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United States

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United States of America
Flag of the United States of America Great Seal of the United States
(U.S. Flag) (U.S. Great Seal)
National Mottos
(1776 - ): E Pluribus Unum
(Latin: "Out of many, one")
(1956 - ): In God We Trust
Image:LocationUSA.png
Official language None.
English de facto nationwide
Capital Washington, DC
Largest city New York City
President George W. Bush
Area
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 3rd
5,984,685 sq. miles (9,631,418 km²)
4.875%
Population
 - Total (July 2004 est.)
 - Density
Ranked 3rd
293,027,571
49/mi² (32/km²)
Independence
 - Declared
 - Recognized
Revolutionary War
July 4, 1776
September 3, 1783
GDP
 - Total (2003)
 - GDP/capita
Ranked 1st, 1st, 2nd, 7th
$11.0 trillion ([1])
$37,800
Currency US dollar ($)
Time zone UTC -6 to UTC -11
National anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner"
Internet TLD .gov .edu .mil .us .um
Calling Code 1</small>
 


The United States of America, also referred to as the United States, U.S.A., U.S., America,¹ or the States, is a federal republic in central North America, stretching from the Atlantic in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. It shares land borders with Canada in the north and Mexico in the south, a marine border with Russia in the northwest, and has a collection of districts, territories, and possessions around the world. The country has fifty states, which have a level of local autonomy according to the system of federalism. A United States citizen is usually identified as an American.¹

The United States traces its national origin to the declaration by thirteen British colonies in 1776 that they were free and independent states. Since the mid-20th century, it has surpassed all other nations in contemporary economic, political, military, and cultural influence.

The U.S. was founded under a tradition of government with the consent of the governed under the representative democracy model. This model of government (presidential-congressional) has since been adopted by many other countries, mostly in Central America and South America.

Contents

History

Main article: History of the United States

Following the European colonization of the Americas, thirteen colonies split from Britain and formed the United States, one of the world'Representative_democracy" title ="Representative democracy">representative democracies, after their Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Revolutionary War (17751783). The original political structure was a confederation in 1777, ratified in 1781 as the Articles of Confederation. After long debate, this was supplanted by the Constitution in 1789, forming a more centralized federal government.

During the 19th century, many new states were added to the original thirteen as the nation expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions, and the nation became an industrial power. The two major traumatic experiences for the nation were the Civil War (1861-1865) and the Great Depression (1929-1939), and it has taken part in several major wars, from the War of 1812 against Britain, to being allied with Britain during World War I and World War II, and taking part in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After the end of the second World War and the later collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States emerged as the world'Superpower" title ="Superpower">superpower.

See also: Military history of the United States, Timeline of United States history

Politics

Main article: Politics of the United States

The United States of America consists of fifty states with limited autonomy in which federal law takes precedence over state law. In general, matters that lie entirely within state borders are the exclusive concern of state governments. These include internal communications; regulations relating to property, industry, business, and public utilities; the state criminal code; and working conditions within the state. The District of Columbia falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, and has limited home rule.

The various state constitutions differ in some details but generally follow a pattern similar to that of the federal Constitution, including a statement of the rights of the people and a plan for organizing the government. On such matters as the operation of businesses, banks, public utilities and charitable institutions, state constitutions are often more detailed and explicit than the federal Constitution. In recent years, the federal government has assumed broader responsibility in such matters as health, education, welfare, transportation, housing and urban development.

The United States Capitol in Washington, DC, home of the Congress, the legislative branch of the government of United States.
The United States Capitol in Washington, DC, home of the Congress, the legislative branch of the government of United States.

The federal government itself consists of three branches: the executive branch (headed by the President), the legislative branch (the Congress), and the judicial branch (headed by the Supreme Court). The President is elected to a four-year term by the Electoral College, which is chosen through popular votes in the fifty states and the District of Columbia. The various legislators are chosen by popular vote in the 50 states. Members of Congress are elected for terms of two years in the House of Representatives and six years in the Senate. Justices of the Supreme Court are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate for an unlimited term. This tripartite model of government is generally duplicated at the state level. Local governments take various forms.

