Political cartoon from 1860 depicting Stephen A. Douglas
receiving a spanking from Columbia as Uncle Sam looks on approvingly
Columbia in an 1865 Thomas Nast cartoon asking the government to allow black soldiers to vote
Columbia and an early rendition of Uncle Sam
in an 1869 Thomas Nast cartoon having Thanksgiving dinner with a diverse group of immigrants
A defiant Columbia in an 1871 Thomas Nast
cartoon shown protecting a defenseless Chinese man from an angry Irish lynch mob that has just burned down an orphanage
This 1872 painting titled American Progress
depicts Columbia as the Spirit of the Frontier, carrying telegraph lines across the Western frontier to fulfill manifest destiny
Columbia (representing the American people) reaches out to oppressed Cuba with blindfolded Uncle Sam in background (Judge
, February 6, 1897; cartoon by
Grant E. Hamilton)
Columbia wearing a warship bearing the words "World Power" as her "Easter bonnet" (cover of Puck
, April 6, 1901)
The earliest type of personification of the Americas, seen in European art from the 16th century onwards, reflected the tropical regions in South and Central America from which the earliest travellers reported back. These were most often used in sets of female personifications of the Four Continents. America was depicted as a woman who, like Africa, was only partly dressed, typically in bright feathers, which invariably formed her headress. She often held a parrot, was seated on a caiman or alligator, with a cornucopia. Sometimes a severed head was a further attribute, or in prints scenes of cannibalism were seen in the background.
Though versions of this depiction, tending as time went on to soften the rather savage image into an "Indian princess" type, and in churches emphasizing conversion to Christianity, served European artists well enough, by the 18th century they were becoming rejected by settlers in North America, who wanted figures representing themselves rather than the Native Americans they were often in conflict with.
Massachusetts Chief Justice Samuel Sewall used the name Columbina (not Columbia) for the New World in 1697. The name Columbia for America first appeared in 1738 in the weekly publication of the debates of the British Parliament in Edward Cave's The Gentleman's Magazine. Publication of Parliamentary debates was technically illegal, so the debates were issued under the thin disguise of Reports of the Debates of the Senate of Lilliput and fictitious names were used for most individuals and placenames found in the record. Most of these were transparent anagrams or similar distortions of the real names and some few were taken directly from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels while a few others were classical or neoclassical in style. Such were Ierne for Ireland, Iberia for Spain, Noveborac for New York (from Eboracum, the Roman name for York) and Columbia for America—at the time used in the sense of "European colonies in the New World".
By the time of the Revolution, the name Columbia had lost the comic overtone of its Lilliputian origins and had become established as an alternative, or poetic name for America. While the name America is necessarily scanned with four syllables, according to 18th-century rules of English versification Columbia was normally scanned with three, which is often more metrically convenient. For instance, the name appears in a collection of complimentary poems written by Harvard graduates in 1761 on the occasion of the marriage and coronation of King George III.
- Behold, Britannia! in thy favour'd Isle;
- At distance, thou, Columbia! view thy Prince,
- For ancestors renowned, for virtues more;
The name Columbia rapidly came to be applied to a variety of items reflecting American identity. A ship built in Massachusetts in 1773 received the name Columbia Rediviva and it later became famous as an exploring ship and lent its name to new Columbias.
No serious consideration was given to using the name Columbia as an official name for the independent United States,counties, townships, and towns as well as other institutions.
but with independence the name became popular and was given to many
- In 1784, the former King's College in New York City had its name changed to Columbia College, which became the nucleus of the present-day Ivy League Columbia University.
- In 1786, South Carolina gave the name Columbia to its new capital city. Columbia is also the name of at least nineteen other towns in the United States.
- In 1791, three commissioners appointed by President George Washington named the area destined for the seat of the United States government the Territory of Columbia. It was subsequently (1801) organized as the District of Columbia.
- In 1792, the Columbia Rediviva sailing ship gave its name to the Columbia River in the American Northwest (much later, the Rediviva would give its name to the Space Shuttle Columbia)
- In 1798, Joseph Hopkinson wrote lyrics for Philip Phile's 1789 inaugural "President's March" under the new title of "Hail, Columbia". Once used as de facto national anthem of the United States, it is now used as the entrance march of the Vice President of the United States.
- In 1821 citizens of Boone County, Missouri chose the name for their new city of Columbia, Missouri
- In 1865 Jules Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon, the spacecraft to the moon was fired from a giant Columbiad cannon.
In part, the more frequent usage of the name Columbia reflected a rising American neoclassicism, exemplified in the tendency to use Roman terms and symbols. The selection of the eagle as the national bird, the heraldric use of the eagle, the use of the term Senate to describe the upper house of Congress and the naming of Capitol Hill and the Capitol building were all conscious evocations of Roman precedents.
The adjective Columbian has been used to mean "of or from the United States of America", for instance in the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. It has occasionally been proposed as an alternative word for American.
Columbian should not be confused with the adjective pre-Columbian, referring to a time period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.