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.