Where’s america: United States | History, Map, Flag, & Population

United States | History, Map, Flag, & Population

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United States, officially United States of America, abbreviated U. S. or U.S.A., byname America, country in North America, a federal republic of 50 states. Besides the 48 conterminous states that occupy the middle latitudes of the continent, the United States includes the state of Alaska, at the northwestern extreme of North America, and the island state of Hawaii, in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The conterminous states are bounded on the north by Canada, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The United States is the fourth largest country in the world in area (after Russia, Canada, and China). The national capital is Washington, which is coextensive with the District of Columbia, the federal capital region created in 1790.

The major characteristic of the United States is probably its great variety. Its physical environment ranges from the Arctic to the subtropical, from the moist rain forest to the arid desert, from the rugged mountain peak to the flat prairie. Although the total population of the United States is large by world standards, its overall population density is relatively low. The country embraces some of the world’s largest urban concentrations as well as some of the most extensive areas that are almost devoid of habitation.

The United States contains a highly diverse population. Unlike a country such as China that largely incorporated indigenous peoples, the United States has a diversity that to a great degree has come from an immense and sustained global immigration. Probably no other country has a wider range of racial, ethnic, and cultural types than does the United States. In addition to the presence of surviving Native Americans (including American Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos) and the descendants of Africans taken as enslaved persons to the New World, the national character has been enriched, tested, and constantly redefined by the tens of millions of immigrants who by and large have come to America hoping for greater social, political, and economic opportunities than they had in the places they left. (It should be noted that although the terms “America” and “Americans” are often used as synonyms for the United States and its citizens, respectively, they are also used in a broader sense for North, South, and Central America collectively and their citizens.)

The United States is the world’s greatest economic power, measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The nation’s wealth is partly a reflection of its rich natural resources and its enormous agricultural output, but it owes more to the country’s highly developed industry. Despite its relative economic self-sufficiency in many areas, the United States is the most important single factor in world trade by virtue of the sheer size of its economy. Its exports and imports represent major proportions of the world total. The United States also impinges on the global economy as a source of and as a destination for investment capital. The country continues to sustain an economic life that is more diversified than any other on Earth, providing the majority of its people with one of the world’s highest standards of living.

The United States is relatively young by world standards, being less than 250 years old; it achieved its current size only in the mid-20th century. America was the first of the European colonies to separate successfully from its motherland, and it was the first nation to be established on the premise that sovereignty rests with its citizens and not with the government. In its first century and a half, the country was mainly preoccupied with its own territorial expansion and economic growth and with social debates that ultimately led to civil war and a healing period that is still not complete. In the 20th century the United States emerged as a world power, and since World War II it has been one of the preeminent powers. It has not accepted this mantle easily nor always carried it willingly; the principles and ideals of its founders have been tested by the pressures and exigencies of its dominant status. The United States still offers its residents opportunities for unparalleled personal advancement and wealth. However, the depletion of its resources, the contamination of its environment, and the continuing social and economic inequality that perpetuates areas of poverty and blight all threaten the fabric of the country.

The District of Columbia is discussed in the article Washington. For discussion of other major U.S. cities, see the articles Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Political units in association with the United States include Puerto Rico, discussed in the article Puerto Rico, and several Pacific islands, discussed in Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.

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The two great sets of elements that mold the physical environment of the United States are, first, the geologic, which determines the main patterns of landforms, drainage, and mineral resources and influences soils to a lesser degree, and, second, the atmospheric, which dictates not only climate and weather but also in large part the distribution of soils, plants, and animals. Although these elements are not entirely independent of one another, each produces on a map patterns that are so profoundly different that essentially they remain two separate geographies. (Since this article covers only the conterminous United States, see also the articles Alaska and Hawaii.)


The centre of the conterminous United States is a great sprawling interior lowland, reaching from the ancient shield of central Canada on the north to the Gulf of Mexico on the south. To east and west this lowland rises, first gradually and then abruptly, to mountain ranges that divide it from the sea on both sides. The two mountain systems differ drastically. The Appalachian Mountains on the east are low, almost unbroken, and in the main set well back from the Atlantic. From New York to the Mexican border stretches the low Coastal Plain, which faces the ocean along a swampy, convoluted coast. The gently sloping surface of the plain extends out beneath the sea, where it forms the continental shelf, which, although submerged beneath shallow ocean water, is geologically identical to the Coastal Plain. Southward the plain grows wider, swinging westward in Georgia and Alabama to truncate the Appalachians along their southern extremity and separate the interior lowland from the Gulf.

West of the Central Lowland is the mighty Cordillera, part of a global mountain system that rings the Pacific basin. The Cordillera encompasses fully one-third of the United States, with an internal variety commensurate with its size. At its eastern margin lie the Rocky Mountains, a high, diverse, and discontinuous chain that stretches all the way from New Mexico to the Canadian border. The Cordillera’s western edge is a Pacific coastal chain of rugged mountains and inland valleys, the whole rising spectacularly from the sea without benefit of a coastal plain. Pent between the Rockies and the Pacific chain is a vast intermontane complex of basins, plateaus, and isolated ranges so large and remarkable that they merit recognition as a region separate from the Cordillera itself.

