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United States

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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 USA, the U.S., America, or the States — is a federal republic of 50 states located primarily in central North America. The United States proper has land borders with Canada and Mexico, as well as several territorial water boundaries with Canada, 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 50 states has a high level of local autonomy under the system of federalism.

United States of America
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
National motto:
E Pluribus Unum (1789-present)
(Latin: "Out of Many, One")
In God We Trust (1956-present)
National anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner
Capital Washington, D.C.
38° 53′ N 77° 02′ W
Largest city New York City
Official languages None at federal level;
English de facto1
Government Democratic Federal republic
George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
 - Declared
 - Recognized
From Great Britain
July 4, 1776
September 3, 1783
 - Total
 - Water (%)
3,794,083 mi²/9,631,418 km² (3rd)
 - May 2005 est.
 - 2000 census
 - Density
296,069,651 [1] (3rd)
31/km² (176th)
 - Total
 - Per capita
2005 estimate
$12,332,296 million (1st)
$41,557 (3rd)
Currency US dollar ($) (USD)
Time zone
 - Summer (DST)
(UTC-5 to -10)
varies (UTC)
Internet TLD .gov .edu .mil .us .um
Calling code +1
1 The federal government operates in English, but no official language is formally or legally specified. English is official in 27 states, with Hawaiian, French, and Spanish each being official in one of three bilingual states. While English enjoys the widest use by far, Spanish is spoken as a primary language by 10% of population. See Languages in the United States.

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 become a dominant influence in contemporary economic, political, military, scientific, technological and cultural matters.

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.

Table of contents


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 (17751783). 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. Prior to all these was the Albany Congress in 1754, in which a union was first seriously proposed.

During the 19th century, many new states were added to the original thirteen as the nation expanded across the North American continent, destroying and resettling many Indian nations in a decades-long military campaign. Through coercion, military prowess, and diplomatic leverage, it acquired a number of overseas possessions, from Cuba to the Philippines, though it lost many of these over time. See also United States territorial acquisitions.

During this period the nation also became an industrial power. This continued into the 20th century, which some have termed "the American Century" due to America's tremendous influence on the world. The nation became a center for invention and technological development; major technologies that America either developed or was greatly involved in improving are the telephone, television, computer, the Internet, nuclear weapons and power, and air travel and space travel.

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. During the Cold War, the United States was a major player in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and was considered one of two superpowers along with the Soviet Union; with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nation emerged as the world's leading economic and military power. The United States became very involved in police actions and peacekeeping beginning in the 1990s, including actions in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia and Liberia, and the first Gulf War to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. After terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the USA started a war against Afghanistan and later a preventive war against Iraq.

See also: Military history of the United States, Timeline of United States history


Main article: Politics of the United States

There are three levels of government in the United States – federal, state, and local. All of these are elected by the American people.

Federal government

The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States.

The federal government is the national government. The Constitution of the United States limits the powers of the federal government to defense, foreign affairs, printing money, controlling trade and relations between the states, and protecting human rights; however, from nearly the first days of the republic, the federal government has overstepped these bounds into such areas as welfare and education. The federal government is made up of the Congress (the legislative branch), the President (the executive branch), and the Supreme Court (the judicial branch). These three branches are said to supply checks and balances on each other.

Legislative branch

The Congress is a bicameral lawmaking institution composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Traditionally, the House is considered the "lower house" and the Senate the "upper house," but Congressional publications rebuke this. The House has 435 members called representatives or congressmen and congresswomen, whom are elected by the people of a congressional district to represent that district for a term of two years. The number of districts for each state depends on the size of the population of the state, and each state has at least one representative. As of the 2000 census, the districts had an average size of about 640,000 people.

The Senate has 100 members called senators, who are also elected by the people of a state to represent that state for a term of six years. Each state has two senators, regardless of its size. The Constitution initially gave the power to elect senators to the state legislatures; the 17th Amendment transferred this ability to the people.

Most bills may be introduced in either house of Congress. If both the Senate and House of Representatives approve a bill, the President is asked to sign it. The President can veto a bill, but Congress can still make it a law if two-thirds of the members of each house approve it. All bills to borrow or tax money, and traditionally, bills of appropriation, are initiated in the House of Representatives.

Executive branch

At the top of the executive branch is the President of the United States, who acts as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces; all military personnel answer to him, and he is the only one who can approve actions such as the use of nuclear weapons. The President signs laws into action, and can also issue pardons and executive orders. He has few other Constitutional duties, among them being the requirement to give a State of the Union address to Congress every year. Below the President is the Vice President, who is first in the line of succession, and is the President of the Senate, with the ability to cast a tiebreaking vote. Both of these are elected by the people via the electoral college for four year terms.

Next are the members of the Cabinet, and the various departments they head, including the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the State Department. These departments and department heads hold much regulatory and political power, and it is these departments that are used to execute the laws of the nation.

