Difference between revisions of "United States of America"

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Revision as of 21:54, 5 February 2009

United States of America
US map.PNG
50 star flag.png
United States arms.png
Flag Coat of Arms
Capital Washington, D.C.
Government Federal Republic
Language English (unofficial)
President Barack Hussein Obama
Area 3,718,695 sq mi
Population 301,554,000 (2007)
GDP per capita $44,333 (2007)
Currency dollar

The United States of America (commonly referred to as the United States, the USA, the US, the States, or simply as America) is a North American nation that consists of a federal union of fifty individual states, along with territories and a capital district. Founded originally as 13 colonies in the British Empire, they united to become a nation on July 4, 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. After defeating Britain in the War of Independence, the U.S. expanded westward thanks to rapid growth from high birth rates, low death rates and high immigration from Europe, Africa (slaves) and Asia. It wrote a Constitution in 1787 that remains in effect today. and is based on republican political principles. The Americans created the world's first political parties and, since abolishing slavery in a bloody civil war in the 1860s, has been committed to democracy at home and abroad. Its capitalist economy grew rapidly, becoming the largest in the world by the 1870s. After defeating Communism in the Cold War, the U.S. emerged as the world's only superpower, boasting the largest economy and most powerful military. It exerts enormous cutural and intellectual influence worldwide, and in return is the target of the enemies of democracy and capitalism.

Overview

The United States 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, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Two of the fifty states, Alaska, an exclave, and Hawaii, an archipelago, are not contiguous with any of the other states. Alaska is located in northwest North America and the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. 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 federal system.

At over 3.7 million square miles (over 9.6 million km²), the U.S. (including its non-contiguous and overseas states and territories) is the third largest country by total area. It is the world's third most populous nation, with over 350 million people.

The United States' military, economic, cultural, and political influence increased through the 19th and 20th centuries. Since the mid-20th century, the United States has become a dominant global influence in contemporary economic, political, military, scientific, technological and cultural matters. With the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, the nation emerged as the world's sole remaining superpower, greatly influencing world affairs, as it continues to do today.

The Constitution and Politics in the United States

The drafting committee presenting the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress, painted by John Trumbull 1817–1819.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers risked a sentence of death for treason against the English Crown by signing the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776.

Between the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, the United States was governed according to the Articles of Confederation.

The Founding Fathers formally established the current structure of the United States by ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. Since then, that constitution has been the basic governing document.

The U.S. is politically dedicated to republicanism with its commitment to civic virtue, and opposition to corrpution and aristocracy. The United States invented popular parties in the 1790s; currently the two major political parties are the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party. Minor parties are of little importance.

The Role of Religion in Government

The U.S. is a predominantly Christian nation. A Pew Report showed 76% of Republicans, 63% of Democrats,and 67% of independents view the U.S. a Christian nation. Secular categories are the only subgroup in which fewer than a majority sees the U.S. as a Christian country. [1]

The Declaration of Independence acknowledges the existence of a God when it refers to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and says all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." That statement was inserted by the author, Thomas Jefferson, whose religious beliefs were Deistic.

Many early Americans emigrated because of religious persecution in their home countries. The American Founding Fathers adhered to various sects of Christianity, including Catholicism, Protestantism, and Deism. They recognized that Judeo-Christian tradition in addition to other legal traditions should inform the Constitution.

Based upon these beliefs, the Founding Fathers specifically placed into the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution a sentence which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The first clause is referred to as the Establishment Clause, and the second the Free Exercise Clause. Even in contemporary times, citizens often mistakenly insist the First Amendment mandated separation of church and state, which it clearly does not. It is obvious by the writings and the documents they produced that the Founding Fathers could not even conceptualize (let alone desire) a government without Christian principles. However, in a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists, he himself described the First Amendment as "a wall of separation between Church and State." [2]

Cathedral of the Plains, Kansas.

This "Free Exercise Clause" of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution began increasingly to be tested and interpreted by the judiciary in the late 19th century as a result of the increasing population of religious minorities in the country.

The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the many personal papers of the Founding Fathers have been used to examine the issue. Different and sometimes contradicting statements have been noted regarding the influence of religion on government, and it can be difficult sometimes to interpret the importance and precedence of personal beliefs, legal intent, and actual verbiage in the documents.

