The United States of America

The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic, comprising fifty states and a federal district.
It is almost entirely in the western hemisphere. The forty-eight contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie in central North America 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 its east. The state of Hawaii is in the mid-Pacific.
The United States also possesses fourteen territories, or insular areas, scattered around the Caribbean and Pacific.
At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km²) and with over 300 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and third largest by land area and by population. The United States is one of the world's most ethnically diverse nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries.[6] Its national economy is the largest in the world, with a nominal 2006 gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$13 trillion.
The nation was founded by thirteen colonies of Great Britain located along the Atlantic seaboard. Proclaiming themselves "states," they issued the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The rebellious states defeated Britain in the American Revolutionary War, the first successful colonial war of independence.[7]
A federal convention adopted the current United States Constitution on September 17, 1787; its ratification the following year made the states part of a single republic. The Bill of Rights, comprising ten constitutional amendments, was ratified in 1791. In the nineteenth century, the United States acquired land from France, Spain, Mexico, and Russia, and annexed the Republic of Texas and the Republic of Hawaii. The American Civil War ended slavery in the United States and prevented a permanent split of the country. The Spanish-American War and World War I confirmed its status as a military power. In 1945, the United States emerged from World War II as the first country with nuclear weapons and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The sole remaining superpower in the post–Cold War era, the United States is perceived by many as the dominant economic, political, cultural, and military force in the world.
Etymology
Common abbreviations of the United States of America include the United States, the U.S., and the U.S.A. Colloquial names for the country include the common America as well as the States. The term Americas, for the lands of the western hemisphere, was coined in the early sixteenth century after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer and cartographer. The full name of the country was first used officially in the Declaration of Independence, which was the "unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America" adopted by the "Representatives of the united States of America" on July 4, 1776.[9] The current name was finalized on November 15, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first of which states, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America.'" Columbia, a once popular name for the Americas and the United States, was derived from Christopher Columbus. It appears in the name District of Columbia. A female personification of Columbia appears on some official documents, including certain prints of U.S. currency.
The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an American. Though United States is the formal adjective, American and U.S. are the most common adjectives used to refer to the country ("American values," "U.S. forces"). American is rarely used in English to refer to people not connected to the United States.
Geography
The United States is the world's third or fourth largest nation by total area, before or after the People's Republic of China, depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted. Including only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada.[10] The continental United States stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and from Canada to Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico. Alaska is the largest state in area. Separated by Canada, it touches the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Hawaii occupies an archipelago in the Pacific, southwest of North America. The commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the largest and most populous U.S. territory, is in the northeastern Caribbean. With a few exceptions, such as the territory of Guam and the westernmost portions of Alaska, nearly all of the country lies in the western hemisphere.
The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountains divide 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 land of the Great Plains stretches to the west. The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the continental United States, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in Colorado.[11] The area to the west of the Rockies is dominated by deserts such as the Mojave and the rocky Great Basin. The Sierra Nevada range runs parallel to the Rockies, relatively close to the Pacific coast. At 20,320 ft (6,194 m), Alaska's Mount McKinley is the country's tallest peak. Active volcanoes are common throughout the Alexander and Aleutian Islands and the entire state of Hawaii is built upon tropical volcanic islands. The supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent's largest volcanic feature.[12]
Because of the United States' large size and wide range of geographic features, nearly every type of climate is represented. The climate is temperate in most areas, tropical in Hawaii and southern Florida, polar in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the 100th meridian, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California, and arid in the Great Basin. 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 continental United States, primarily in the Midwest.[13]
Environment
With habitats ranging from tropical to Arctic, U.S. plant life is very diverse. The country has more than 17,000 identified native species of flora, including 5,000 in California (home to the tallest, the most massive, and the oldest trees in the world).[14] More than 400 mammal, 700 bird, 500 reptile and amphibian, and 90,000 insect species have been documented.[15] Wetlands such as the Florida Everglades are the base for much of this diversity. The country's ecosystems include thousands of nonnative exotic species that often harm indigenous plant and animal communities. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1872, the world's first national park was established at Yellowstone. Another fifty-seven national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks and forests have since been formed.[16] Wilderness areas have been established around the country to ensure long-term protection of pristine habitats. Altogether, the U.S. government regulates 1,020,779 square miles (2,643,807 km²), 28.8 percent of the country's total land area.[17] Protected parks and forestland constitute most of this. As of March 2004, approximately 16 percent of public land under Bureau of Land Management administration was being leased for commercial oil and natural gas drilling;[18] public land is also leased for mining and cattle ranching. The United States is the second largest emitter, after China, of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.[19] The energy policy of the United States is widely debated; many call on the country to take a leading role in fighting global warming.[20]
History
Native Americans and European settlers
The indigenous peoples of the U.S. mainland, including Alaska, migrated from Asia. They began arriving at least 12,000 and as many as 40,000 years ago.[21] Several indigenous communities in the pre-Columbian era developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. European explorer Christopher Columbus arrived at Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493, making first contact with the Native Americans. In the years that followed, the majority of the Native American population was killed by epidemics of Eurasian diseases.[22]
Spaniards established the earliest European colonies on the mainland, in the area they named Florida; of these, only St. Augustine, founded in 1565, remains. Later Spanish settlements in the present-day southwestern United States 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 as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. The first successful British 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 revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to its American colonies.[23] Beginning in 1614, the Dutch established settlements along the lower Hudson River, including New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. The small settlement of New Sweden, founded along the Delaware River in 1638, was taken over by the Dutch in 1655.
In the French and Indian War, the colonial extension of the Seven Years War, Britain seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. By 1674, the British had won the former Dutch colonies in the Anglo-Dutch Wars; the province of New Netherland was renamed New York. 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 active local and colonial governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self government that stimulated support for republicanism. All had legalized the African slave trade. With high birth rates, low death rates, and steady immigration, the colonies doubled in population every twenty-five years. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty. By 1770, the colonies had an increasingly Anglicized population of three million, approximately half that of Britain itself. Though subject to British taxation, they were given no representation in the Parliament of Great Britain.
Independence and expansion
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 by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1776. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation were adopted, uniting the states under a weak federal government that operated until 1788. Some 70,000–80,000 loyalists to the British Crown fled the rebellious states, many to Nova Scotia and the new British holdings in Canada.[24] Native Americans, with divided allegiances, fought on both sides of the war's western front.
After the British army's defeat by American forces, who were assisted by the French, Great Britain recognized the sovereignty of the thirteen states in 1783. A constitutional convention was organized in 1787 by those who wished to establish a strong national government with power over the states. By June 1788, nine states had ratified the United States Constitution, sufficient to establish the new government; the republic's first Senate, House of Representatives, and president, George Washington, took office in 1789. New York City was the federal capital for a year, before the government relocated to Philadelphia. In 1791, the states ratified the Bill of Rights, ten amendments to the Constitution forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections. 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." In 1800, the federal government moved to the newly founded Washington, D.C. The Second Great Awakening made evangelicalism a force behind various social reform movements.
Americans' eagerness to expand westward began a cycle of Indian Wars that stretched to the end of the nineteenth century, as Native Americans were stripped of their land. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory under President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 virtually doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened American nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. The country annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845. The concept of Manifest Destiny was popularized during this time.[25] 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 1848–1849 further spurred western migration. New railways made relocation much less arduous for settlers and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, up to 40 million American bison, commonly called buffalo, were slaughtered for skins and meat and to ease the railways' spread. The loss of the bison, a primary economic resource for the plains Indians, was an existential blow to many native cultures.
Civil War and industrialization
Tensions between slave and free states mounted with increasing disagreements over the relationship between the state and federal governments and violent conflicts over the expansion 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 from the United States, forming the Confederate States of America. The federal government maintained secession was illegal, and with the Confederate attack upon Fort Sumter, the American Civil War began and four more slave states joined the Confederacy. The Union freed Confederate slaves as its army advanced through the South. 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,[26] made them citizens, and gave them voting rights. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power.[27]
After the war, the assassination of President Lincoln radicalized Republican Reconstruction policies aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. The disputed 1876 presidential election resolved by the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction; Jim Crow laws soon disenfranchised many African Americans. In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants hastened the country's industrialization. The wave of immigration, which lasted until 1929, provided labor for U.S. businesses and transformed American culture. High tariff protections, national infrastructure building, and new banking regulations encouraged industrial 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 archipelago was annexed by the United States in 1898. Victory in the Spanish-American War that same year demonstrated that the United States was a major world power and resulted in the annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines.[28] The Philippines gained independence a half-century later; Puerto Rico remains a commonwealth of the United States.
World War I, Great Depression, and World War II
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. Americans sympathized with the British and French, although many citizens, mostly Irish and German, opposed intervention.[29] In 1917, the United States joined the Allies, turning the tide against the Central Powers. Reluctant to be involved in European affairs, 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.[30] In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. In part due to the service of many in the war, Native Americans gained U.S. citizenship in the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