The federal and state governments are dominated by two political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. The dominant political culture in the United States is, as a whole, somewhat to the right of the dominant political culture in European democracies, though the issues at odds are somewhat different. Given their complex support bases it is difficult to specifically categorize the two major parties' appeal. Within the United States political culture, the Republican Party is described as center-right and the Democratic Party is described as center-left. Minor party and independent candidates are very occasionally elected, usually to local or state office, but the United States political system has historically supported "catch-all parties" rather than coalition governments. The ideology and policies of the sitting President of the United States commonly play a large role in determining the direction of his political party, as well as the platform of the opposition.

Political parties in the United States do not have formal "leaders" unlike many other countries, although there are complex hierarchies within the political parties that form various executive committees. Party ideology remains very individually-driven, with a diverse spectrum of moderates, centrists, and radicals within each party.

The two parties exist on the federal, state, and local levels, although the parties' organization, platform, and ideologies are not necessarily uniform across all levels of government.

Both major parties draw some support from across the diverse socio-economic classes that compose the United States'Labor_union" title ="Labor union">labor unions and minority ethnic groups. Because federal elections in the United States are among the most expensive in the world, access to funds is vital in the political system. Thus corporations, unions, and other organized groups that provide funds and political support to parties and politicians play a very large role in determining political agendas and government decision-making.

The immense cultural, economic, and military influence of the United States has made foreign relations an especially important topic in its politics, with considerable concern about the image of the United States throughout the world.

Political divisions

Main article: Political divisions of the United States

With the Declaration of Independence, the thirteen colonies transformed themselves into nation states modeled after the European states of the time. In the following years, the number of states within the U.S. grew steadily due to western expansion, the conquest and purchase of lands by the national government, and the subdivision of existing states, resulting in the current total of fifty. The states are generally divided into smaller administrative regions, including counties, cities and townships.

The United States also holds several other territories, districts and possessions, notably the federal district of the District of Columbia, which is the nation'Insular_area" title ="Insular area">insular areas, the most significant of which are Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands. The United States has held a Naval Base at an occupied portion of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 1898. The U.S. government claims a lease to this land, which only mutual agreement or United States abandonment of the area can terminate. The Cuban government disputes this arrangement, claiming Cuba was not truly sovereign at the time of the signing.

The United States has made no territorial claim in Antarctica but has reserved the right to do so.


Political divisions of the United States Flag of the United States
States Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
Federal district District of Columbia
Insular areas American Samoa | Baker Island | Guam | Howland Island | Jarvis Island | Johnston Atoll | Kingman Reef | Midway Atoll | Navassa Island | Northern Mariana Islands | Palmyra Atoll | Puerto Rico | Virgin Islands | Wake Island
 


Geography

Map of the United States
Map of the United States

Main article: Geography of the United States

As the world'Mangrove" title ="Mangrove">mangrove in Florida, the Great Plains in the center of the country, the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the Great Lakes which are shared with Canada, Rocky Mountains west of the plains, deserts and temperate coastal zones west of the Rocky Mountains and temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest. The arctic regions of Alaska and the volcanic islands of Hawaii only increase the geographic and climatic diversity.

The climate varies along with the landscape, from tropical in Hawaii to sub-tropical in Florida to tundra in Alaska. Large parts of the country have a continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Some parts of the United States, particularly parts of California, have a Mediterranean climate.

The political geography is notable as well, with the Canadian border being the longest undefended border in the world, and with the country being divided into three distinct sections: The continental United States, also known as the lower 48; Alaska, which is physically connected only to Canada, and the archipelago of Hawaii in the central Pacific Ocean.

Economy

The United States dollar, the nation's currency.
The United States dollar, the nation's currency.

Main article: Economy of the United States

The economy of the United States is organized primarily on a capitalist model, but with some government regulation in many industries. There are also some social welfare programs like Social Security, unemployment benefits, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families ("welfare"), the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicare, and Medicaid. Such departures from a pure free-market economy have generally increased since the late 1800s, but are still far less pronounced in the United States than in other ("first world") industrialized countries.

