- This article is on the country in North America. For other uses, see United States (disambiguation) and US (disambiguation)
The United States of America — also referred to as the United States, the U.S.A., the U.S., America¹, the States, or (archaically) Columbia — is a federal republic of 50 states located primarily in central North America (with the exception of two states: Alaska and Hawaii). The United States proper has three land borders, two with Canada and one with Mexico, and two territorial water boundaries with Russia and The Bahamas. It is otherwise bounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea, the Arctic Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. Two of the 50 states, Alaska and Hawaii, are not contiguous with any of the other states. The United States also has a collection of overseas territories and possessions around the world. Each of the fifty states has a high level of local autonomy under the system of federalism. United States citizens are usually called Americans¹. The United States traces its national origin to the United Colonies of America governed by the Second Continental Congress formed in 1775 and the Declaration of Independence by the thirteen British colonies in 1776 that they were free and independent states. They were recognized as such by the Treaty of Paris (1783). Since the mid-20th century, it has surpassed all other nations in contemporary economic, political, military, scientific, technological and cultural influence.
The United States was founded under a tradition of government based on the consent of the governed under the representative democracy model. The particular form of government of the United States, called (presidential-congressional), has since been adopted by many other countries, mostly in Central America and South America.
Main article: History of the United States
Following the European colonization of the Americas, thirteen colonies split from Britain and formed the United States, the world's first constitutional federalist republic, after their Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). 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, destroying many Indian nations in a decades-long military campaign, and through coercion, military prowess, and diplomatic leverage, it acquired a number of overseas possessions; during this period 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's leading economic and military superpower. After terrorist attacks on the world trade center and the pentagon, the U.S.A. started a pre-emptive war against Afghanistan and later against Iraq.
See also Military history of the United States, Timeline of United States history
Main article: Foreign relations of the United States
The immense military, economic, and cultural dominance 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.
U.S. foreign policy has swung about several times over the course of its history between the poles of isolationism and imperialism and everywhere in between.
As a result of the huge influence, both political and cultural, and the use of the same over time, reactions towards the USA are often strong, ranging from uninhibited Americophilia (admiration and mimicking of all things 'American') to Anti-Americanism.
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's capital, and several overseas 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 United States 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.
Main article: Geography of the United States
As the world's third largest country (by total area), the United States landscape varies greatly: temperate forestland on the East coast, 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 rain forests in the Pacific Northwest. Alaska and the volcanic islands of Hawaii add to the geographic and climatic diversity.
The climate varies along with the landscape, from tropical in Hawaii and southern Florida to tundra in Alaska and atop some of the highest mountains (even in Hawaii). Most of the North and East experience a temperate continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Most of the American South experiences a subtropical humid climate with mild winters and long, hot, humid summers. Rainfall decreases markedly from the humid forests of the Eastern Great Plains to the semiarid shortgrass prairies on the High Plains abutting the Rocky Mountains. Arid deserts, including the Mojave, extend through the lowlands and valleys of the American Southwest from westernmost Texas to California and northward throughout much of Nevada. Some parts of the American West, including San Francisco, California, have a Mediterranean climate. Rain forests line the windward mountains of the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska.
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.
Main article: List of cities in the United States
The United States has dozens of major cities, including several important "global cities" such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The top twenty largest cities by population are listed below (based on the 2000 Census). All the figures shown are for the population within the city limits, which is the main usage of the word "city" in the United States. The ranking of metropolitan areas by population is quite different, although the top three are unchanged.
New York City, New York - 8,008,278
Los Angeles, California - 3,694,820
Chicago, Illinois - 2,896,016
Houston, Texas - 1,953,631
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 1,517,550
Phoenix, Arizona - 1,321,045
San Diego, California - 1,223,400
Dallas, Texas - 1,188,580
San Antonio, Texas - 1,144,646
Detroit, Michigan - 951,270
San Jose, California - 894,943
Indianapolis, Indiana - 791,926
San Francisco, California - 776,733
Jacksonville, Florida - 735,617
Columbus, Ohio - 711,470
Louisville, Kentucky - 693,604
Austin, Texas - 656,562
Baltimore, Maryland - 651,154
Memphis, Tennessee - 650,100
Milwaukee, Wisconsin - 596,974
Main article: Economy of the United States
The economy of the United States is organized primarily on a capitalist model, with some government regulation in many industries. There are also some social welfare programs like Social Security and 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 less pronounced in the United States than in other industrialized countries.
Several countries have linked their currency to the dollar (such as the People's Republic of China), or even use it as a currency (such as Ecuador), 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 largest 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
Main article: Transportation in the United States
To link its vast territories, the United States has built a network of roads, of which the most important aspect is the Interstate highway system. Americans are renowned for their "car-crazy" lifestyle and the sprawling car-oriented design of their cities. The United States also has a transcontinental rail system which is used for moving freight across the lower 48 states.
Air travel is often preferred for destinations over 500 km (300 miles) away.
