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United States

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United States of America
Flag Great Seal
Other traditional mottos  
Anthem: "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Projection of North America with the United States in green
The United States and its territories
The United States including its territories
Capital Washington, D.C.
Largest city New York City
Official languages None at federal level[fn 1]
National language English[fn 2]
Ethnic groups By race:[8]
77.1% White
13.3% Black/Negro
2.6% Other/multiracial
5.6% Asian
1.2% Native
0.2% Pacific Islander
17.6% Hispanic or Latino
82.4% non-Hispanic or Latino
Religion 70.6% Christian
1.9% Jewish
0.9% Muslim
0.7% Buddhist
0.7% Hindu
1.8% Other faiths
22.8% Irreligious[9]
Demonym American
Government Federal presidential constitutional republic
 •  President Joe Biden
 •  Vice President Kamala Harris
 •  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
 •  Chief Justice John Roberts
Legislature Congress
 •  Upper house Senate
 •  Lower house House of Representatives
 •  Declaration July 4, 1776 
 •  Confederation March 1, 1781 
 •  Treaty of Paris September 3, 1783 
 •  Constitution June 21, 1788 
 •  Last polity admitted March 24, 1976 
 •  Water (%) 6.97
 •  Total land area 3,531,905 sq mi (9,147,590 km2)
 •  2017 estimate 325,145,963[10] (3rd)
 •  2010 census 309,349,689[11] (3rd)
GDP (PPP) 2016 estimate
 •  Total $18.558 trillion[12] (2nd)
 •  Per capita $57,220[12] (14th)
GDP (nominal) 2016 estimate
 •  Total $18.558 trillion[12] (1st)
 •  Per capita $57,220[12] (6th)
Gini (2013) 40.8[13][14][15]
HDI (2015) Increase 0.920[16]
very high · 10th
Currency [[{{#property:p38}}]] ($) (USD)
Time zone (UTC−4 to −12, +10, +11)
 •  Summer (DST)  (UTC−4 to −10[fn 3])
Date format mm/dd/yyyy (AD)
Drives on the right[fn 4]
Calling code +1
ISO 3166 code US
Internet TLD .us   .gov   .mil   .edu

The United States of America /əˈmɛrɪkə/ (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S.) or America, is a constitutional federal republic[17][18] composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions.[fn 5] Forty-eight of the fifty states and the federal district are contiguous and located in North America between Canada and Mexico. The state of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The state of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and encompass nine time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.[20][21]

At 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million km2)[22] and with over 324 million people, the United States is the world's third- or fourth-largest country by total area,[fn 6] third-largest by land area, and the third-most populous. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city is New York City; nine other major metropolitan areas—each with at least 4.5 million inhabitants—are Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, and San Francisco.

Paleo-Indians migrated from Asia to the North American mainland at least 15,000 years ago.[27] European colonization began in the 16th century, though there was an earlier Viking settlement. The United States emerged from 13 British colonies along the East Coast. Numerous disputes between Great Britain and the colonies following the Seven Years' War led to the American Revolution, which began in 1775. On July 4, 1776, during the course of the American Revolutionary War, the colonies unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. The war ended in 1783 with recognition of the independence of the United States by Great Britain, representing the first successful war of independence against a European power.[28] The current constitution was adopted in 1788, after the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, were felt to have provided inadequate federal powers. The first ten amendments, collectively named the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791 and designed to guarantee many fundamental civil liberties.

The United States embarked on a vigorous expansion across North America throughout the 19th century,[29] displacing American Indian tribes, acquiring new territories, and gradually admitting new states until it spanned the continent by 1848.[29] During the second half of the 19th century, the American Civil War led to the end of legal slavery in the country.[30][31] By the end of that century, the United States extended into the Pacific Ocean,[32] and its economy, driven in large part by the Industrial Revolution, began to soar.[33] The Spanish–American War and World War I confirmed the country's status as a global military power. The United States emerged from World War II as a global superpower, the first country to develop nuclear weapons, and the only country to use them in warfare. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the United States as the world's sole superpower.[34] Since Lyndon B. Johnson, Ted Kennedy, and Emanuel Celler changed the USA's immigration laws in 1965, it has changed from an overwhelmingly white country into one of the world's most ethnically heterogeneous and multicultural nations, and, subsequently, a country where white people are becoming a minority. It is home to the world's largest immigrant population,[35] and most births are already non-white. The USA continues to experience a steady stream of non-white male surplus immigration, estimated at over two million per year if legal and illegal admissions are added.[36] The non-white immigrant birth rate is also higher than that of the white population. Right-wing and far-right opponents claim this immigration should actually be considered a form of population replacement, and, most controversially, a step toward white genocide, albeit non-violent in nature.

