United States of America
Anthem: "The Star-Spangled Banner"
|Largest city||New York City
|Official languages||None at federal level|
|Government||Federal presidential constitutional republic|
|Barack Obama (D)|
|Joe Biden (D)|
|Paul Ryan (R)|
|House of Representatives|
from the Kingdom of Great Britain
|July 4, 1776|
|September 3, 1783|
|June 21, 1788|
|9,826,675 km2 (3,794,100 sq mi) (3rd/4th)|
• Water (%)
• 2013 estimate
|34.2/km2 (88.6/sq mi) (179th)|
|GDP (PPP)||2012 estimate|
|$15.685 trillion (1st)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2012 estimate|
|$15.685 trillion (1st)|
• Per capita
high · 39th (2009)
|HDI (2013)|| 0.937
very high · 3rd
|Time zone||UTC−5 to −10|
• Summer (DST)
|UTC−4 to −10|
|ISO 3166 code||US|
|Internet TLD||.us .gov .mil .edu|
The United States of America (USA), usually called the United States (US) or America is a country in North America. It is made up of 50 states, a federal district, and five territories. It has great influence over world finance, trade, culture, military, politics, and technology.
The first human settlement of the territory of the United States was that of the Native Americans, migrating south and eastwards from Asia, across a land bridge which connected Alaska to Siberia during a period of glaciation. Native American culture within the territory of the United States had reached the level of small cities in the vicinity of Cahokia and in the Pueblos of the Southwest, and settled agricultural villages in much of the eastern part of the United States. In the Great Plains, the Native Americans were migratory nomads.
European contact and settlement
The first European contact with North America was the settlement of Vinland in the vicinity of Newfoundland by the Vikings, around 1000 AD. Viking explorations may have reached into the territory of the United States, but the settlement failed, and very few records remained. Nearly 500 years later, in 1492, Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, reached several islands in the Caribbean Sea. Spanish colonization quickly followed. The first Europeans to reach the North American mainland were the Cabot expedition from Bristol in 1497. Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 claimed Florida for the Spanish. However, Spanish attempts to colonize Florida were unsuccessful until an expedition in 1565 founded St. Augustine, and drove out a French settlement which had been established nearby the year earlier.
The first English settlement in the territory of the United States was the Roanoke Colony, established in 1585, which disappeared around 1590. Throughout this time, English, Dutch, and French fishing vessels began fishing off the coast of New England, and occasionally landing to trade with the native Americans, but the native Americans did not permit settlements. An English colony was established at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, which became the first permanent English settlement in the United States.
Further settlements were made by the English at Plymouth in 1620, by the Dutch at several locations in New Netherlands in 1624 and 1625, and the Swedish at Christiana, Delaware in 1638. Permanent French settlements were established in the territory of Canada in 1599 at Tadoussac and in 1608 at Quebec, but the first permanent French settlements within the boundaries of the United States were not made until 1699 in Louisiana.
The English settlements grew faster than the others, and English military action resulted in the passing of the Dutch, Swedish, and French settlements along the Atlantic coast and Canada under British rule.
The United States
Two million British settlers in 13 colonies (along with German and other immigrants, and African slaves) comprised the Thirteen Colonies of 1775. Angered by deprivation of their historic rights by Britain, they revolted in 1775, and voted to declare independence on July 2, 1776, as the new nation, The United States of America. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, which expressed the nation's commitment to republican ideals, and was signed on July 4, 1776. The war for independence against Britain, in league with France and others, was a success. George Washington, who led the military effort, chaired the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which divided powers between the states and national government, and divided powers in the latter among legislative (Congress), executive (President) and judicial (Supreme Court) branches.
The young nation established the world's first mass political parties in the 1790s. The Democratic party (founded 1828) and the Republican party (founded 1854) have traded control back and forth in the states and nationwide.
The country expanded westward, as the frontier shaped the characteristic American traits of expansion, adventure, violence and democracy. The new territories became states (except for Puerto Rico, which is part of the U.S. but is treated separately). The slavery issue led to the American Civil War when the Republican party elected Abraham Lincoln president in 1860 promising to stop the expansion of slavery, and the South seceded and tried to form a new country. The Confederacy was defeated, the union was saved, the slaves all freed and during Reconstruction the slaves were made citizens and voters.
After the war rapid industrialization and urbanization turned the nation into the strongest economic power. Woodrow Wilson used that power to shape the outcome of World War I. The economy crashed in 1929, causing a worldwide depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt met the challenge with New Deal programs of relief, recovery and reform, and built a Democratic party coalition, the New Deal Coalition, comprising unions, ethnics, city machines and the South, that dominated politics until the 1960s, with a commitment to equality. That commitment expanded to include Civil Rights for blacks after 1960.
The economy fully recovered in World War II, as Roosevelt made the U.S. the arsenal of democracy in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan. The Cold War (1947-1989) was a confrontation between the U.S. and its main allies (western Europe, Japan) on one side and the Soviet Union and its Communist allies on the other. Apart from localized wars in Korea and Vietnam, there were no major conflicts. The U.S. helped split China off from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, opening China up to capitalism and fast economic growth.
With victory in the Cold War in 1989, the U.S. became the world's only superpower, but its use of that power in the Middle East remains controversial. The 9-11 attacks by Muslim terrorists opened a "War on Terror". The economy is marked by steady growth, low unemployment and inflation, rapid advances in technology, a large growing super-rich element, and a high rate of immigration (including 12 million illegal immigrants).
The United States is a federal republic. The federal government of the United States is set up by the Constitution. There are three branches of government. They are the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. State governments and the federal government work in very similar ways. Each state has its own executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch of a state government is led by a governor, instead of a president.
