On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia offered a resolution to the Second Continental Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia, which began with the epic demand, “ That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States.” After a month of heated deliberation, the Congress finally adopted Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence which incorporated Lee’s opening phrase in its final paragraph. In September of that year, the Continental Congress formally declared that the term United Colonies would thereafter be officially replaced by the name United States.
Since that time, the battle to firmly establish the legal and Constitutional rights of the individual States has continued to rage in the nation’s legislative chambers and courts, as well as on the field of battle. What is, however, generally misunderstood today, is that the more modern concept of constituent or federated states, entities that are little more than political subdivisions within a sovereign nation, was then unknown to Lee, Jefferson and the other members of the Continental Congress, and what they actually envisioned were thirteen united British colonies that would become transformed into a like number of united sovereign states . . . or what might better be termed, a league of independent nations.