These regions—the Interior Lowlands and their upland fringes, the Appalachian Mountain system, the Atlantic Plain, the Western Cordillera, and the Western Intermontane Region—are so various that they require further division into 24 major subregions, or provinces.

Explore the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the Great Lakes, the Black Hills, and more in the American Midwest

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Andrew Jackson is supposed to have remarked that the United States begins at the Alleghenies, implying that only west of the mountains, in the isolation and freedom of the great Interior Lowlands, could people finally escape Old World influences. Whether or not the lowlands constitute the country’s cultural core is debatable, but there can be no doubt that they comprise its geologic core and in many ways its geographic core as well.

This enormous region rests upon an ancient, much-eroded platform of complex crystalline rocks that have for the most part lain undisturbed by major orogenic (mountain-building) activity for more than 600,000,000 years. Over much of central Canada, these Precambrian rocks are exposed at the surface and form the continent’s single largest topographical region, the formidable and ice-scoured Canadian Shield.

In the United States most of the crystalline platform is concealed under a deep blanket of sedimentary rocks. In the far north, however, the naked Canadian Shield extends into the United States far enough to form two small but distinctive landform regions: the rugged and occasionally spectacular Adirondack Mountains of northern New York and the more-subdued and austere Superior Upland of northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. As in the rest of the shield, glaciers have stripped soils away, strewn the surface with boulders and other debris, and obliterated preglacial drainage systems. Most attempts at farming in these areas have been abandoned, but the combination of a comparative wilderness in a northern climate, clear lakes, and white-water streams has fostered the development of both regions as year-round outdoor recreation areas.

Mineral wealth in the Superior Upland is legendary. Iron lies near the surface and close to the deepwater ports of the upper Great Lakes. Iron is mined both north and south of Lake Superior, but best known are the colossal deposits of Minnesota’s Mesabi Range, for more than a century one of the world’s richest and a vital element in America’s rise to industrial power. In spite of depletion, the Minnesota and Michigan mines still yield a major proportion of the country’s iron and a significant percentage of the world’s supply.

South of the Adirondack Mountains and the Superior Upland lies the boundary between crystalline and sedimentary rocks; abruptly, everything is different. The core of this sedimentary region—the heartland of the United States—is the great Central Lowland, which stretches for 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) from New York to central Texas and north another 1,000 miles to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. To some, the landscape may seem dull, for heights of more than 2,000 feet (600 metres) are unusual, and truly rough terrain is almost lacking. Landscapes are varied, however, largely as the result of glaciation that directly or indirectly affected most of the subregion. North of the Missouri–Ohio river line, the advance and readvance of continental ice left an intricate mosaic of boulders, sand, gravel, silt, and clay and a complex pattern of lakes and drainage channels, some abandoned, some still in use. The southern part of the Central Lowland is quite different, covered mostly with loess (wind-deposited silt) that further subdued the already low relief surface. Elsewhere, especially near major rivers, postglacial streams carved the loess into rounded hills, and visitors have aptly compared their billowing shapes to the waves of the sea. Above all, the loess produces soil of extraordinary fertility. As the Mesabi iron was a major source of America’s industrial wealth, its agricultural prosperity has been rooted in Midwestern loess.

The Central Lowland resembles a vast saucer, rising gradually to higher lands on all sides. Southward and eastward, the land rises gradually to three major plateaus. Beyond the reach of glaciation to the south, the sedimentary rocks have been raised into two broad upwarps, separated from one another by the great valley of the Mississippi River. The Ozark Plateau lies west of the river and occupies most of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas; on the east the Interior Low Plateaus dominate central Kentucky and Tennessee. Except for two nearly circular patches of rich limestone country—the Nashville Basin of Tennessee and the Kentucky Bluegrass region—most of both plateau regions consists of sandstone uplands, intricately dissected by streams. Local relief runs to several hundreds of feet in most places, and visitors to the region must travel winding roads along narrow stream valleys. The soils there are poor, and mineral resources are scanty.

Eastward from the Central Lowland the Appalachian Plateau—a narrow band of dissected uplands that strongly resembles the Ozark Plateau and Interior Low Plateaus in steep slopes, wretched soils, and endemic poverty—forms a transition between the interior plains and the Appalachian Mountains. Usually, however, the Appalachian Plateau is considered a subregion of the Appalachian Mountains, partly on grounds of location, partly because of geologic structure. Unlike the other plateaus, where rocks are warped upward, the rocks there form an elongated basin, wherein bituminous coal has been preserved from erosion. This Appalachian coal, like the Mesabi iron that it complements in U.S. industry, is extraordinary. Extensive, thick, and close to the surface, it has stoked the furnaces of northeastern steel mills for decades and helps explain the huge concentration of heavy industry along the lower Great Lakes.