In recent decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has used the "lemon test" as a means for determining whether or not a particular controversy causes excessive entanglement between government and religion, though in some cases has allowed religious icons (such as the Ten Commandments display in Texas.[3])

In America today, an individual's party affiliation is at times determined by their personal view of the relationship between religion and government. Many other social issues, such as abortion, euthanasia, freedom of speech, and cloning may be based on an individual's religious beliefs, as well as other beliefs.

History and geography

The White House, the official home and workplace of the President of the United States of America.

Independence

In 1783, when the Treaty of Paris concluded hostilities against Great Britain, the former colonial power, the United States' population totalled some three million citizens and slaves living on slightly less than one million square miles of land. An unknown number of Native Americans also lived in the western part of the United States, which was then bordered on the west by the Mississippi River, on the north by Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the south by Florida, then controlled by Spain. The land border with Canada was not clarified until the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1816.

The majority of the taxable population lived in the thirteen original states. In alphabetical order they are Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia. In 1790, an agreement between supporters of Jefferson and those of Alexander Hamilton resulted in the creation of the District of Columbia from part of Maryland; it has served as the national capital since 1800. The remainder of the 1783 territory was eventually organized as the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. Two additional states were added during the first fifty years by secession from existing states: Vermont from New York, and Maine from Massachusetts. After that, the legality of secession became an issue.

Louisiana Territory

In 1803, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte took advantage of a lull in his war with Great Britain to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States, more than doubling the nation's land area. This territory would later be organized as the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana proper. President Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark to explore the new territory, which they did from 1802 to 1804.

Revolutions

Florida and Texas joined the United States as a result of revolutions by settlers from the United States against their central governments. Florida's was fought in 1810, while the much better remembered Texas Revolution was fought in 1836. While Spain was willing to cut its losses in Florida and relinquished any claims on the state in the Adams-Oniz Agreement of 1819, one of the successors to its empire in the Americas, Mexico, was considerably more attached to Texas and fought the Mexican War between 1846 and 1848 to reverse its annexation by the United States. Losing badly, Mexico was forced to cede the sparsely populated northern portion of itself under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This territory eventually became the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. At approximately the same time, President James K. Polk had agreed with the British that the 49th Parallel (degree of latitude) would serve as the boundary between the U. S. and Canada from Lake of the Woods (partially in Minnesota) to the Pacific Ocean. This territory was later organized as the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Alaska

In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia. Critics referred to this as "Seward's Folly." Alaska is the westernmost extremity of North America bounded on the east by Canada, on the south by the Pacific Ocean, on the west by the Bering Strait and on the north by the Arctic Ocean. At $7,000,000, Alaska cost the United States considerably less per acre than the Mexican Cession and slightly less than the Louisiana Territory. Of course, inflation was less of a factor at this time due to the world economy still being principally agrarian. Although at the time it was considered a foolish bargain, Alaska would later become a large source of economic prosperity due to large gold, oil, and other natural resources. Alaska would not be admitted as a state until 1959.

Hawaii

The 50th and so far final state, Hawaii, was also admitted in 1959, 67 years after the DOLE corporation, sugar producers, and the US Marine Corps deposed the last native queen of the archipelago and 62 years after annexation had become politically feasible as a result of the Spanish-American War, in which the United States also annexed Puerto Rico, Guam and Wake Island. The last three islands are not states, although Puerto Rico has occasionally held non-binding referenda to express its desired status within the United States.

Relinquishments

The United States has occasionally relinquished territory. The most significant example of this was certainly the granting of independence in 1946 to the Philippines as part of the general decolonization of Asia and Africa following World War II. Under both autocratic and democratic governments, the Philippines have subsequently remained a strong United States ally, and today contribute more troops to the U. S. military than some states. Other Pacific territories such as the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau have also become independent in the postwar era with little objection from opinion leaders on the mainland. More controversial was the 1977 agreement between President Jimmy Carter and General Omar Torrijos to return the Panama Canal Zone, which had been part of the United States since 1914, to Panama in the year 2000. Ultimately the United States lived up to this agreement despite the worst fears of both liberals (who decried Operation Just Cause, the 1989 invasion of Panama) and conservatives (who feared the management of the Panama Canal by Chinese interests).

United Nations

The United States has been criticized for holding back a portion of its United Nations dues (currently amounting to 41%, or $1.246 billion dollars.

See Also:


External links

References