Main article: Demographics of the United States
Main Article: Languages in the United States
The United States does not have an official language at federal level; nevertheless, English is spoken by the vast majority of the population and serves as the de facto language: English is the language used for legislation, regulations, executive orders, treaties, federal court rulings, and all other official pronouncements. Many individual states have adopted English as their official language.
The United States is (as of 2004) the home of approximately 336 languages (spoken or signed) of which 176 are indigenous to the area.
Ethnicity and race
Americans, in part due to categories decided by the U.S. government, generally describe themselves as being one of five ethnic groups: White, also called Caucasian; African American, also called Black; Hispanic, also called Latino; Asian American, frequently specified as Chinese American, Indian American, Korean American, Vietnamese American, etc.; and Native American, also called American Indian.
The category Asian is popularly identified with 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; the term 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. Furthermore, the categories disregard the multi-ethnic heritage of many Americans.
The majority of the 295 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 (15.2 percent), Ireland (10.8 percent), England (8.7 percent), Italy (5.6 percent), Scandinavia (3.7 percent) and Poland (3.2 percent) with many immigrants also coming from Slavic countries. Other significant immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada; few immigrants came directly from France. These numbers, however, are inaccurate as many citizens listed themselves as "American" on the census (7.2 percent). A county by county map of plurality ethnic groups reveals that the areas with the largest "American" ancestry populations were mostly settled by English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh (the percentages of whom should consequently be slightly larger).
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. Mexicans alone made up 7.3 percent of the population in the 2000 Census, and this proportion is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. The "Hispanic" category is based more on language than race and is defined by the Census as anybody from or with forebears from Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America so Hispanics may be of any race. About 45% identify by their ethnic background only ("Mexican", "Salvadoran"); they are usually mestizos or even American Indians of unmixed ancestry. About 40% identify as white with more European (especially Spanish) ancestry; however, on average, they tend to have more Amerindian or African blood than non-Hispanic whites. They are a diverse group consisting of most Puerto Ricans and Cubans, and a large proportion of the New Mexican Spanish, Tejanos, and recent South American immigrants, as well as children of mixed marriages between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. Another 5% identify as black or mulatto; they typically are descended from Spanish-speaking Caribbean immigrants such as Dominicans. The remainder includes mostly self-identified Indians (Maya, Mixtec, etc.) and people of mixed background. Most Filipinos, however, are not considered Hispanic.
About 12.9 percent (2000 census) of the American people are African Americans, most of whom are descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to the U.S. between the 1620s and 1807. Starting in the 1970's, the black population has been bolstered by immigration from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Haiti; more recently, starting in the 1990's, there has been an influx of African 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 and Hawaii. It is by no means monolithic; the largest groups are immigrants or descendants of emigrants from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan.
The aboriginal population of Native Americans, such as American Indians and Inuit, make up about 1.5 percent of the population.
According to the 2000 census, the United States has 31 ethnic groups with at least one million people.
See also: Immigration to the United States
Main Articles: Religion in the United States, Demographics of the United States
As of 2001, the distribution for major religions in the United States was estimated as follows: Protestant (52%), Roman Catholic (24%), no religious faith (14%, including atheists and agnostics), Jewish (1.5%), Muslim (0.5%) (See Islam in the United States), Buddhist (0.5%), Hindu (0.4%) and Unitarian Universalist (0.3%). The largest single religious denomination in the United States is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran churches. Counted together, Christians numbered 77 percent of the population.
The United States is noteworthy among developed nations for its relatively high level of religiosity. Overall, nearly 44 percent of Americans attend a religious service at least once a week. However, this rate is not uniform across the country; attendance is more common in the Bible Belt – composed largely of Southern and Midwestern states – than in the Northeast and West Coast.
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 official national poverty level.
The social structure of the United States is somewhat stratified, with a significant class of very wealthy individuals, who are often alleged to hold disproportionate cultural and political influence. On one widely used measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, the United States has the highest inequality of any wealthy country. Nevertheless, ideas of social mobility figure prominently in the American dream, which holds that someone born into a poor family can, through hard work, ultimately rise into the upper classes. There is much debate over how often this actually occurs in modern American society, both compared with earlier eras and with other developed nations. See also: Richest places in the United States and Poorest places in the United States
Main article: Culture of the United States
, 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 ensembles find their home in the U.S. New York City is a hub for international operatic and instrumental music as well as the world-famed Broadway plays and musicals, while Seattle and the rest of Washington is a world leader in the grunge and heavy metal music industries, as well as the visual arts and various media in fantasy. New York, Seattle, and San Francisco are worldwide 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.
Several forms of electronic music originated from the United States. This includes house from Chicago, techno from Detroit, and garage from New York.
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, Media of the United States, Education in the United States
Main articles: Social issues in the United States, Human rights in the United States, Anti-American sentiment, Health care in the United States
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 anti-discrimination laws to protect minority groups (usually in the form of "hate crime" legislation).