The western flanks of the Interior Lowlands are the Great Plains, a territory of awesome bulk that spans the full distance between Canada and Mexico in a swath nearly 500 miles (800 km) wide. The Great Plains were built by successive layers of poorly cemented sand, silt, and gravel—debris laid down by parallel east-flowing streams from the Rocky Mountains. Seen from the east, the surface of the Great Plains rises inexorably from about 2,000 feet (600 metres) near Omaha, Nebraska, to more than 6,000 feet (1,825 metres) at Cheyenne, Wyoming, but the climb is so gradual that popular legend holds the Great Plains to be flat. True flatness is rare, although the High Plains of western Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and eastern Colorado come close. More commonly, the land is broadly rolling, and parts of the northern plains are sharply dissected into badlands.

The main mineral wealth of the Interior Lowlands derives from fossil fuels. Coal occurs in structural basins protected from erosion—high-quality bituminous in the Appalachian, Illinois, and western Kentucky basins; and subbituminous and lignite in the eastern and northwestern Great Plains. Petroleum and natural gas have been found in nearly every state between the Appalachians and the Rockies, but the Midcontinent Fields of western Texas and the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, and Kansas surpass all others. Aside from small deposits of lead and zinc, metallic minerals are of little importance.

Where is “America”?

October 12th marked the anniversary of the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus (or Cristoforo Colombo, or Cristóbal Colón, depending on which biography you believe) and his Spanish ships arrived to America for the first time. And we heard, again, that we were celebrating the day in which “Columbus discovered America,” which makes no sense.

He, of course, didn’t discover anything. Columbus was stubbornly ignorant, had miscalculated the circumference of the Earth, and believed to his death that he had reached Asia. Before him, other Europeans had reached America. But, more importantly, before Columbus’ arrival, there were already millions of people living in America, who we could say had “discovered it” already.

Yet, the United States still officially calls this day “Columbus Day,” even though it celebrates a lost sailor and murderous tyrant who was responsible for starting one of the greatest genocides in human history.

Other countries in the American continent are already past this. Many Latin American countries (including Colombia, which is named after Columbus, no less) call October 12th “Día de la raza” (or “Race Day”), as a celebration of their mixed heritage (which brings its own problems). Venezuela calls it “Día de la resistencia indígena” (or “Day of Indigenous Resistance”), while many in the United States have been promoting an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” instead.

So, on October 12th, 1492, nothing was discovered. And Columbus is not a character we should be celebrating. But let’s stop for a moment and think about that last part of the sentence: “Columbus discovered America,” because here we have another problem. What is that “America”?

Contemporary people from the United States of America (and from other English-speaking countries) use the word “America” to refer specifically to that North American country. But in other languages (particularly those derived from Latin), “America” is used to refer to a whole continent stretching from Alaska in the north to Patagonia in the south and usually including the islands of the Caribbean to the east. To complicate things further, in English, America— this landmass which is united in Romance languages — is split into two: the North American continent and the South American continent.  (As a native Spanish speaker, I will continue to use the term “America” here to talk about a single continent, unless otherwise noted).

This might be confusing to people in the present-day United States, some of whom, if they don’t give this enough thought, might believe that “Columbus traveled to America” means that he arrived to a country that would only come to existence two centuries after his death. (By the way, he never set foot in what is now the modern-day United States, except for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

There is much debate about who gets to be “American,” particularly in online forums where English speakers coexist with Spanish and Portuguese speakers. (When I am asked by an English speaker if I am “American,” being Colombian, I am tempted to reply “yes”).

This seems like a fruitless discussion. Will the rest of America accept that one country has appropriated the word for their continent? What different word can the United States people use to call themselves? If what follows doesn’t help to solve these questions, at least I hope it will bring some context to the use of this contested issue.

“America” was coined by Europeans as a word to designate the whole “New World,” all of that new landmass that, from the 16th century onwards, appeared in maps made in Europe: that place which Europeans were set to explore and exploit. So, when Columbus is associated with America, it is implied that the arrival of the admiral impacted all of the landmass we in Spanish, Portuguese or French (and others) call “America.”

How exactly the word “America” came to be is still disputed. The most widely accepted theory is that the continent was named after Florentine explorer and Columbus’s friend Amerigo Vespucci. Between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th, Vespucci sailed around the area previously explored by Columbus, which we now call the Caribbean. With his annotations and his calculations regarding the circumference of the world, he realized that the landmasses he had navigated couldn’t be part of Asia, but rather had to be something “new” to him and his fellow Europeans.

Vespucci sent letters to Italy detailing his discoveries, some of which later were published in a tome titled Mundus Novus (or The New World). These letters arrived to the hands of a group of German scholars who, in 1507, published them in a book titled Cosmographiae Introductio (or Introduction to Cosmography). In it, cartographer Martin Waldseemüller drew a map of the world, in which the “new world” is labeled “America” across what is now Brazil.

The authors explain this decision:

But now these parts [Europe, Asia and Africa, the three continents of the Ptolemaic geography] have been extensively explored and a fourth part has been discovered by Americus Vespuccius [a Latin form of Vespucci’s name], as will be seen in the appendix: I do not see what right any one would have to object to calling this part after Americus, who discovered it and who is a man of intelligence, [and so to name it] Amerige, that is, the Land of Americus, or America: since both Europa and Asia got their names from women.

