become a founder instead of a compiler. Let our writers drop their top-coats, spats, and swagger-sticks, and assume occasionally their buckskin, moccasins, and tomahawks.

1923 Declaration of "American"
as the Official Language of Illinois

Whereas, Since the creation of the American Republic there have been certain Tory elements in our country who have never become reconciled to our republican institutions and have ever clung to the tradition of King and Empire; and

Whereas, America has been a haven of liberty and place of opportunity for the common people of all nations; and

Whereas, These strangers within our gates who seek economic betterment, political freedom, larger opportunities for their children and citizenship for themselves, come to think of our institutions as American and our language as the American language; and

Whereas, The name of the language of a country has a powerful psychological influence in stimulating and preserving the national ideal; and

Whereas, The languages of other countries bear the names of the countries to which they belong, ... now therefore

Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly: The official language of the State of Illinois shall be known hereafter as the "American" language and not as the "English" language.

Source: H.L. Mencken, The American Language, 4th ed., abridged, New York: Knopf, 1985, pp. 92-93.