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United States

The United States of America (U.S.A.), also referred to as the United States (U.S.), America, or the States, is a federal republic in North America and the Pacific Ocean with a strong democratic tradition. Founded along the Atlantic coast, it spread westward to the Pacific Ocean. It shares land borders with Canada in the north and Mexico in the south, shares a marine border with Russia in the west, and has a collection of districts, territories, and possessions around the globe. The country has 50 states, which have a level of local autonomy.

The United States traces its national origin to the declaration by 13 British colonies in 1776 that they were free and independent states. Since the mid-20th century it has eclipsed every other nation in terms of economic, political, military, and cultural influence.

United States of America
(In Detail) Great Seal
National mottos
(1776 - ): E Pluribus Unum
(Latin: "Out of many, one")
(1956 - ): In God We Trust
Official language None at federal level,
some states specify,

English de facto
Capital Washington, DC
Largest City New York City, New York
President George W. Bush
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 3rd
9,372,610 km≤
 - Total (2000)
 - Density
Ranked 3rd
 - Declared
 - Recognized
Revolutionary War
July 4, 1776
September 3, 1783
Currency US dollar ($)
Time zone UTC -5 to UTC -10
National anthem The Star-Spangled Banner
Internet TLD .US .EDU .GOV .MIL
Calling Code 1

Table of contents


Following the European colonization of the Americas, the United States became the world's first modern democracy after its break with Great Britain, with a Declaration of Independence in 1776. 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 of a more centralized federal government in 1789. 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. Two of the major traumatic experiences in the nation's history were the American Civil War (1861-65) and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Buoyed by victories in World War I and World War II and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the U.S. remains the world's most powerful nation-state.


Main article: Politics of the United States

The United States of America consists of 50 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. Many state laws are quite similar from state to state. Finally, there are many areas of overlap between state and federal jurisdictions.

In recent years, the federal government has assumed broader responsibility in such matters as health, education, welfare, transportation, and housing and urban development. The constitutions of the various states 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.

The federal government itself consists of three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. The head of the executive branch is the President of the United States of America. The legislative branch consists of the United States Congress, while the Supreme Court of the United States is the head of the judicial branch.

The federal and state government is 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. Given their complex support bases it is difficult to specifically categorise the two major parties' appeal. Within the US political culture, the Republican Party is described as center-right and the 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. Both major parties draw some support from all the diverse socio-economic classes which compose the mature multi-ethnic capitalist society which makes up the United States. Business interests provide the major funding and support to the Republican Party while labor unions and minority ethnic groups provide major support to the Democrats. Access to funds is vital in the political system due to the financial costs of mounting political campaigns. Thus, the political interests of corporations and other organized segments of the society in a position to provide funds and other political support play a major role in determining the political agenda of political parties, and ultimately, government decision making.

Political divisions

Main article: United States territory


Main article: States of the United States

At the Declaration of Independence, the United States consisted of 13 states. In the following years, this number has grown steadily due to expansion to the west, conquest and purchase of lands by the American government, and division of existing states to the current number of 50 :

The contiguous part of the US (i.e. without Hawaii and Alaska) is called continental United States.

The states are divided into smaller administrative regions, called counties in most states--exceptions being Alaska (boroughs) and Louisiana (parishes). Counties can include a number of cities and towns, or sometimes just a part of a city. See County (United States).

Federal district

The District of Columbia is a separate federal district not part of any state and is under the direct authority of Congress. It is there that the nation's capital city—the seat of the federal government—resides.

Dependent areas

Several islands in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea are dependent territories of the United States:

Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas are commonwealths of the United States.

US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay is leased from Cuba and only mutual agreement or US abandonment of the area can terminate the lease.

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

From July 18, 1947 until October 1, 1994, the US administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, but recently entered into a new political relationship with all four political units.

Occupying Power

The United States is currently an occupying power of the following countries:


Main article: Geography of the United States

As the world's third largest nation (land area), the United States landscape varies greatly: temperate forestland on the East coast, mangrove forests in Florida, the Great Plains in the centre of the country, the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the 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 climactic diversity.

The climate varies along with the landscape, from sub-tropic 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 economy is organized on the capitalist model and is marked by steady growth, low unemployment and inflation, a large trade deficit, and rapid advances in technology. The American economy can be regarded as the most important in the world. Several countries have coupled their currency with the dollar, or even use it as a currency, and the American stock markets are globally seen as an indicator of world economy.