Another theory is that the word “America” comes from a mountain range in modern-day Nicaragua, which was called “Amerrique” or “Americ” by the native Mosquitos. This name, according to different theories, either influenced Vespucci to change his name from “Alberigo” to “Americo,” or was used by the Caribs in the Antilles to describe the mainland lying west of them.

One further theory, with less adepts, deals with an Italian sailor named Giovanni Caboto (or John Cabot). Caboto sailed for England, and in 1497 explored the eastern shore of what is now Canada. For this, the king of England gave Caboto a pension. This pension was paid by an official in Bristol: a Welshman named either Richard Ameryk, Ap Meryke, or Amerycke. America would have gotten its name from him, then.

But, regardless of its origin, the name America took a bit to stick around. In his letters from his voyages, Columbus referred to his whereabouts as “Indias” (or “Indies”), which was the customary name the Spanish gave to the Far East. This is why Native people from America were originally referred to as “indios,” why the current Colombian city of Cartagena was baptized “Cartagena de Indias,” why many isles in the Caribbean are known to be part of the “West Indies” and why books from explorers and conquistadores about the New World are known as “crónicas de indias.”

Eventually, the use of “America” spread throughout Europe and it became a word that designated both the “new” lands and its new inhabitants of European ancestry, who started to call themselves “americanos” in Spanish and portuguese, “americáins” in French and “American” in English. By 1538, the famed cartographer Gerardus Mercator was using “America” to refer to the continent and the islands in the Caribbean. Eventually, Spain referred to its colonial possessions in the American continent as “Spanish America,” and Portugal did similarly with “Portuguese America.”

The breaking point on what and where exactly is America happened later in the English portion of the land.

The United Kingdom first successfully established a colony in the American continent in Virginia in 1606. Eventually, the English officially called its possessions here “English America,” a term which first appeared in 1648, when Thomas Gage published the book The English-American: A New Survey of the West Indies in 1648. When Scotland joined England and Wales, and the Kingdom of Great Britain was formed in 1707, the new official name came for British colonies in America came to be “British America and the British West Indies,” or colloquially, “British America.”

Similarly to Spanish America, British America covered land in different subdivisions of the American continent. The British portion included, up to 1776, the Thirteen Colonies that would later form the United States, parts of the current Mexican state of Yucatán, and the eastern provinces of modern-day Canada in North America; the eastern shore of Honduras and Belize in Central America; Guyana in South America; and Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos in the Caribbean.

This was what was referred to as “America” in English, and the inhabitants of these lands were considered “Americans.” Nonetheless, in 1776, those aforementioned thirteen colonies in North America united and declared their independence, choosing the unfortunate name “United States of America” for their new country. Citizens of this new country were still named “Americans” as it was the only demonym that made sense in English (because, what on Earth is a “Unitedstatesian?”).

In English, then, it made sense to call the United States “America.” Much more so since, what is now Canada, became “British North America,” while the rest of British American possessions could be described as being in Jamaica and its dependencies, in the Leeward Islands, or in the British West Indies. In Spanish, we have the word estadounidense, which works pretty well, so there is no confusion there. But I say that this name was unfortunate because “American” was and is still a word used by people from other places to identify themselves.

This is particularly true of “Spanish Americans” and their descendants. By the 18th century, the idea of nationalism had risen in Europe, and Spanish Americans (who were called “criollos” by Spaniards from Spain) embraced the “American” name as a collective identity in their struggle for independence and post-colonial unity.

For example, legend has it that when the indigenous leader from Peru, Túpac Amarú II, led a rebellion against the Spanish crown in 1780, he was recognized as “king of America” even by indigenous people in eastern Nueva Granada, or what today would be the east of Colombia.

Later, in 1791, the Jesuit Juan Pablo Viscardo y Guzmán, who was born in the Viceroyalty of Peru, wrote a Carta a los españoles americanos (or Letter to American Spaniards). Viscardo, who was expelled from all Spanish territories with the rest of the Jesuits in 1767, wrote this letter inspired by the story of Túpac Amarú II and in an attempt to call Spanish Americans to unity and to fight for independence from the Spanish crown. In the letter, he said: “The New World is our homeland and its history is ours.”

Even later, in 1806, Venezuelan patriot Francisco de Miranda would print this letter (translated from the original French into Spanish) and then share it throughout South America, to boost morale for the independence cause. But, of course he was not the only Venezuelan to use “America” in a broad sense during the independence wars in the region.

Simón Bolívar, hailed as a liberator in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama, was prone to writing about his dream of uniting all of the peoples of America into a single, independent nation. In his Letter from Jamaica in 1815 (after a great deal of Spanish America had declared, but not necessarily gained, independence), Bolívar wrote: “The fate of America is irrevocably set; the bond which united it with Spain has been cut … it is less hard to unite both continents, than to reconcile the spirits of both countries.” In 1818 he also wrote: “The nation of all Americans must be one, since we have all had perfect unity.

When, in 1810 the criollo elite of Santa Fe, Nueva Granada (modern-day Bogotá, Colombia) declared a new government which they, Spaniards born in America, could integrate alongside Spaniards from Spain, they wrote: “From the reciprocal union between Americans and Europeans must come public happiness.”