Politically, the USA has become far more progressive and secular since the 1930s, though it remains less socialistic or atheistic than Europe. The most obvious difference is the funding of health care, which critics claim combines the worst excesses of socialist regulation with capitalist exploitation, though its quality is the best in the world for those who can afford it. Culturally, the USA has increasingly adopted many of the principles of political correctness (abbreviated PC) since the 1960s. This includes a taboo on the scientific field of human biodiversity, which claims that different racial groups have different average cognitive strengths and traits, which should be considered in social policy. Though historically endorsed by leading figures throughout the country, such talk is today considered highly non-PC and offensive. Rising demographic and cultural tensions cast some doubt over the country's future in its current form. Since the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States in 2008, the country has swung even further to the left, particularly in states such as California and New York, in a worldwide cultural revolution otherwise described by its critics as the "Great Awokening", which ultimately resulted in the George Floyd riots of 2020. Despite this, the United States remains a highly developed country, with the world's largest economy by nominal GDP and second-largest economy by PPP. Though its population is only 4.3% of the world total,[37] Americans hold nearly 40% of the total wealth in the world.[38] The United States ranks among the highest in several measures of socioeconomic performance, including average wage,[39] human development, per capita GDP, and productivity per person.[40] While the U.S. economy is considered post-industrial, characterized by the dominance of services and knowledge economy, the manufacturing sector remains the second-largest in the world.[41] Accounting for approximately a quarter of global GDP[42] and a third of global military spending,[43] the United States is the world's foremost economic and military power. The United States is a prominent political[44] and cultural force internationally, and a leader in scientific research and technological innovations.[45]


America is named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.[46][47]

In 1507, the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere "America" in honor of the Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci (Latin: Americus Vespucius).[46] The first documentary evidence of the phrase "United States of America" is from a letter dated January 2, 1776, written by Stephen Moylan, Esq., George Washington's aide-de-camp and Muster-Master General of the Continental Army. Addressed to Lt. Col. Joseph Reed, Moylan expressed his wish to carry the "full and ample powers of the United States of America" to Spain to assist in the revolutionary war effort.[48][49][50]

The first known publication of the phrase "United States of America" was in an anonymous essay in The Virginia Gazette newspaper in Williamsburg, Virginia, on April 6, 1776.[51][52] The second draft of the Articles of Confederation, prepared by John Dickinson and completed by June 17, 1776, at the latest, declared "The name of this Confederation shall be the 'United States of America.'"[53] The final version of the Articles sent to the states for ratification in late 1777 contains the sentence "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America'".[54] In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the phrase "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" in all capitalized letters in the headline of his "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence.[55][56] This draft of the document did not surface until June 21, 1776, and it is unclear whether it was written before or after Dickinson used the term in his June 17 draft of the Articles of Confederation.[53] In the final Fourth of July version of the Declaration, the title was changed to read, "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America".[57] The preamble of the Constitution states "...establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The short form "United States" is also standard. Other common forms are the "U.S.", the "USA", and "America". Colloquial names are the "U.S. of A." and, internationally, the "States". "Columbia", a name popular in poetry and songs of the late 18th century, derives its origin from Christopher Columbus; it appears in the name "District of Columbia".[58] In non-English languages, the name is frequently the translation of either the "United States" or "United States of America", and colloquially as "America". In addition, an abbreviation (e.g. USA) is sometimes used.[59]

The phrase "United States" was originally plural, a description of a collection of independent states—e.g., "the United States are"—including in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865. The singular form—e.g., "the United States is"—became popular after the end of the American Civil War. The singular form is now standard; the plural form is retained in the idiom "these United States".[60] The difference is more significant than usage; it is a difference between a collection of states and a unit.[61]

