Wednesday, May 25, 2011

United States

United States of America
FlagGreat Seal
Motto: In God We Trust  (official)
E Pluribus Unum  (traditional)
(Latin: Out of Many, One)
Anthem: "The Star-Spangled Banner"
CapitalWashington, D.C.
38°53′N 77°01′W
Largest cityNew York City
Official language(s)None at federal level
National languageEnglish (de facto)
GovernmentFederal presidentialconstitutional republic
 - PresidentBarack Obama 
 - Vice PresidentJoe Biden 
 - Speaker of the HouseJohn Boehner 
 - Chief JusticeJohn Roberts
 - Upper HouseSenate
 - Lower HouseHouse of Representatives
Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain
 - DeclaredJuly 4, 1776 
 - RecognizedSeptember 3, 1783 
 - Current constitutionJune 21, 1788 
 - Total9,826,675 km2 (3rd/4th)
3,794,101 sq mi 
 - Water (%)6.76
 - 2010 census308,745,538 
 - Density33.7/km2
87.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP)2010 estimate
 - Total$14.624 trillion 
 - Per capita$47,123
GDP (nominal)2010 estimate
 - Total$14.624 trillion (1st)
 - Per capita$47,132 (9th)
Gini (2007)45.0 (44th)
HDI (2010)increase 0.902 (very high) (4th)
CurrencyUnited States dollar ($) (USD)
Time zone(UTC−5 to −10)
 - Summer (DST) (UTC−4 to −10)
Date formatsm/d/yy (AD)
Drives on theright
Internet .gov .mil .edu
Calling code+1
^ a. English is the official language of at least 28 states—some sources give a higher figure, based on differing definitions of "official".[5] English and Hawaiian are both official languages in the state of Hawaii.
^ b. English is the de facto language of American government and the sole language spoken at home by 80% of Americans age five and older. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language.
^ c. Whether the United States or the People's Republic of China is larger is disputed. The figure given is from the U.S.Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. Other sources give smaller figures. All authoritative calculations of the country's size include only the 50 states and the District of Columbia, not the territories.
^ d. The population estimate includes people whose usual residence is in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, including noncitizens. It does not include either those living in the territories, amounting to more than 4 million U.S. citizens (most in Puerto Rico), or U.S. citizens living outside the United States.
The United States of America (also referred to as the United States, the U.S., the USA, or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty statesand a federal district. The country is situated mostly in central North America, where its forty-eight contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The state of Alaska is in the northwest of the continent, with Canada to the east and Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. The state of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific. The country also possesses several territories in the Caribbean and Pacific.
At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with over 308 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and the third largest both by land area and population. It is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries. The U.S. economy is the world's largest national economy, with an estimated 2010 GDP of $14.7 trillion (23% of nominal global GDP and 20% of global GDP at purchasing power parity).
Indigenous peoples of Asian origin have inhabited what is now the mainland United States for many thousands of years. This Native American population was greatly reduced by disease and warfare after European contact. The United States was founded by thirteen British colonies located along the Atlantic seaboard. On July 4, 1776, they issued the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed their right to self-determination and their establishment of a cooperative union. The rebellious states defeated the British Empire in the American Revolution, the first successful colonial war of independence. The current United States Constitutionwas adopted on September 17, 1787; its ratification the following year made the states part of a single republic with a strong federal government. The Bill of Rights, comprising ten constitutional amendments guaranteeing many fundamental civil rights and freedoms, was ratified in 1791.
Through the 19th century, the United States displaced native tribes, acquired land from France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Russia, and annexed themRepublic of Texas and the Republic of Hawaii. Disputes between the agrarian South and industrial North over the expansion of the institution of slavery and states' rights provoked the American Civil War of the 1860s. The North's victory prevented a permanent split of the country and led to the end of legal slavery in the United States. By the 1870s, the national economy was the world's largest. The Spanish–American War and World War I confirmed the country's status as a military power. It emerged from World War II as the first country with nuclear weapons and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union left the United States as the sole superpower. The country accounts for 43% of global military spending and is a leading economic, political, and cultural force in the world.