Also in 1810, slavery was formally abolished “in America” by the Mexican general Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, who signed the resolution in Guadalajara as “El Generalísimo de América.” This text begins with: “From the happy moment in which the courageous American nation took up arms to get rid of the heavy bond…”

When U.S. President James Monroe launched his Monroe Doctrine, it was 1823 and the countries of Spanish and Portuguese America had just become independent, or were on the brink of it. The famous uttering of “America for the Americans” then was meant by Monroe as a reassurance to the rest of the American countries, that the United States would side with them against European powers.

Nonetheless, the difference of interpretations of what is America was clear even back then. Chilean politician Diego Portales, for example, wrote a letter to a friend expressing his distrust of Monroe: “We have to be very careful. For North Americans, the only Americans are themselves.”

By 1896, Mexican writer Antonio Zaragoza y Escobar had perceived a deeper divide in the interpretation of America. He wrote in his book ‘El “Monroism” y el general D. Porfirio Díaz’:

We should not get our hopes up: the phrase ‘America for the Americans,’ which summarizes the doctrine of James Monroe has been read by the successors of the fifth president, from Quincy Adams to Cleveland, with very rare exceptions as an acquisition title of all America for North Americans who, according to themselves, are the original, the authentic, the legitimate, the best, the only Americans.

Evidently, identification with America continued after independence. New categorizations arose, like the one suggested in the 1830s by Frenchman Michel Chevalier, who created the concept of “Latin America. ” But the new Latin Americans kept considering themselves Americans, part of America, and using the word America to talk about the whole continent.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, for example, wrote Canto General in 1950, a book of poems dedicated to the American Western Hemisphere. In it, one of his most famous poems begins: “América, no invoco tu nombre en vano” (“America, I do not invoke your name in vain”) in reference to the continent.

The identification with America continues even now, two centuries after the independence of the various former Spanish-American countries, as we are taught in school that we belong to the American continent, and as many politicians and social movements keep on calling for an “American Unity”. This is why we clash so often when people from the United States call themselves Americans.

The Real Academia de la Lengua Española, or RAE, the institution that regulates Spanish language and produces the most authoritative dictionaries of Spanish, offers this opinion on its entry for “Estados Unidos”: “The use of “americano” to refer exclusively to the inhabitants of the United States should be avoided, it is an abusive use explained by the fact that estadounidenses often use the abbreviated name América to refer to their country. It should not be forgotten that América is the name of the whole continent and americanos are those who inhabit it.”

But, more than a technicality, for many in the rest of America, the appropriation of the term “America” by the United States is a political issue.

Legendary Argentinian ska band Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have a song, “V Centenario,” released in 1993 (and thus alluding to the 500 years after the arrival of Columbus), which criticizes the celebration of European colonists in America and begins: “I want to live in America / I want to die in America / I want to be free in America / They are going to kill me in America.”

The Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar staged an intervention in Times Square in New York in 1987. Then, the iconic big screens showed an outline of the map of the continental United States with the legend “This is not America.” He restaged it in the same place last year, saying: “Language is not innocent and reflects a geopolitical reality. The use of the word America in the U.S.A., erroneously referring only to the U.S.A. and not to the entire continent is a clear manifestation of the political, financial, and cultural domination of the U.S.A. of the rest of the continent.”

This, of course, has a huge problem: that “America” was a word coined for people of European descent. Where do indigenous people stand in all of this? They were not only the original inhabitants of these lands, but are also, in this very moment, part of our population (and for many, also part of our heritage). Therefore, some indigenous organizations have proposed that, instead of “America,” we start talking about “Abya Yala.” This is an expression that comes from the Kuna, an indigenous group in what is now Colombia and Panama, which allegedly referred to the whole continent, even before the arrival of the Spaniards. This is not a proven fact, but so far it seems like the best alternative.

So just remember, if you call yourself American, whether you are from the United States, from the American continent, or from the originary people of the land, remember that your choice of words carries political weight.

  • This piece was originally published on Latino Rebels and is reposted here with permission.

United States of America — Humanitarian Portal

The state structure and political system of the United States of America is a democratic state with a republican (presidential) form of government and a federal state system. The country has a Constitution, which is the highest legal document of the country. It establishes the structure and duties of the federal government and its relationship with the individual states. The US Constitution came into force in 1788 and includes 27 amendments adopted from the date of its ratification (of which 26 are active — the XVIII amendment, which introduced into 1919 «dry law», was abolished by the amendment of the XXI century. 1933). The first 10 amendments (Bill of Rights, adopted in 1789) and the XIV Amendment (adopted in 1868) form the central basis of the individual rights and freedoms of US citizens. Amendments to the Constitution come into force after their ratification by the legislative assemblies (legislatures) of ¾ states. All laws and government procedures are subject to judicial review, and any law may be declared invalid if the court finds that it violates the Constitution. nine0005

The functioning of the state mechanism of the United States is based on the constitutional principle of «separation of powers», which provides for three branches of power — legislative, executive and judicial — and excludes the possibility of abuse of power by any one of its branches.