Judicial branch

The judicial branch of the federal government is used either when avenues in state courts have been exhausted, or when dealing with federal and constitutional matters. A case may be appealed from a state court to a federal court only if there is a federal question, the supreme court of a state is the final authority on the interpretation of that state's laws and constitution. The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court, which consists of nine justices and can declare unconstitutional legislation made at any level of the government, thus nullifying the law and creating precedent for future law and decisions. Below the Supreme Court are the courts of appeals, and below that are the district courts, which are the general trial courts for federal law.

State government

The state governments have the greatest influence over people's daily lives. Each state has its own written constitution and has different laws. There are sometimes great differences in law and procedure between the different states, concerning issues such as property, crime, health, and education. The highest elected official of each state is the Governor. Each state also has one an elected legislature with one or two houses, whose members represent the different parts of the state. Of note is the New Hampshire legislature, which is the third largest legislative body in the English speaking world, and has one representative for every 3,000 people. Each state maintains its own judiciary, with the lowest level typically being county courts, and culminating in each state supreme court, though sometimes named differently. In some states, supreme and lower court justices are elected by the people; in others, they are appointed, as they are in the federal system.

Local government

The institutions that are responsible for local government typically town, city, or county councils, making laws that effect their particular area. These laws concern issues such as traffic, the sale of alcohol, and keeping animals. The highest elected official of a town or city is usually the mayor. In some states in New England, the counties have little or no power, existing only as geographic distinctions. In other areas, county governments have more power, such as to collect taxes, maintain law enforcement agencies, and manage education through a school board.

Foreign relations

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 United States are often strong, ranging from uninhibited Americophilia (admiration and mimicking of all things American) to Anti-Americanism.

Political divisions

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. Although considered as sovereigns initially, under the constitution they have delegated certain powers to the Congress, but have retained the majority of legislative authority for themselves. 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.

Political divisions of the United States
States Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming
Federal district District of Columbia
Insular areas American Samoa | Baker Island | Guam | Howland Island | Jarvis Island | Johnston Atoll | Kingman Reef | Midway Atoll | Navassa Island | Northern Mariana Islands | Palmyra Atoll | Puerto Rico | Virgin Islands | Wake Island


Map of the United States (PDF)

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 and rolling hills 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, the 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's tundra and the volcanic, tropical 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. 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.

Important cities

New York City, New York
Los Angeles, California.
Chicago, Illinois

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 capital of the United States is Washington, DC. 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.

  1. New York City, New York – 8,008,278
  2. Los Angeles, California – 3,694,820
  3. Chicago, Illinois – 2,896,016
  4. Houston, Texas – 1,953,631
  5. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 1,517,550
  6. Phoenix, Arizona – 1,321,045
  7. San Diego, California – 1,223,400
  8. Dallas, Texas – 1,188,580
  9. San Antonio, Texas – 1,144,646
  10. Detroit, Michigan – 951,270
  11. San Jose, California – 894,943
  12. Indianapolis, Indiana – 791,926
  13. San Francisco, California – 776,733
  14. Jacksonville, Florida – 735,617
  15. Columbus, Ohio – 711,470
  16. Louisville, Kentucky – 693,604
  17. Austin, Texas – 656,562
  18. Baltimore, Maryland – 651,154
  19. Memphis, Tennessee – 650,100
  20. Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 596,974


The United States dollar, the nation's currency.

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.

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.

Economic activity varies greatly from one part of the country to another, with many industries being largely dependent on a certain city or region; New York City is the center of the American financial, publishing, advertising, and broadcasting industries; Silicon Valley is the country’s primary location for high technology companies, while Los Angeles is the most important center for film production. The Midwest is known for its reliance on manufacturing and heavy industry, with Detroit serving as the center of the American automotive industry; the Great Plains are known as “the breadbasket of America” for their tremendous agricultural output, while Texas is largely associated with the oil industry; the Southeastern U.S. is a major hub for medical research, as well as many of the nation's textiles manufacturers.

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 largest trading partner of the United States is Canada (20%), followed by Mexico (12%), China (Mainland 10%, Hong Kong 1%) and Japan (8%). More than 50% of total trade is with these four countries. In 2003, the United States was ranked as the third most visited tourist destination in the world; its 40.4 million visitors ranked behind France's 75 million and Spain's 52.5 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 300 miles (500 km) away, and some airports, such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and O'Hare International Airport, are among the busiest in the world. There are several major seaports in the United States, including New York City, Savannah, Georgia, Miami, Florida, Houston, Texas, Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, plus Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii outside of the contiguous 48 states.


Main article: Demographics of the United States


Main article: Education in the United States
See also the Category:Universities and colleges in the U.S.

Universities in the United States range from the prestigious Harvard (founded in 1636) to the local community colleges, where any person can get a post-secondary education. Several members of the Ivy League, especially Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, rank among the top universities world-wide, as do the University of Chicago, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Johns Hopkins and Duke, among others. Walt Rostow once commented that the top students at the public universities were as capable as the top students of the Ivy League schools; students of different races and economic background come from all over the world as well as from every state and territory to obtain an education. Although tuition fees at top rated institutions are often very high, the prestigious universities as well as local colleges attempt to provide financial aid to their students. The financial aid programs include Federal Financial Aid, Federal Financial Loans, and University loans as well as Work-Study programs.