Nevertheless, the United States has at times been criticized for alleged 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." 
As of 2004, the United States has possibly the world's largest prison population at over 2 million inmates; note that the People's Republic of China in particular is suspected of not releasing accurate figures, or of failing to document some prisoners. The International Centre for Prison Studies places the United States' per-capita incarceration rate first in the world, 620% higher than the neighboring country of Canada. Roughly 1 American in 15 will spend time in prison during his or her lifetime . Some would argue that high incarceration rates reduce criminal offenses, as the crime rate in the United States has been declining for years. Many other countries with lower and/or declining crime rates have a significantly lower proportion of their citizens in prison, and some would rebut that such a simple relationship is unlikely.
A disproportionate number of US inmates are black and are significantly over-represented when compared to the national population . The discrepancy is a 285%* difference between the national population and the inmate population. (*2000 Population by race , 1997 Inmate population by race ). For admissions into the system, a black male is, on average, 8-10 times more likely than a white male to be sent to prison for drug offenses, and, in the state with the largest discrepancy, Illinois, 57 times more likely .
The United States is one of the largest industrialized nations in the world without a nationalized healthcare system, and the health system is usually chargeable to patients. At present, medical costs of more than 40 million Americans are not covered by health insurance.
Based on the results of a survey performed by the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 65% of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. 30% of adults in the U.S. are considered obese. These percentages are based on the body mass index, a measure which has been criticized for its simplicity. 
The United States' suicide rate exceeds its homicide rate, but is still lower than most other industrialized nations.
Routine infant male circumcision is legal and widely practiced, despite ongoing efforts by the American Academy of Pediatrics to persuade the public to abandon the practice.
A number of American-based corporations, perhaps most visibly McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, 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 having only 5% of the world's population, the United States consumes 25% of the world's power.  In terms of per capita usage, the U.S. ranks ninth.
Partly because of the United States' status as one of the world's most powerful nations, the English language has also spread worldwide. (Other major factors are the cultural legacy of the British Empire in much of Africa and India). The concern that English is rapidly displacing other languages is widespread. Likewise, speakers of other dialects of English (for example in Britain and Australia) feel that their language is becoming "Americanized."
The armed forces of the United States of America consist of the
The combined United States armed forces consists of 1.4 million active duty personnel along with several hundred thousand each in the Reserves and National Guard. There is currently no conscription. The United States Armed Forces is the most powerful military in the world and their force projection capabilities are unrivaled by any other singular nation.
Main article: Holidays of the United States
New Year's Day
||Beginning of year, marks the traditional end of "holiday season."
January, third Monday
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Honors the late civil rights leader. Few organizations outside federal and state governments grant time off for this holiday, though many colleges and universities are increasingly observing the day with special events, and sometimes cancel classes to encourage students to attend them.
February, third Monday
Honors former U.S. presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln, who both share February birthdays. Few organizations outside federal and state governments grant time off for this holiday.
May, last Monday
||Honors servicemen and women who died in service; also marks the traditional beginning of summer. Though some Americans do participate in parades and other events honoring fallen service members, most mark the day only as the coming of summer.
Usually called the Fourth of July. Celebrates the United States' independence from Great Britain, formally declared on this date in the Declaration of Independence
September, first Monday after the first Sunday
Celebrates achievements of workers. This holiday is held instead of the traditional worldwide Labor Day, May 1, which actually began in the U.S. Also marks the traditional end of summer, with most Americans taking long weekend trips or having barbecues as a farewell to summer.
October, second Monday
Honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discoverer of the Americas. This holiday has grown increasingly controversial, though most Americans take little notice of it, especially because few organizations outside federal and state governments grant time off for this holiday.
Previously known as Armistice Day. Honors those who have served in the military. Also marks the end of World War I in 1918. Traditional observation of a moment of silence at 11 a.m. in remembrance of military service members.
November, fourth Thursday
||Day of thanks that marks the traditional beginning of the "holiday season." The day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S., and the day after is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, known as "Black Friday," though this latter distinction may be slowly changing.
Celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. In recent years, Christmas has become a more secular winter holiday outside of religious communities, with many non-Christians and non-observant Christians buying and exchanging traditional Christmas gifts. Most retailers count on the Christmas holiday to provide a significant portion of their total annual sales.
Main article: List of United States-related topics
¹America may refer to the nation of the United States or to the Americas — North and South America. The later usage is more common in Latin American countries where the Spanish word América refers to both continents. The United States is a less ambiguous term and less likely to cause offense. Unfortunately, the term American meaning a citizen or national of the United States has no straightforward unambiguous synonym. Many alternative words for American have been proposed, but none have enjoyed widespread acceptance.
²The death penalty is only carried out in some U.S. states and is in itself a controversial issue within the U.S. See: Human rights in the United States
United States government
Last updated: 10-19-2005 10:14:47