Native Americans and European settlers

The indigenous peoples of the U.S. mainland, including Alaska Natives, are believed to have migrated from Asia, beginning between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago. Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. After Europeans began settling the Americas, many millions of indigenous Americans died from epidemics of imported diseases such as smallpox.
The Mayflower transported Pilgrims to the New World in 1620, as depicted in William Halsall's The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, 1882
In 1492, Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus, under contract to the Spanish crown, reached several Caribbean islands, making first contact with the indigenous people. On April 2, 1513, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed on what he called "La Florida"—the first documented European arrival on what would become the U.S. mainland. Spanish settlements in the region were followed by ones in the present-day southwestern United States that drew thousands through Mexico. French fur traders established outposts of New France around the Great Lakes; France eventually claimed much of the North American interior, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The first successful English settlements were the Virginia Colony in Jamestown in 1607 and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. The 1628 chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in a wave of migration; by 1634, New England had been settled by some 10,000 Puritans. Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, about 50,000 convicts were shipped to Britain's American colonies. Beginning in 1614, the Dutch settled along the lower Hudson River, including New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.
In 1674, the Dutch ceded their American territory to England; the province of New Netherland was renamed New York. Many new immigrants, especially to the South, were indentured servants—some two-thirds of all Virginia immigrants between 1630 and 1680. By the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were becoming the primary source of bonded labor. With the 1729 division of the Carolinas and the 1732 colonization of Georgia, the thirteen British colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. All legalized the African slave trade. With high birth rates, low death rates, and steady immigration, the colonial population grew rapidly. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty. In the French and Indian War, British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans (popularly known as "American Indians"), who were being displaced, those thirteen colonies had a population of 2.6 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain; nearly one in five Americans were black slaves. Though subject to British taxation, the American colonials had no representation in the Parliament of Great Britain.

Independence and expansion

Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull, 1817–18
Tensions between American colonials and the British during the revolutionary period of the 1760s and early 1770s led to the American Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 through 1781. On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress, convening in Philadelphia, established a Continental Army under the command of George Washington. Proclaiming that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "certain unalienable Rights," the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted largely byThomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1776. That date is now celebrated annually as America's Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak confederal government that operated until 1789.
After the British defeat by American forces assisted by the French and the Spaniards, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States and the states'sovereignty over American territory west to the Mississippi River. A constitutional convention was organized in 1787 by those wishing to establish a strong national government, with powers of taxation. The United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, and the new republic's first Senate, House of Representatives, and president—George Washington—took office in 1789. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.
Attitudes toward slavery were shifting; a clause in the Constitution protected the African slave trade only until 1808. The Northern states abolished slavery between 1780 and 1804, leaving the slave states of the South as defenders of the "peculiar institution." The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, made evangelicalism a force behind various social reform movements, including abolitionism.
Territorial acquisitions by date
Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory under President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 almost doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that stripped the native peoples of their land. The United States annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845. The concept of Manifest Destiny was popularized during this time. The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest. The U.S. victory in the Mexican-American War resulted in the 1848 cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest. The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 further spurred western migration. New railways made relocation easier for settlers and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, up to 40 million American bison, or buffalo, were slaughtered for skins and meat and to ease the railways' spread. The loss of the buffalo, a primary resource for the plains Indians, was an existential blow to many native cultures.

Civil War and industrialization

Battle of Gettysburg, lithograph by Currier & Ives, ca. 1863
Tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over the relationship between the state and federal governments, as well as violent conflicts over the spread of slavery into new states. Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the largely antislavery Republican Party, was elected president in 1860. Before he took office, seven slave states declared their secession—which the federal government maintained was illegal—and formed the Confederate States of America. With the Confederate attack upon Fort Sumter, the American Civil War began and four more slave states joined the Confederacy. Lincoln'sEmancipation Proclamation in 1863 declared slaves in the Confederacy to be free. Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution ensured freedom for the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves, made them citizens, and gave them voting rights. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power. The war remains the deadliest conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers.
Immigrants at Ellis Island, New York Harbor, 1902
After the war, the assassination of Lincoln radicalized Republican Reconstruction policies aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. The resolution of the disputed 1876 presidential electionby the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction; Jim Crow laws soon disenfranchised many African Americans. In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe hastened the country's industrialization. The wave of immigration, lasting until 1929, provided labor and transformed American culture. National infrastructure development spurred economic growth. The 1867 Alaska Purchase from Russia completed the country's mainland expansion. The Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 was the last major armed conflict of the Indian Wars. In 1893, the indigenous monarchy of the Pacific Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup led by American residents; the United States annexed the archipelago in 1898. Victory in the Spanish–American War the same year demonstrated that the United States was a world power and led to the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The Philippines gained independence a half-century later; Puerto Rico and Guam remain U.S. territories.