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.

Twenty-seven individual states have adopted English as their official language, and three of those – Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Mexico – have also adopted Hawaiian, French and Spanish as official languages, respectively. Spanish follows English as the second most spoken language in the United States, due to the influence of the mass waves of (often illegal) Mexican immigrants in recent decades, and is becoming a primary language in some areas of the southwest. The primarily signed language is American Sign Language (ASL).

As of 2004, the United States was 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[2], 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

Elvis Presley, 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 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. Many foreign students study in the United States, both bringing their culture with them, and taking American culture back to their home nations.

See also: Arts and entertainment in the United States, Languages in the United States, Media of the United States, Education in the United States


Some sports that originated or evolved in the United States, particularly baseball, basketball and American football, have achieved a worldwide audience; the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League, is one of the highest watched broadcasts in the world, with viewership far outnumbering the total American population. Baseball is extremely popular in Latin American nations and Japan, and football has had some success in expanding to Europe (NFL Europe). However, few "foreign" sports have caught on in America; attempts to create professional soccer (football) leagues have struggled, and cricket and rugby are not played on any professional level.

The United States hosts some of the premier events in other sports such as golf (including The Masters), tennis (U.S. Open), and auto racing (particularly the Indianapolis 500), hosted the World Cup in 1994, and has hosted eight Olympiads, more than any other nation.

Social issues

Main articles: Social issues in the United States, Human rights in the United States, Health care in the United States

The American Bill of Rights, enacted in 1791, provides a list of basic guaranteed rights

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[3]. In 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that United States had "made little progress in embracing international human rights standards at home." [4]

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 [5]. 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 U.S. inmates are black and are significantly overrepresented when compared to the national population [6]. The discrepancy is a 285%* difference between the national population and the inmate population. (*2000 Population by race [7], 1997 Inmate population by race [8]). 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 [9]. Another study determined that the scale of the racial divide in U.S. prisons is masked because federal crime and imprisonment statistics do not break out Hispanics separately from non-Hispanic whites; when an attempt was made to do so, it was found that blacks were more than 9 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanics were nearly 4 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Hispanic whites. ([10], [11])

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 overweight and 30% of adults are considered obese. These percentages are based on the body mass index, a measure which has been criticized for its simplicity. [12]

The United States' suicide rate exceeds its homicide rate, but it is still lower than that of 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.

Despite having only 5% of the world's population, the United States consumes 25% of the world's power. [13] In terms of per capita usage, the U.S. ranks ninth.


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.

Federal holidays

Main article: Holidays of the United States

Date Name Remarks
January 1 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 Presidents' Day 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 Memorial Day 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.
July 4 Independence Day 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 Labor Day 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 Columbus Day 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.
November 11 Veterans' Day 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 Thanksgiving 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.
December 25 Christmas 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.

Related topics

Main article: List of United States-related topics

Topics in the United States
History Timeline ( Colonial Era | American Revolution | Westward Expansion | Civil War | World War 1 | Great Depression | World War 2 | Cold War | Vietnam War | Civil Rights) | Foreign relations | Military | Demographic and Postal history
Politics Law ( Constitution and Bill of Rights | Declaration of Independence) | Political parties ( Democrats & Republicans) | Elections (Electoral College) | Political scandals | Political divisions
Government Federal agencies | Legislative branch (Congress: House | Senate) Executive branch ( President & Vice-President | Cabinet | Attorney-General | Secretary of State) | Law enforcement ( FBI | Intelligence:CIA | DIA | NIMA | NRO | NSA) | Judicial branch ( Supreme Court) | Military ( Army | Navy | Marines | Air Force)
Geography Appalachian Mtns. | Rocky Mtns. | Great Plains | Midwest | The South | Mississippi River | New England | Mid-Atlantic | Pacific Northwest | Mountains | Valleys | Islands | Rivers | States | Cities | Counties | Regions | Extreme points
Economy Banking | Companies | Standard of living | U.S. Dollar | Wall Street
Demographics US Census Bureau | Languages | Religion | Social structure | Standard of living
Arts & Culture Music (Hippies | blues | jazz | rock and roll | hip hop | gospel | country) | Film & TV (Hollywood) | Literature ( Poetry | Transcendentalism | Harlem Renaissance | Beat Generation) | Visual arts ( Abstract expressionism) | Cuisine | Holidays | Folklore | Dance | Architecture | Education | Languages | Media
Other United States territory | Communications | Transportation ( Highways and Interstates | Railroads) | Uncle Sam | Flag | American Dream | Media | Education | Tourism | Social issues ( Immigration | Affirmative action | Racial profiling | Human rights | War on Drugs | Pornography | same-sex marriage | Poverty | Prisons | Capital punishment) | American Exceptionalism | Anti-Americanism | American Folklore | American English | United States Mexico barrier

International rankings


America may refer to the nation of the United States or to the AmericasNorth, Central and South America. The latter 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.
The 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

External links

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United States
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