Several countries have coupled their currency with the dollar (such as the Peoples Republic of China), or even use it as a currency, although this practice has subsided in recent years.

The country has rich mineral resources, with extensive gold, oil, coal and uranium deposits. Successful farm industries rank the country among the top producers of, among others, corn, wheat, sugar and tobacco. The U.S. manufacturing sector produces, among other things, cars, airplanes and electronics. The biggest industry is now service; about three-quarters of U.S. residents are employed in that sector.

The largest trading partner of the United States is its northern neighbor, Canada. Other major partners are Mexico, the European Union and the industrialized nations in Asia, such as Japan, India and South Korea. Trade with China is also significant.

In 2002, the United States was ranked as the third most-visited tourist destination in the world. Its 41.9 million visits trailed only France (77 million) and Spain (51.7 million).

See also: List of United States companies

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of the United States

Ethnicity and race

Americans, in part due to categories decided by the U.S. government, generally describe themselves as being either multi-ethnic or one of five ethnic groups: White, sometimes called European-American or Caucasian; African-American, also called Black; Hispanic, also called Latino; Asian-American, frequently specified as Korean-American, etc.; and Native American, also called American Indian.

These groups leave a great deal of room for ambiguity, as, for example, Middle Easterners are made to choose between Europe and Asia, neither of which is where they'East_Asia" title ="East Asia">East Asia, rather than Southwest Asia; Pacific Islander/Hawaiian natives, technically Native Americans, may be assigned to Asian-American because of their geographic origins in Oceania; African-American is associated with centuries-long residents, and does not make distinctions between them and, say, recent Afro-Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica or refugees from Somalia, etc. Furthermore, the categories disregard the multi-ethnic heritage of many Americans.

The majority of the 290 million people currently living in the United States descend from European immigrants who have arrived since the establishment of the first colonies. Major components of the European segment of the United States population are descended from immigrants from Germany (23 percent), Ireland (16 percent), England (13 percent), Scotland, The Netherlands and Italy (6 percent), with many immigrants also coming from Scandinavian or Slavic countries. Other significant immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada; few immigrants came directly from France.

Likewise, while there were few immigrants directly from Spain, Hispanics from Mexico and South and Central America are considered the largest minority group in the country, comprising 13.4 percent of the population in 2002. This has brought increasing use of the Spanish language in the United States.

About 12.9 percent (2000 census) of the American people are African Americans, many of whom are descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to the U.S. between the 1620s and 1807. There has been in recent years a large influx of Africa immigrants to the United States due to the instability in political and economic opportunities in various nations in Africa.

A third significant minority is the Asian American population (4.2 percent), most of whom are concentrated on the West Coast.

The aboriginal population of Native Americans, such as American Indians and Inuit, make up 1.5 percent of the population.

See also: Immigration to the United States

Religion

As of 2001, the distribution for major religions in the United States was as follows: Protestant (52 percent), Roman Catholic (24.5 percent), "none" (13.2 percent), Jewish (1.3 percent) and between 0.3 and 0.5 percent each for Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Unitarian Universalist. An additional 0.3 to 0.5 percent, each, are professed agnostics and atheists. The largest single religious denomination in the United States is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons.

The United States, as a developed nation, is noteworthy for its high level of Christian religious devotion. However, the percentage of Americans calling themselves Christian has declined somewhat in recent years from 86.2 percent in 1990 to 76.5 percent in 2001.

Class

In terms of relative wealth, most U.S. residents enjoy a standard of personal economic wealth that is far greater than that known in most of the world. For example, 51 percent of all households have access to a computer and 67.9 percent of U.S. households owned their dwellings in 2002. However, there is also a considerable amount of poverty in the United States with 12.1% of the population living below the poverty level.