The country has rich mineral resources, with extensive gold, oil, coal and uranium deposits. Agriculture brings the country among the top producers of, among others, maize, wheat, sugar and tobacco. American industry produces cars, airplanes and electronics. The biggest sector is however service industries; about three-quarters of Americans are employed in that sector.

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


Main article: Demographics of the United States

Most of the 280 million people currently living in the United States descend from European immigrants that 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, England, Scotland, Ireland and Italy with many immigrants also from Scandinavian countries and the Slavic and other populations of 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% of the population (38.6 million people) in 2002. This has brought increasing use of the Spanish language in the United States (see Languages in the United States). About 12% (2000 census) of the people are African Americans who largely descend from the African slaves that were brought to America. A third significant minority is the Asian American population (3.6%), who are most concentrated on the West Coast. The native population of Native Americans, such as American Indians and Inuit make up less than 1% of the population.

The level of Christian religious devotion in the US is showing a gradual decline, from 86.2% calling themselves Christian in 1990 to 76.5% doing so in 2001. The religious affiliations in 2001 were Protestant 52%, Catholic 24.5%, none 13.2%, Jewish 1.3% and 0.5-0.3% for Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist, Hindu and Unitarian Universalist. There is a significant difference between those who declare themselves to be of a religion and those who are members of a church of that religion. Census Bureau figures show that church membership in 2001 was 53% Christian, 2.3% Jewish and 0.1% Muslim, others lower.

The social structure of the United States, a capitalist country, is highly stratified, with a large proportion of the wealth of the country controlled by a small fraction of the population which exerts disproportionate cultural and political influence. However, in terms of relative wealth, most Americans enjoy a standard of personal economic wealth that is far greater than that known in the majority of the world. For example, 51% of all households have access to a computer and 41% had access to the Internet in 2000. Furthermore, 67.9% of US households owned their dwellings in 2002.


Main article: Culture of the United States

American culture has a large influence on the rest of the world, especially the Western world. American music is heard all over the world, and American movies and television shows can be seen almost anywhere. This is in stark contrast to the early days of the American republic, when the country was generally seen as an agricultural backwater with little to offer the culturally advanced world centers of Asia and Europe. Nearing the end of its third century, nearly every major American city offers 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 1,500 universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning, the top tier of which include schools considered the most prestigious and advanced in the world. Among these are the eight Ivy League Universities, elite private universities, numerous private colleges, which provide primarily undergraduate education, and an extensive system of public universities and colleges.

Students seeking officership in the United States Military may also enroll in ROTC courses at these colleges or in several Service Academies such as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs.

In American literature, authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and more recently, Ernest Hemingway, J. D. Salinger and Flannery O'Connor, mastered the "short story." Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler pioneered gritty detective fiction that has had great influence on other genres and in other countries. After World War I, authors like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald developed new techniques for novels.

Other noted American writers include Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Willa Cather and Toni Morrison.

U.S. poets with international fame (or notoriety) include: T. S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, E. E. Cummings and Robert Frost.

American music has a long and diverse history and has been an important influence on popular music worldwide. Some of the U.S.A.'s more famous and important musicians and singers include Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Chuck Berry, Mariah Carey, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Kurt Cobain, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Eminem, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, B. B. King, Carole King, Jim Morrison, Madonna, Willie Nelson, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, and Hank Williams.

American inventor Thomas Alva Edison played an important role in the invention of motion pictures, and David Wark Griffith pioneered a filmic vocabulary that still dominates. Other famous American film directors include Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Spike Lee, Woody Allen, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Iconic American actors include Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, James Cagney, Bette Davis, James Dean, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Julia Roberts, Jimmy Stewart, Meryl Streep, Shirley Temple, and John Wayne.

American visual artists of note include Andy Warhol, Georgia O'Keefe, Mary Cassatt and Jackson Pollock. Major American architects include Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry.

Date Name Remarks
January 1 New Year's Day celebrates beginning of year, marks traditional end of "holiday season"
January, third Monday Martin Luther King, Jr. Day honors King, Civil Rights leader
February, third Monday Presidents' Day honors former American Presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln
May, last Monday Memorial Day honors service men 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 celebrate achievements of workers, marks traditional end of summer
October, second Monday Columbus Day honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discover of the Americas
November, fourth Thursday Thanksgiving give thanks for autumn harvest, marks traditional beginning of "holiday season"
December 25 Christmas celebrates the nativity of Jesus Christ, also celebrated as secular winter holiday

Miscellaneous topics

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