A citizen of the United States is an "American". "United States", "American" and "U.S." refer to the country adjectivally ("American values", "U.S. forces"). In English, the word "American" rarely refers to topics or subjects not connected with the United States.[62]


Indigenous and European contact

Artist's re-creation of the Kincaid Site from the prehistoric Mississippian culture, as it may have looked at its peak (1050–1400)

The first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge and arrived at least 15,000 years ago, though increasing evidence suggests an even earlier arrival.[27] Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies.[63] The first Europeans to arrive in territory of the modern United States were Spanish conquistadors such as Juan Ponce de León, and made their first contacts in Florida in 1513. The native population declined for various reasons, primarily from diseases such as smallpox and measles. Violence was not a significant factor in the overall decline among American Indians, though conflict among themselves and with Europeans affected specific tribes and various colonial settlements.[64][65][66][67][68][69] In the Hawaiian Islands, the earliest indigenous inhabitants arrived around 1 AD from Polynesia. Europeans under the British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778.

In the early days of colonization, many European settlers were subject to food shortages, disease, and attacks from American Indians. Indians were also often at war with neighboring tribes and allied with Europeans in their colonial wars. At the same time, however, many natives and settlers came to depend on each other. Settlers traded for food and animal pelts, natives for guns, ammunition and other European wares.[70] Natives taught many settlers where, when and how to cultivate corn, beans and squash. European missionaries and others felt it was important to "civilize" the Indians and urged them to adopt European agricultural techniques and lifestyles.[71][72]


Saint Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States (1565)
The signing of the Mayflower Compact, 1620

After Spain sent Columbus on his first voyage to the New World in 1492, other explorers followed. The Spanish set up the first settlements in Florida and New Mexico such as Saint Augustine [73] and Santa Fe. The French established their own as well along the Mississippi River. Successful English settlement on the eastern coast of North America began with the Virginia Colony in 1607 at Jamestown and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. Early experiments in communal living failed until the introduction of private farm holdings.[74] Many settlers were dissenting Christian groups who came seeking religious freedom. The continent's first elected legislative assembly, Virginia's House of Burgesses created in 1619, the Mayflower Compact, signed by the Pilgrims before disembarking, and the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, established precedents for the pattern of representative self-government and constitutionalism that would develop throughout the American colonies.[75][76]

Most settlers in every colony were small farmers, but other industries developed within a few decades as varied as the settlements. Cash crops included tobacco, rice and wheat. Extraction industries grew up in furs, fishing and lumber. Manufacturers produced rum and ships, and by the late colonial period Americans were producing one-seventh of the world's iron supply.[77] Cities eventually dotted the coast to support local economies and serve as trade hubs. English colonists were supplemented by waves of Scotch-Irish and other groups. As coastal land grew more expensive freed indentured servants pushed further west.[78]

A large-scale slave trade with English privateers was begun.[79] The life expectancy of slaves was much higher in North America than further south, because of less disease and better food and treatment, leading to a rapid increase in the numbers of slaves.[80][81] Colonial society was largely divided over the religious and moral implications of slavery and colonies passed acts for and against the practice.[82][83] But by the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were replacing indentured servants for cash crop labor, especially in southern regions.[84]

With the British colonization of Georgia in 1732, the 13 colonies that would become the United States of America were established.[85] All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism.[86] With extremely high birth rates, low death rates, and steady settlement, the colonial population grew rapidly. Relatively small Indian populations were eclipsed.[87] The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty.[88]

During the Seven Years' War (in America, known as the French and Indian War), British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the American Indians, who were being conquered and displaced, the 13 British colonies had a population of over 2.1 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain. Despite continuing new arrivals, the rate of natural increase was such that by the 1770s only a small minority of Americans had been born overseas.[89] The colonies' distance from Britain had allowed the development of self-government, but their success motivated monarchs to periodically seek to reassert royal authority.[90]

Independence and expansion (1776–1865)

The Declaration of Independence: the Committee of Five presenting their draft to the Second Continental Congress in 1776

The American Revolutionary War was the first successful colonial war of independence against a European power. Americans had developed an ideology of "republicanism" asserting that government rested on the will of the people as expressed in their local legislatures. They demanded their rights as Englishmen and "no taxation without representation". The British insisted on administering the empire through Parliament, and the conflict escalated into war.[91]