The social structure of the United States is somewhat stratified, with a significant class of very wealthy individuals, which are often alleged to hold disproportionate cultural and political influence. However, social mobility is a well-known concept in America, considered part of the "American dream", in that even someone born into a poor family can rise to join the upper classes. How often this actually occurs is a matter of debate. The nation'Gini_coefficient" title ="Gini coefficient">Gini coefficient of 40.8 percent (measuring income inequalities) is the third highest of all developed nations (after South Africa and Mexico).

Culture

Main article: Culture of the United States

Elvis Presley, an American singer and star who had a large impact on music and youth culture in the world.
Elvis Presley, an American singer and star who had a large impact on music and youth culture in the world.

U.S. culture has a large influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world. This influence is sometimes criticized as cultural imperialism. U.S. music is heard all over the world, and it is the sire of such forms as blues and jazz and had a primary hand in the shaping of modern rock and roll and popular music culture. Many great Western classical musicians and forums find their home in the U.S. and New York City is a hub for international operatic and instrumental music as well as the world-famed Broadway plays and musicals. New York and San Francisco are world-wide leaders in graphic design and New York and Los Angeles compete with major European cities in the fashion industry. U.S. movies (primarily embodied in Hollywood) and television shows can be seen almost anywhere. This is in stark contrast to the early days of the republic, when the country was viewed by Europeans as an agricultural backwater with little to offer the culturally "advanced" world centers of Asia and Europe. Nearing the mid-point of its third century of nationhood, the U.S. plays host to the gamut of human intellectual and artistic endeavor in nearly every major city, offering classical and popular music; historical, scientific and art research centers and museums; dance performances, musicals and plays; outdoor art projects and internationally significant architecture. This development is a result of both contributions by private philanthropists and government funding.

The United States is also a great center of higher education, boasting more than 4,000 universities, colleges and other institutions of higher learning, the top tier of which may be considered to be among the most prestigious and advanced in the world.

See also: Arts and entertainment in the United States, Languages in the United States, Education in the United States

Social issues

See also: Human rights in the United States, Anti-American sentiment

The United States Constitution makes provision for the rights of freedom of speech, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom of religion, trial by jury, and protection from "cruel and unusual punishment". The United States accepts many immigrants and has laws against racial and other forms of discrimination and other protections for minority groups.

Nevertheless, the United States has at times been criticized for violations of human rights, including racial discrimination in trials and sentences, police abuses, excessive and unwarranted incarceration, and the imposition of the death penalty ². In 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that United States had "made little progress in embracing international human rights standards at home." [2].

As of 2004, the United States has possibly the world'China" title ="China">China in particular is suspected of not releasing accurate figures, or of failing to document some prisoners. Human Rights Watch believes its per capita incarceration rate to be second in the world only to war-torn Rwanda. [3] Roughly 1 American in 15 will spend time in prison during his lifetime [4]. The figures are far higher for some ethnic minorities.

The United States'Suicide" title ="Suicide">suicide rate exceeds its homicide rate. Routine infant male circumcision is legal and widelly practiced which has attracted some controversy over recent years.

A number of American-based corporations, particularly McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Disney, have spread to many other countries, some of which have displayed resentment at the spread of American culture. McDonald's particularly has been the subject of protest and even acts of vandalism.

Despite being only 5% of the world's population, the United States consumes 25% of the world's power. [5] In terms of per capita usage, the U.S. ranks 9th.

Partly because of the United States' status as one of the world'English_language" title ="English language">English language has also spread worldwide. In France, lawmakers have made efforts to discourage use of English words such as "e-mail" and to avoid franglais, or English mixed with French. The concern that English is rapidly displacing other languages is widespread.

