Magazine article The American Enterprise

Allegania the Beautiful

Magazine article The American Enterprise

Allegania the Beautiful

Article excerpt

Charles Fenno Hoffman was a one-legged Hudson Valley lawyer turned poet who wrote--seriously--one of the best odes upon a dead dog ever penned. Hoffman had earned his gimp when, in a fit of boyish daredeviltry, he tried to leap from a pier onto a steamer. He came up about half a leg short.

As he later came up short in his most ambitious project: an attempt to give a new name to our country. If poets ran this land, Hoffman would be revered today as the father of our beloved Allegania.

Nineteenth-century American poets keenly felt the infelicity of the name "United States." What could we call ourselves? "United Stateser" is hopelessly clumsy, and rhymes only with "late, sir" and "fate, sir." Besides, there were five other United Stateses in the hemisphere. "American," which--not to spoil the ending--finally won out, was imprecise, encompassing two continents and many countries.

Washington Irving, the nation's leading man of letters, had worried this bone for years. "We want a national name," wrote Irving. "We want it poetically, and we want it politically... I leave it to our poets to tell how they manage to steer that collocation of words,'The United States of North America" down the swelling tide of song, and to float the whole raft out upon the sea of heroic poesy." A stirring new name "would bind every part of the confederacy together."

So in March 1845, the New York Historical Society appointed poet Hoffman, Indian expert Henry R. Schoolcraft, and attorney David Dudley Field to come up with a better name for our country. By month's end, their report was in. (Commissions worked faster in those days.) It urged discarding the "irrelevant appellation at present used for this country" and its replacement by one "more likely to promote national associations, and prove efficient in History, Poetry, and Art."

The trio looked for a name in "our mountains, or our lakes, or our rivers." The Rockies they judged too distant; the northern lakes peripheral; the great Mississippi River and its tributaries had already given names to six states.

Taking a cue from Washington Irving, they settled upon "Allegania," to be pronounced "Algania" for poetical reasons. (Though suitable rhymes do not quite cascade: mania? Mauritania? That's vain o'ya?)

The Alleghany Mountains were "the grandest natural feature of the country declared Hoffman and Company; "one that is common to the north and south. …

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