Following the passage of the Lee Resolution, on July 2, 1776, which was the actual vote for independence, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, which proclaimed, in a long preamble, that humanity is created equal in their unalienable rights and that those rights were not being protected by Great Britain, and declared, in the words of the resolution, that the Thirteen Colonies were independent states and had no allegiance to the British crown in the United States. The fourth day of July is celebrated annually as Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak government that operated until 1789.[92]

Britain recognized the independence of the United States following their defeat at Yorktown in 1781.[93] In the peace treaty of 1783, American sovereignty was recognized from the Atlantic coast west to the Mississippi River. Nationalists led the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in writing the United States Constitution, ratified in state conventions in 1788. The federal government was reorganized into three branches, on the principle of creating salutary checks and balances, in 1789. George Washington, who had led the revolutionary army to victory, was the first president elected under the new constitution. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791.[94]

Although the federal government criminalized the international slave trade in 1808, after 1820, cultivation of the highly profitable cotton crop exploded in the Deep South, and along with it, the slave population.[95][96][97] The Second Great Awakening, especially 1800–1840, converted millions to evangelical Protestantism. In the North, it energized multiple social reform movements, including abolitionism;[98] in the South, Methodists and Baptists proselytized among slave populations.[99]

Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of American Indian Wars.[100] The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory in 1803 almost doubled the nation's area.[101] The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism.[102] A series of military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819.[103] Expansion was aided by steam power, when steamboats began traveling along America's large water systems, which were connected by new canals, such as the Erie and the I&M; then, even faster railroads began their stretch across the nation's land.[104]

U.S. territorial acquisitions–portions of each territory were granted statehood since the 18th century.

From 1820 to 1850, Jacksonian democracy began a set of reforms which included wider white male suffrage; it led to the rise of the Second Party System of Democrats and Whigs as the dominant parties from 1828 to 1854. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that resettled Indians into the west on Indian reservations. The U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845 during a period of expansionist Manifest destiny.[105] The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest.[106] Victory in the Mexican–American War resulted in the 1848 Mexican Cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest.[107]

The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 spurred western migration and the creation of additional western states.[108] After the American Civil War, new transcontinental railways made relocation easier for settlers, expanded internal trade and increased conflicts with American Indians.[109] Over a half-century, the loss of the American bison (sometimes called "buffalo") was an existential blow to many Plains Indians cultures.[110] In 1869, a new Peace Policy sought to protect Native-Americans from abuses, avoid further war, and secure their eventual U.S. citizenship, although conflicts, including several of the largest Indian Wars, continued throughout the West into the 1900s.[111]

Civil War and Reconstruction Era

Differences of opinion and social order between northern and southern states in early United States society, particularly regarding Black slavery, ultimately led to the American Civil War.[112] Initially, states entering the Union alternated between slave and free states, keeping a sectional balance in the Senate, while free states outstripped slave states in population and in the House of Representatives. But with additional western territory and more free-soil states, tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments over federalism and disposition of the territories, whether and how to expand or restrict slavery.[113]

With the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln, the first president from the largely anti-slavery Republican Party, conventions in thirteen slave states ultimately declared secession and formed the Confederate States of America, while the federal government maintained that secession was illegal.[113] The ensuing war was at first for Union, then after 1863 as casualties mounted and Lincoln delivered his Emancipation Proclamation, a second war aim became abolition of slavery. The war remains the deadliest military conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of approximately 618,000 soldiers as well as many civilians.[114]

Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution: the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment provided citizenship to the nearly four million negroes who had been slaves,[115] and the Fifteenth Amendment ensured that they had the right to vote. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power[116] aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves.

Southern white conservatives, calling themselves "Redeemers" took control after the end of Reconstruction. By the 1890–1910 period Jim Crow laws disenfranchised most blacks and some poor whites. Blacks faced racial segregation, especially in the South.[117] Racial minorities occasionally experienced vigilante violence.[118]


Ellis Island in New York City was a major gateway for European immigration.