Legislative power is exercised by the US Congress, which consists of two houses — the House of Representatives (lower house, includes 435 seats) and the Senate (upper house, includes 100 seats — two seats from each state), the term of office of which is 6 years; every 2 years, the composition of the Senate is renewed by ⅓. Elections to the House of Representatives are held every 2 years, during which all 435 representatives of the corresponding number of constituencies are re-elected. Constituencies are determined according to population. The House of Representatives also includes 3 representatives of the Federal District of Columbia with an advisory vote. Officially, the chairman of the Senate is the vice president of the United States (he participates in the work of the Senate and votes if the votes of the senators are equally divided during the voting on any issue). In this case, his vote becomes decisive. In the absence of the Vice President, the Senate is led by the President pro tempore. The work of the House of Representatives is led by the speaker — a representative of the party that has a majority of votes in the house. In the Senate and the House of Representatives, the heads of standing and special committees and subcommittees, as well as the leaders of the majority and minority and their deputies are elected. In each of the two chambers, there are 20 permanent committees functioning independently of each other on the main areas of legislative activity; as well as 3 joint (joint) committees. Joint meetings of both chambers are convened to consider especially important issues of domestic or foreign policy. The Congress of each convocation works in the format of two annual sessions. nine0005

Congress has broad prerogatives in most areas of government activity, primarily financial. It approves the federal budget, establishes taxes and other fees, regulates foreign and interstate trade, controls the activities of government departments and their spending of federal funds. Control over public funding is exercised by Congress through specialized agencies created under it: the General Financial Control Department, the Technology Evaluation Office, and the Budget Office. nine0005

In addition to the powers exercised jointly or separately by both houses of the US Congress, each of them has its own functions. Thus, all bills in the field of budgetary policy, including the approval of the annual budget, can only come from the House of Representatives, the Senate has the right only to discuss them and amend them. The House of Representatives is given the right to elect the President of the United States if none of the candidates for this post received more than half of the votes of the members of the Electoral College, and to bring charges of impeachment of the president or vice president. The US Senate, «on the advice and consent» of which the most important presidential decisions are made, has the right to declare war, a state of emergency, approve international treaties, make amendments and additions to them, approve candidates for office positions and a number of senior positions in the state apparatus, heads of US diplomatic missions abroad, members of the US Supreme Court, federal judges, and also makes the final decision on the impeachment resolution passed through the House of Representatives. The Senate does not have the authority to approve appointments to positions in the White House apparatus. nine0005

Legislative power in the localities is exercised by state legislatures, which consist of two or one (Nebraska) houses.

The head of the executive branch in the United States is the president — the highest official of the country — at the same time the head of state, head of government and commander in chief of the armed forces. His residence is the White House, located in the federal capital — the city of Washington. The President is elected for a term of 4 years and, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, cannot be elected for more than two terms. Simultaneously with the President, the Vice President is elected. nine0005

Candidates for president and vice president are nominated and confirmed by delegates to the four-year national party conventions. Elections for President and Vice President (as well as elections for all members of the House of Representatives, ⅓ Senators and up-and-coming state governors) are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of each leap year. The American electoral system provides for the election of the president and vice president by the votes of members of the Electoral College, elected in each state by popular vote from among local party activists. When voting for one or another presidential candidate, the ordinary voter simultaneously votes for the elector of a particular party, who, as a rule, is obliged to support the candidate of his party. Each state elects a number of electors equal to the total number of representatives of that state — senators and members of the House of Representatives — in the US Congress. Electors elected by popular vote meet (separately by state) in their state capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a leap year and elect the President and Vice President of the United States by filling out special forms. nine0005

If a presidential candidate does not receive a majority of the electoral votes, the question of the future president is referred to the US House of Representatives, which elects the president from the 3 candidates who received the largest number of ordinary votes. Under the 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1933, the official date for the President to take office is noon on January 20 of the year following the election year. In the event of the death or inability of the president to perform his duties, the vice president becomes his successor. In the event of the death or absence of the Vice President, the order of succession of power provides for its further transition to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and then to the members of the Cabinet of Ministers according to the chronology of the creation of the relevant ministries. nine0005

According to the Constitution, a U.S. citizen “by birth” over 35 years of age and having lived in the country for at least 14 years can be president. The Constitution does not provide for a higher age limit for persons elected to the presidency. The President of the United States has broad powers. He has the right to initiate legislation, represents the country abroad, is the supreme commander of the armed forces, appoints (with subsequent confirmation by the Senate) members of the cabinet and senior officials of government agencies, as well as federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court and ambassadors. The President has the power to enter into international agreements in the form of an executive agreement, not subject to the approval of the Senate, but having the same legal force as an international treaty. The Constitution grants the President the right to pardon and suspend the execution of sentences against those convicted under federal laws. He has the power to convene emergency sessions of one or both houses of Congress and the power to adjourn ordinary sessions of Congress. The president submits the draft federal budget to Congress and has the power of veto over bills approved by Congress, as well as the issuance of presidential orders, which are practically equivalent to laws. A presidential veto can be overridden by a second vote of ⅔ of the members of Congress. In the event of an international or domestic crisis, the President may resort to the use of emergency powers. According to the adopted in 1973 of the War Powers Act, the president has the power to send troops into the territory, airspace, or territorial waters of a foreign country for up to 60 days without the approval of Congress.

