Difference between revisions of "United States of America"
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Revision as of 18:06, 29 April 2007
|United States of America|
Flag of the United States
|Government||Federal constitutional republic|
|Official Language||None |
(English de facto)
|President||George W. Bush (R)|
|Vice President||Dick Cheney (R)|
|Senate majority leader||Harry Reid (D)|
|House majority leader||Nancy Pelosi (D)|
|Area||3,718,695 sq mi|
|Population (2007 estimate)||301,554,000|
|GDP (2007 estimate)||$13.049 trillion|
|GDP per capita (2007 estimate)||$44,333|
The United States of America (commonly referred to as the United States, the USA, the US, or simply as America) is a North American nation that consists of a federal union of fifty individual states. Its origins lie in the British Empire: it was founded on July 4, 1776 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and its independence from Britain was formally recognized in 1783, following the War of Independence. The US is currently the world's sole superpower; it has the world's largest economy, and is recognized as having the world's most powerful military.
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 in 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 300 million people.
American 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.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers formally established the United States by the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. Since the presidency of John Quincy Adams the United States has been governed by one of two political parties in a republic increasingly tending towards democracy as the franchise has expanded. The younger of the two existing major parties, the Republican Party, was created in 1854. Between independence in 1776 and ratification of the Constitution in 1788, the United States' governing documents included the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence itself.
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," though the latter statement was made by Thomas Jefferson, whose religious beliefs had far more in common with Unitarianism then traditional Christianity. Some Christians argued that since many of the Founding Fathers were Christians (although the majority of them could actually be qualified as Deists) and that, explicitly or not, the United States was founded upon the principles and ideals of Christianity. However, the freedom of (and from) religion (stating that the government cannot interfere in the conduct of religious groups, or vice versa) is a fundamental aspect of the First Amendment to the Constitution. This separation is a continuing source of conflict in American society, generally between those attempting to exert their own religious or anti-religious views over others. This Free Exercise Clause of the Amendment 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 United States.
History and geography
In 1783, when the Peace of Paris concluded hostilities against Great Britain, the former colonial power, the United States' population totaled 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 from 1800 on. 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.
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.
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.
In 1867, Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia. Critics refered 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.
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.
The United States has occasionally relinquished territory. The most significant example of this was certainly the granting of independence in 1946 to the Phillippines as part of the general decolonization of Asia and Africa following World War II. Under both autocratic and democratic governments, the Phillippines have subsequently remained a strong American 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).
The USA's has been criticized for holding back its United Nations dues (currently, even after the Helms-Biden amendment, the United States has withheld 41%, or $1.246 billion dollars, ) as the US has sought reforms within the international organization.