World War I, Great Depression, and World War II

An abandoned farm in South Dakotaduring the Dust Bowl, 1936
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. Most Americans sympathized with the British and French, although many opposed intervention. In 1917, the United States joined the Allies, helping to turn the tide against the Central Powers. After the war, the Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations. The country pursued a policy of unilateralism, verging on isolationism. In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that triggered the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a range of policies increasing government intervention in the economy. The Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration.
Soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division landing in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944
The United States, effectively neutral during World War II's early stages after Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, began supplying materiel to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend-Lease program. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to join the Allies against the Axis powers as well as the internment of Japanese Americans by the thousands. Participation in the war spurred capital investment and industrial capacity. Among the major combatants, the United States was the only nation to become richer—indeed, far richer—instead of poorer because of the war. Allied conferences at Bretton Woods and Yalta outlined a new system of international organizations that placed the United States and Soviet Union at the center of world affairs. As victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war. The United States, having developed the first nuclear weapons, used them on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Japan surrendered on September 2, ending the war.

Cold War and protest politics

Martin Luther King, Jr.delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech, 1963
The United States and Soviet Union jockeyed for power after World War II during the Cold War, dominating the military affairs of Europe through NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The United States promoted liberal democracy and capitalism, while the Soviet Union promoted communism and a centrally planned economy. Both supported dictatorships and engaged in proxy wars. American troops fought Communist Chinese forces in the Korean War of 1950–53. The House Un-American Activities Committeepursued a series of investigations into suspected leftist subversion, while Senator Joseph McCarthy became the figurehead of anticommunist sentiment.
The 1961 Soviet launch of the first manned spaceflight prompted President John F. Kennedy's call for the United States to be first to land "a man on the moon", achieved in 1969. Kennedy also faced a tense nuclear showdown with Soviet forces in Cuba. Meanwhile, the United States experienced sustained economic expansion. A growing civil rights movement, symbolized and led by African Americans such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and James Bevel, used nonviolence to confront segregation and discrimination. Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, expanded a proxy war in Southeast Asia into the unsuccessful Vietnam War. A widespread countercultural movement grew, fueled by opposition to the war, black nationalism, and the sexual revolution. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and others led a new wave of feminism that sought political, social, and economic equality for women.
As a result of the Watergate scandal, in 1974 Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign, to avoid being impeached on charges including obstruction of justice and abuse of power; he was succeeded by Vice President Gerald Ford. The Jimmy Carter administration of the late 1970s was marked by stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis. The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 heralded a rightward shift in American politics, reflected in major changes in taxation and spending priorities. His second term in office brought both the Iran-Contra scandal and significant diplomatic progress with the Soviet Union. The subsequent Soviet collapse ended the Cold War.

Contemporary era

The World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001
Under President George H. W. Bush, the United States took a lead role in the UN–sanctioned Gulf War. The longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history—from March 1991 to March 2001—encompassed the Bill Clinton administration and the dot-com bubble. A civil lawsuit and sex scandal led to Clinton's impeachment in 1998, but he remained in office. The 2000 presidential election, one of the closest in American history, was resolved by a U.S. Supreme Court decision—George W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush, became president.
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing nearly three thousand people. In response, the Bush administration launched the global War on Terror. In October 2001, U.S. forces led an invasion of Afghanistan, removing the Taliban government and al-Qaeda training camps. Taliban insurgents continue to fight a guerrilla war. In 2002, the Bush administration began to press for regime change in Iraq oncontroversial grounds. Lacking the support of NATO or an explicit UN mandate for military intervention, Bush organized a Coalition of the Willing; coalition forces preemptively invaded Iraq in 2003, removing dictator Saddam Hussein. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused severe destruction along much of the Gulf Coast, devastating New Orleans. On November 4, 2008, amid a global economic recession the first African American president, Barack Obama, was elected. In 2010, major health care and financial system reforms were enacted. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that year became the largest peacetime oil disaster in history.