The Vice President is the second highest ranking officer in the nation. The functions of the vice president in a particular administration are determined by the president, but are primarily representative in nature. A resident of the same state as the president’s residence cannot be elected vice president. nine0005

The day-to-day provision of the government of the United States is carried out by 15 federal agencies of the highest category — federal executive departments. The heads of the 15 departments, chosen by the President and confirmed by the Senate, form the Council, known as the President’s «cabinet». It is the main official advisory body to the President of the United States. The president presides over meetings, but is not formally a member of the cabinet. In addition to departments, a number of staff organizations are included in the Presidential Administration. These include the Executive Office of the President (including the Presidential Office, Advisers and Assistants to the President), the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Environmental Quality Council, the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Office of Scientific -technical policy, as well as more than 60 federal agencies and departments of various specializations. Alongside this, there are independent federal agencies such as the US Postal Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Agency for International Development. nine0005

Government powers in the United States are divided between the federal government and the states. Each US state has its own capital (administrative center), state symbols, Constitution, legislature (legislature), system of executive authorities and judicial system. The head of the executive branch in the state is the governor, elected for 4 or 2 (New Hampshire and Vermont) years, who leads the work of state administrations (governments). The states have jurisdiction over their territory, where they share sovereignty with the federal government, and broad autonomy in matters of state and socio-economic regulation. Each US state has an administrative division into counties, or counties (except for the states of Louisiana [divided into parishes] and Alaska [divided into boroughs]), which, in turn, are divided into self-governing municipalities in cities and townships representing self-government in rural areas. These districts also have their own charters, legislative, judicial and executive authorities, which are formed on an elective basis. nine0005

The US judicial branch is structured into three levels: the Supreme Court; appellate courts; district courts. The legal system of the United States belongs to the family of Anglo-Saxon law (with the exception of the state of Louisiana, in whose jurisdiction a mixed legal system with elements of Romano-Germanic law of the French sample operates), but at the same time it has a number of features, the main of which is the determining value of the Constitution as the main source of law. The US Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, but a judge who commits an offense in the line of duty can be prosecuted in the same way as other officials, including the president of the country. nine0005

The supreme federal judiciary, the U.S. Supreme Court, consists of 9 federal judges, including the Chief Justice. Members of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president for life with the right to retire at will. Traditionally, the decisions of the US Supreme Court are of particular importance for the country’s legal system. Below the Supreme Court in rank are the courts of appeal, and below them, in turn, are the district courts, which are general courts of first instance under federal law and form the main link of the American judicial system. The courts at the state level are created and function in accordance with the laws of each state. State courts hear cases and administer justice within the framework of legal relations regulated by local laws. In practice, it is in the state courts that the vast majority of cases are heard. nine0005

In addition to the «common law» courts, the US judiciary also includes specialized courts of limited jurisdiction, including bankruptcy (bankruptcy) courts, the foreign trade court, the tax court, the court of claims (considers claims against the federal government), the court for the supervision of foreign intelligence activities, special military courts, and others.

The basis of the political process in the United States is the existence of a two-party system that developed in the middle of the 19th century. Leading political parties: the Democratic Party (founded in 1828) and the Republican Party (founded in 1854), between which the struggle for the leadership of the country is mainly carried out. Relying on various social groups in American society, the Republican and Democratic parties share the starting points that underlie the political and socio-economic system of the country. The main differences between them are in ideological positions, as well as in approaches to solving specific issues of domestic and foreign policy, determining the degree of state regulation of the country’s socio-economic life, and reforming its individual areas. Traditionally, in American political culture, the Republican Party is defined as centre-right and considered «conservative», while the Democratic Party is defined as centre-left and considered «liberal». The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant, the Democratic Party is the donkey. The formal leader of the party is the current president of the country, nominated by a particular party, or (until the next election) a candidate for the presidency of the country from the party that was defeated in the previous election. nine0005

At certain stages in the history of the United States, there were many other parties that never managed to get their candidate for the presidency of the country or to occupy a dominant position in Congress. Usually, 5 to 8 parties take part in presidential elections, including the two leading ones. The so-called «third» parties do not have any noticeable influence on public policy. Only once in the entire history of the country, in 1912, the «third» party — the Progressive Party of T. Roosevelt — was able to push one of the two leading parties (the Republican) to third place in terms of the number of votes received in the presidential election. nine0005

Financing of party activities is carried out mainly through voluntary donations through fundraising among supporters of the respective parties. There is no clear organizational structure and official membership in parties; the popularity of a party and its political influence are determined only in the course of election campaigns by the number of votes cast for their candidates. The day-to-day activities of the leading parties are managed by national party committees headed by national chairmen. Branches of national party committees exist in all states. Their activity (mainly in the form of fundraising and election campaigning) is manifested only on the eve and during election campaigns. nine0005

U.S. citizens have universal suffrage under the equal protection of the law at age 18, regardless of race, sex, or wealth. The only major exception to this rule is the disenfranchisement of convicted felons and, in some states, ex-felons.