Legal holidays

Main article: Holidays of the United States

Date Name Remarks
January 1 New Year's Day Beginning of year, marks traditional end of "holiday season"
January, third Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Honors late Dr. King, Civil Rights leader
February, third Monday Presidents' Day Honors former U.S. Presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln
May, last Monday Memorial Day Honors servicemen and women who died in service, marks traditional beginning of summer
July 4 Independence Day Celebrates Declaration of Independence, usually called the Fourth of July
September, first Monday Labor Day Celebrates achievements of workers, marks traditional end of summer. This holiday is held instead of the traditional worldwide Labor Day, May 1, which ironically began in this country
October, second Monday Columbus Day Honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discoverer of the Americas
November 11 Veterans' Day Traditional observation of a moment of silence at 11 a.m. remembering those who fought for peace
November, fourth Thursday Thanksgiving Day of thanks which marks the traditional beginning of the "holiday season"
December 25 Christmas Celebrates the nativity of Jesus Christ, also celebrated as secular winter holiday


Related topics

Main article: List of United States-related topics


Topics in the United States
History Timeline ( Colonial Era | American Revolution | Westward Expansion | Civil War | World War 1 | Great Depression | World War 2 | Cold War | Vietnam War | Civil Rights) | Foreign relations | Military | Demographic and Postal history
Politics Law ( Constitution and Bill of Rights | Declaration of Independence) | Political parties ( Democrats & Republicans) | Elections (Electoral College) | Political scandals | Political divisions
Government Federal agencies | Legislative branch (Congress: House | Senate) Executive branch ( President & Vice-President | Cabinet | Attorney-General | Secretary of State) | Law enforcement ( FBI | Intelligence:CIA | DIA | NIMA | NRO | NSA) | Judicial branch ( Supreme Court) | Military ( Army | Navy | Marines | Air Force)
Geography Appalachian Mtns. | Rocky Mtns. | Great Plains | Midwest | The South | Mississippi River | New England | Mid-Atlantic | Pacific Northwest | Mountains | Valleys | Islands | Rivers | States | Cities | Counties | Regions | Extreme points
Economy Dollar | Wall Street | Standard of living | Companies | Poverty
Demographics US Census Bureau | Languages | Social structure | Standard of living | Religion
Arts & Culture Music (Hippies | blues | jazz | rock and roll | hip hop | gospel | country) | Film & TV (Hollywood) | Literature ( Poetry | Transcendentalism | Harlem Renaissance | Beat Generation) | Visual arts ( Abstract expressionism) | Cuisine | Holidays | Folklore | Dance | Architecture | Education | Languages | Media
Other United States territory | Communications | Transportation ( Highways and Interstates | Railroads) | Uncle Sam | Flag | American Dream | Media | Education | Tourism | Social issues ( Immigration | Affirmative action | Racial profiling | Human rights | War on Drugs | Pornography | same-sex marriage | Prisons | Capital punishment) | American Exceptionalism | Anti-Americanism | American Folklore | American English | United States Mexico barrier
States Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | District of Columbia | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming</small>


International rankings

Notes

¹ In the English-speaking world, America has become synonymous with the nation of the United States while American refers to United States (U.S.) citizens; this is a standard usage in not only the U.S. itself, but also much of Europe and Australasia. The term Americas, on the other hand, includes the North and South American continents as a collective unit. In Spanish-speaking countries, particularly in Central and South America, the word América is used not to denote the U.S. but what English-speakers would term the Americas. Thus, some people of the Americas find it off-putting for the U.S. to be referred to as America and inhabitants of the U.S. as Americans. While, in some quarters, the accuracy and political correctness of such nomenclature is debated, current usage in English by sheer weight of occurrence inclines to America and American as linked to the nation and citizens of the United States.
²The death penalty is not legal in every U.S. state and it is in itself a controversial issue within the U.S.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has multimedia related to United States.


Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about United States.

United States government

Other


Countries in North America
Antigua and Barbuda | Bahamas | Barbados | Belize | Canada | Costa Rica | Cuba | Dominica | Dominican Republic | El Salvador | Grenada | Guatemala | Haiti | Honduras | Jamaica | Mexico | Nicaragua | Panama | Saint Kitts and Nevis | Saint Lucia | Saint Vincent and the Grenadines | Trinidad and Tobago | United States
Dependencies: Anguilla | Aruba | Bermuda | Cayman Islands | Greenland | Guadeloupe | Martinique | Montserrat | Netherlands Antilles | Puerto Rico | Saint-Pierre and Miquelon | Turks and Caicos Islands | U.S. Virgin Islands | British Virgin Islands

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