In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere "America" after Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci. The former British colonies first used the country's modern name in the Declaration of Independence, the "unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776. On November 15, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, which states, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America.'" The Franco-American treaties of 1778 used "United States of North America", but from July 11, 1778, "United States of America" was used on the country's bills of exchange, and it has been the official name ever since.
The short form "United States" is also standard. Other common forms include the "U.S.", the "USA", and "America". Colloquial names include the "U.S. of A." and, internationally, the "States". "Columbia", a once popular name for the United States, derives from Christopher Columbus; it appears in the name "District of Columbia".
The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an "American". Though "United States" is the official appositional term, "American" and "U.S." are more commonly used to refer to the country adjectivally ("American values," "U.S. forces"). "American" is rarely used in English to refer to people not connected to the United States.
The phrase "United States" was originally treated as plural—e.g., "the United States are"—including in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865. It became common to treat it as singular—e.g., "the United States is"—after the end of the Civil War. The singular form is now standard; the plural form is retained in the idiom "these United States".

Geography, climate, and environment

The land area of the contiguous United States is approximately 1.9 billion acres (770 million hectares). Alaska, separated from the contiguous United States by Canada, is the largest state at 365 million acres (150 million hectares). Hawaii, occupying an archipelago in the central Pacific, southwest of North America, has just over 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares). The United States is the world's third or fourth largest nation by total area (land and water), ranking behind Russia and Canada and just above or below China. The ranking varies depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted and how the total size of the United States is calculated: the CIA World Factbook gives 3,794,101 square miles (9,826,675 km2), the United Nations Statistics Division gives 3,717,813 square miles (9,629,091 km2),and the Encyclopædia Britannica gives 3,676,486 square miles (9,522,055 km2). Including only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada.
Satellite image showing topography of the contiguous United States
The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountainsdivide the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the grasslands of the Midwest. The Mississippi–Missouri River, the world's fourth longest river system, runs mainly north–south through the heart of the country. The flat, fertile prairie of the Great Plains stretches to the west, interrupted by a highland region in the southeast. The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the country, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in Colorado. Farther west are the rocky Great Basin and deserts such as the Mojave. The Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges run close to the Pacific coast. At 20,320 feet (6,194 m), Alaska's Mount McKinley is the tallest peak in the country and in North America. Active volcanoes are common throughout Alaska's Alexander and Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii consists of volcanic islands. The supervolcano underlyingYellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent's largest volcanic feature.
Yellowstone National Park
The United States, with its large size and geographic variety, includes most climate types. To the east of the100th meridian, the climate ranges from humid continental in the north to humid subtropical in the south. The southern tip of Florida is tropical, as is Hawaii. The Great Plains west of the 100th meridian are semi-arid. Much of the Western mountains are alpine. The climate is arid in the Great Basin, desert in the Southwest, Mediterraneanin coastal California, and oceanic in coastal Oregon and Washington and southern Alaska. Most of Alaska is subarctic or polar. Extreme weather is not uncommon—the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes, and most of the world's tornadoes occur within the country, mainly in the Midwest's Tornado Alley.
The U.S. ecology is considered "megadiverse": about 17,000 species of vascular plants occur in the contiguous United States and Alaska, and over 1,800 species off lowering plants are found in Hawaii, few of which occur on the mainland. The United States is home to more than 400 mammal, 750 bird, and 500 reptile and amphibian species. About 91,000 insect species have been described. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. There are fifty-eight national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Altogether, the government owns 28.8% of the country's land area. Most of this is protected, though some is leased for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging, or cattle ranching; 2.4% is used for military purposes.