The United States is a federal state with an administrative division, which includes 50 states, the federal (metropolitan) District of Columbia, and external territories. The territory of the United States consists of three parts: the main one (a single array of 48 contiguous states and the federal [capital] District of Columbia, located in the middle part of the North American mainland), two exclaves (outer states: Alaska, located in the extreme northwest of the mainland North America, and Hawaii, located in the Central Pacific Ocean), unincorporated territories controlled by the federal government, officially not part of the country and having special administrative statuses, including 5 inhabited (US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana islands) and 9small islands, atolls and reefs that do not have a permanent population (Johnston Atoll, Midway Atoll, Palmyra Atoll (classified as an incorporated territory), Island Island, Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, Navassa Island, Wake Island, Howland Island). The list of administrative divisions of the United States below is grouped into categories according to their status: federal district, states, external territories. Within each of these categories, administrative units are ordered alphabetically. nine0005


nine0080 July 10, 1890


nine0080 Atlanta

nine0080 Boston

nine0080 Maryland

nine0080 June 21, 1788


nine0080 November 21, 1789



nine0078 1856

No. Administrative unit Administrative center Date
foundation / accession
thousand km²
Federal districts
1 Columbia July 16, 1790 177
1 Idaho Boise July 3, 1890 216.4
2 Iowa Des Moines December 28, 1846 145.8
3 Alabama Montgomery December 14, 1819 133. 9
4 Alaska Juneau January 3, 1959 1,530.70
5 Arizona Phoenix February 14, 1912 295.3
6 Arkansas Little Rock June 15, 1836 137.8
7 Wyoming Cheyenne 253.3
8 Washington Olympia November 11, 1889 176.5
9 Vermont Montpelier March 4, 1791 24.9
10 Virginia Richmond June 25, 1788 105. 6
11 Wisconsin Madison May 29, 1848 145.4
12 Hawaii Honolulu August 21, 1959 16.8
13 Delaware Dover December 7, 1787 5.3
14 Georgia January 2, 1788 152.6
15 West Virginia Charleston June 20, 1863 62.8
16 Illinois Springfield December 3, 1818 145.9
17 Indiana Indianapolis December 11, 1816 93. 7
18 California Sacramento September 9, 1850 411
19 Kansas Topeka January 29, 1861 213.1
20 Kentucky Frankfort 1 June 1792 104.7
21 Colorado Denver August 1, 1876 269.6
22 Connecticut Hartford January 9, 1788 13
23 Louisiana Baton Rouge April 30, 1812 123.7
24 Massachusetts February 6, 1788 21. 5
25 Minnesota St. Paul May 11, 1858 218.6
26 Mississippi Jackson December 10, 1817 123.5
27 Missouri Jefferson City August 10, 1821 180.5
28 Michigan Lansing January 26, 1837 151.6
29 Montana Helena November 8, 1889 380.8
30 Maine Augusta March 15, 1820 86.2
31 Annapolis April 28, 1788 27. 1
32 Nebraska Lincoln March 1, 1867 200.3
33 Nevada Carson City October 31, 1864 286.4
34 New Hampshire Concord 24
35 New Jersey Trenton December 18, 1787 20.2
36 New York Albany July 26, 1788 127.2
37 New Mexico Santa Fe January 6, 1912 314.9
38 Ohio Columbus March 1, 1803 107
39 Oklahoma Oklahoma City November 16, 1907 181. 2
40 Oregon Salem February 14, 1859 251.4
41 Pennsylvania Harrisburg December 12, 1787 117.3
42 Rhode Island Providence 29 May 1790 3.1
43 North Dakota Bismarck November 2, 1889 183.1
44 North Carolina Roles 136.4
45 Tennessee Nashville 1 June 1796 109.2
46 Texas Austin December 29, 1845 691
47 Florida Tallahassee March 3, 1845 151. 9
48 South Dakota Pierre November 2, 1889 199.7
49 South Carolina Columbia 23 May 1788 80.6
50 Utah Salt Lake City January 4, 1896 219.9
Outer populated areas
1 US Virgin Islands Charlotte Amalie March 31, 1917 0.346.36
2 American Samoa Pago Pago April 17, 1900 0.197.1
3 Guam Hagatna April 11, 1899 0.543
4 Puerto Rico San Juan April 11, 1899 9. 104
5 Northern Mariana Islands Saipan November 4, 1986 0.463.63
Outer uninhabited areas
1 Johnston Atoll 1858 002.67
2 Midway Atoll 1859 006.2
3 Palmyra Atoll 1898 012
4 Baker Island 1856 002.1
5 Jarvis Island 004.75
6 Navassa Island 1857 005. 4
7 Wake Island 1898 007.4
8 Howland Island 1858 004.5
9 Kingman Reef 1860 018


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    “Present time. America» ​​- January 20, 2023

    The Leopard Controversy // The United States Once Again Hits the National Debt Ceiling // «March for Life»
    Live broadcast of the daily information program from the studio in Washington


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    • Congressman Costa: Ukraine’s success will be a plus for new aid packages

    • Tanya Lokshina: Russian war crimes will not go unpunished

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