A U.S. state is any one of the 50 states (four of them use the term "commonwealth") which have membership in the federation known as the United States of America (USA or U.S.). The separate state governments and the U.S. federal government share sovereignty, in that an "American" is a citizen both of the federal entity and of their state of residence.
The United States Constitution allocates power between the two levels of government in general terms; the general idea is that by ratifying the Constitution, each state has transferred certain aspects of its sovereign powers to the federal government while retaining the remainder for itself. The tasks of education, health, transportation, and other infrastructure are generally the responsibility of the states.
Over time, the Constitution has been amended, and the interpretation and application of its provisions have changed. The general tendency has been toward centralization, with the federal government playing a much larger role than it once did.
List of states
The states, with their U.S. postal abbreviations, traditional abbreviations, and capitals, are:
For a complete list of non-state dependent areas and other territory under control of the U.S., see United States dependent areas.
At the time of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, the 13 colonies became 13 independently sovereign states. Upon the adoption of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the states became a single sovereign political entity as defined by international law, empowered to levy war and to conduct international relations, albeit with a very loosely structured and inefficient central government. After the failure of the union under the Articles of Confederation, the 13 states joined the modern union via ratification of the United States Constitution, beginning in 1789.
Under Article IV of the Constitution, which outlines the relationship between the states, the Congress has the power to admit new states to the union. The states are required to give "full faith and credit" to the acts of each other's legislatures and courts, which is generally held to include the recognition of legal contracts, marriages, criminal judgments, and - at the time - slave status. The states are guaranteed military and civil defense by the federal government, which is also obligated to ensure that the government of each state remains a republic.
The Constitution is silent on the issue of the secession of a state from the union. The Articles of Confederation had stated that the earlier union of the colonies "shall be perpetual", and the Declaration of Independence implied that secession was justified only by overtly tyrannical government. Several states attempted to secede during the Civil War, but the federal judicial system, in the case of Texas v. White, established that states do not have the right to secede, at least not under those circumstances.
Various facts about the states
- The name "New York" can refer to any one of three geographical levels: a state, a city in that state, or a county (coterminous with the borough of Manhattan) in that city.
- The state of Washington is the only state named after a U.S. President (or after a person born within the area now comprising the U.S., for that matter).
- The official name of Rhode Island is "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations"
- States are free to organize their judicial systems differently from the federal judiciary, as long as due process is protected. See state supreme court for more information. For example, most lawsuits in the state of New York are filed in the Supreme Court, and then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The highest court in New York is the Court of Appeals.
- One state at the time of joining the United States had the right to divide itself into up to five separate states. The treaty of annexation by which the Republic of Texas joined the United States in 1845 included this provision; the state of Texas arguably retains that right by virtue of the treaty.
- State names speak to the circumstances of their creation. (See also List of U.S. state name etymologies.)
- Southern states on the Atlantic coast originated as British colonies named after British monarchs: Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Some northeastern states, also former British colonies, take their names from places in Great Britain: New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York.
- Many states' names are those of Native American tribes or are from Native American languages: Connecticut, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Texas and more; half the state-names have such origins, not counting Hawaii (whose name is taken from the native language, but which is not Native American).
- Because they are on territories previously controlled by Spain or Mexico, many states in the southeast and southwest have Spanish names. They include New Mexico, California, Colorado, Florida, and Nevada.
Grouping of the states in regions
States may be grouped in regions; there are endless variations and possible groupings, as most states are not defined by obvious geographic or cultural borders. For further discussion of regions of the U.S., see the list of regions of the United States.