In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe supplied a surplus of labor for the country's industrialization and transformed its culture.[119] National infrastructure including telegraph and transcontinental railroads spurred economic growth and greater settlement and development of the American Old West. The later invention of electric light and the telephone would also affect communication and urban life.[120]

The end of the Indian Wars further expanded acreage under mechanical cultivation, increasing surpluses for international markets.[121] Mainland expansion was completed by the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.[122] In 1893, pro-American elements in Hawaii overthrew the monarchy and formed the Republic of Hawaii, which the U.S. annexed in 1898. Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines were ceded by Spain in the same year, following the Spanish–American War.[123]

Rapid economic development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries fostered the rise of many prominent industrialists. Tycoons like Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Andrew Carnegie led the nation's progress in railroad, petroleum, and steel industries. Banking became a major part of the economy, with J. P. Morgan playing a notable role. Edison and Tesla undertook the widespread distribution of electricity to industry, homes, and for street lighting. Henry Ford revolutionized the automotive industry. The American economy boomed, becoming the world's largest, and the United States achieved great power status.[124] These dramatic changes were accompanied by social unrest and the rise of populist, socialist, and anarchist movements.[125] This period eventually ended with the advent of the Progressive Era, which saw significant reforms in many societal areas, including women's suffrage, alcohol prohibition, regulation of consumer goods, greater antitrust measures to ensure competition and attention to worker conditions.[126][127][128][129]

World War I, Great Depression, and World War II

U.S. troops approaching Omaha Beach in 1944

The United States remained neutral from the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, until 1917 when it joined the war as an "associated power", alongside the formal Allies of World War I, helping to turn the tide against the Central Powers. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson took a leading diplomatic role at the Paris Peace Conference and advocated strongly for the U.S. to join the League of Nations. However, the Senate refused to approve this, and did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles that established the League of Nations.[130]

In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage.[131] The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of radio for mass communication and the invention of early television.[132] The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, which included the establishment of the Social Security system.[133] The Great Migration of millions of negroes out of the American South began before World War I and extended through the 1960s;[134] whereas the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration.[135]

At first effectively neutral during World War II while Germany conquered much of continental Europe, the United States began supplying material to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend-Lease program. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to join the Allies against the Axis powers.[136] During the war, the United States was referred as one of the "Four Policemen"[137] of Allies power who met to plan the postwar world, along with Britain, the Soviet Union and China.[138][139] Though the nation lost more than 400,000 soldiers,[140] it emerged relatively undamaged from the war with even greater economic and military influence.[141]

The United States played a leading role in the Bretton Woods and Yalta conferences with the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and other Allies, which signed agreements on new international financial institutions and Europe's postwar reorganization. As an Allied victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war.[142] The United States developed the first nuclear weapons and used them on Japan in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; causing the Japanese to surrender on September 2, ending World War II.[143][144] Parades and celebrations followed in what is known as Victory Day, or V-J Day.[145]

Cold War and civil rights era

U.S. President Ronald Reagan at his "Tear down this wall!" speech in Berlin, Germany on June 12, 1987. The Iron Curtain of Europe manifested the division of the world's superpowers during the Cold War.

After World War II the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed for power during what became known as the Cold War, driven by an ideological divide between capitalism and communism[146] and, according to the school of geopolitics, a divide between the maritime Atlantic and the continental Eurasian camps. They dominated the military affairs of Europe, with the U.S. and its NATO allies on one side and the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies on the other. The U.S. developed a policy of containment towards the expansion of communist influence. While the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in proxy wars and developed powerful nuclear arsenals, the two countries avoided direct military conflict.

The United States often opposed Third World movements that it viewed as Soviet-sponsored. American troops fought communist Chinese and North Korean forces in the Korean War of 1950–53.[147] The Soviet Union's 1957 launch of the first artificial satellite and its 1961 launch of the first manned spaceflight initiated a "Space Race" in which the United States became the first nation to land a man on the moon in 1969.[147] A proxy war in Southeast Asia eventually evolved into full American participation, as the Vietnam War.

At home, the U.S. experienced sustained economic expansion and a rapid growth of its population and middle class. Construction of an Interstate Highway System transformed the nation's infrastructure over the following decades. Millions moved from farms and inner cities to large suburban housing developments.[148][149] In 1959 Hawaii became the 50th and last U.S. state added to the country.[150] The growing Civil Rights Movement used nonviolence to confront segregation and discrimination, with