During most of the 1920s, the United States enjoyed a period of unbalanced prosperity as farm profits fell while industrial profits grew. A rise in debt and an inflated stock market culminated in the 1929 crash that triggered the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin Delano 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. The nation would not fully recover from the economic depression until the industrial mobilization spurred by its entrance into World War II. The United States, effectively neutral during the war's early stages after the Nazi 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 United States joined the Allies against the Axis Powers after a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. World War II cost far more money than any other war in American history,[31] but it boosted the economy by providing capital investment and jobs, while bringing many women into the labor market. Allied conferences at Bretton Woods and Yalta outlined a new system of intergovernmental organizations that placed the United States and Soviet Union at the center of world affairs. As victory was achieved in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war.[32] 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.[33]
Superpower
The United States and Soviet Union jockeyed for power after World War II during the Cold War, dominating the military affairs of Europe through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact. The United States promoted liberal democracy and capitalism, while the Soviet Union promoted communism and a centrally planned economy. The Soviet Union supported dictatorships, as did the United States on occasion, and both engaged in proxy wars. United States troops fought Communist Chinese forces in the Korean War of 1950–53. The House Committee on Un-American Activities pursued a series of investigations into suspected leftist subversion, while Senator Joseph McCarthy became the figurehead of anticommunist sentiment.

Powered by Drupal - Design by artinet