The executive branch is the part of the government that enforces the law. Members of the U.S. Electoral College elect a president who is the leader of the executive branch, as well as the leader of the armed forces. The president may veto a bill that the Congress has passed, so it doesn't become a law. The President may also make "executive orders" to ensure that people follow the law.
The president is in charge of many departments that control much of the day-to-day actions of government. For example, Department of Commerce makes rules about trade. The president chooses the heads of these departments, and also nominates federal judges. However, the Senate, part of the legislative branch, must agree with all of the people the president chooses. The president may serve two 4-year terms.
One house is the House of Representatives. The Representatives are each elected by voters from a set area within a state. The number of Representatives a state has is based on how many people live there. Representatives serve two-year terms. The total number of representatives today is 435. The leader of the House of Representatives is the Speaker of the House.
The other house is the Senate. In the Senate, each state is represented equally, by two senators. Because there are 50 states, there are 100 senators. The President's treaties or appointments of officials need the Senate's approval. Senators serve six-year terms. The Vice President of the United States serves as president of the Senate. In practice, the vice president is usually absent from the Senate, and a senator serves as president pro tempore, or temporary president, of the Senate.
Representatives and senators propose laws, called "bills", in their respective houses. A bill may be voted upon by the entire house right away or may first go to a small group, known as a committee, which may recommend a bill for a vote by the whole house. If one house votes to pass a bill, the bill then gets sent to the other house; if both houses vote for it, it is then sent to the president, who may sign the bill into law or veto it. If the president vetoes the bill, it is sent back to Congress. If Congress votes again and passes the bill with at least a two-thirds majority, the bill becomes law and cannot be vetoed by the president.
Under the American system of federalism, Congress may not make laws that directly control the states; instead, Congress may use the promise of federal funds, or special circumstances such as national emergencies, to encourage the states to follow federal law. This system is both complex and unique.
The Judicial Branch is the part of government that interprets what the law means. The Judicial Branch is made up of the Supreme Court and many lower courts. If the Supreme Court decides that a law is not allowed by the Constitution, the law is said to be "struck down" and is no longer a valid law.
The Supreme Court is made up of nine judges, called justices, who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. One of these justices, called the chief justice, heads the court. A Supreme Court justice serves until he or she dies or resigns (quits in the middle of his or her term). When that happens, the president nominates someone new to replace the justice who left. If the Senate agrees with that choice, the person becomes a justice. If the Senate does not agree with the president's choice, then the president must nominate someone else.
Famous court cases such as Marbury v. Madison (which was decided in 1803) have firmly established that the Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the United States Constitution and has the power to strike down any law that conflicts with it.
The United States of America consists of 50 states, 5 territories and 1 district (Washington D.C.). States can make laws about things inside the state, but federal law is about things dealing with more than one state or dealing with other countries. In some areas, if the federal government makes laws that say different things from the state laws, people must follow the federal law because the state law is not a law any more. Each state has a constitution of its own, different from the federal (national) Constitution. Each of these is like the federal Constitution because they say how each state's government is set up, but some also talk about specific laws.
The federal and most state governments are dominated by two political parties: the Republicans and the Democrats. There are many smaller parties; the largest of these are the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. People help in political campaigns that they like. They try to persuade politicians to help them; this is called lobbying. All Americans are allowed to do these things, but some have and spend more money than others, or in other ways do more in politics. Some people think this is a problem, and lobby for rules to be made to change it.
Since 2009, the president is a Democrat, so Democrats have slightly more power in the federal government. There are still many powerful Republicans who can try to stop the Democrats from doing things that they believe will be bad for the country. Also, the Democrats do not always agree with each other on what to do. And if enough people decide to vote against Democrats in the next election, then they will lose power. In a republic like the United States, no party can do whatever they want. All politicians have to argue, compromise, and make deals with each other to get things done. They have to answer to the people and take responsibility for their mistakes.
The USA's large cultural, economic, and military influence has made the foreign policy of the United States, or relations with other countries, a topic in American politics, and the politics of many other countries.
The country grew from East to West. It conquered and bought lands.
The United States consists of several other lands that are not states. Many of these are colonial territories, and none is on the North American continent. These five places are de facto American places:
The United States has one federal district that was split from a state:
- Washington, D.C., the capital.
New York City is the city that has the most people in it. Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Houston, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, St. Louis, Dallas, and Pittsburgh are also big cities in the United States.
The Philippines (islands) was a possession of the United States. Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and other Pacific island nations were governed by the United States as a United Nations "Trust Territory", but are independent; the Philippines (1946), Palau (1947), Micronesia (1986), etc...
- forests and grass fields on the east coast
- the Appalachian Mountains in the east
- the Great Plains in the middle of the country
- the Mississippi-Missouri river in the middle of the country
- the Rocky Mountains west of the plains
- deserts and coastal areas west of the Rocky Mountains
- forests in the Pacific Northwest
- Arctic regions of Alaska
- volcanic islands in Hawaii
- a long coastline with many beaches
- the everglades in Florida
The climate varies along with the geography, from tropical (hot and wet in summer, warm and dry in winter) in Florida to tundra (cold all year) in Alaska. Large parts of the country have warm summers and cold winters. Some parts of the United States, like parts of California, have a Mediterranean climate.
The United States has a capitalist economy. The country has rich mineral resources, with many gold, coal and uranium deposits. Farming makes the country among the top producers of, among others, corn (maize), wheat, sugar and tobacco. America produces cars, airplanes and electronics. About 3/4 of Americans work in the service industry.
The top 15 trading partners in terms of total trade are:
The United States of America has people of many different race and ethnic backgrounds. 80% of the people in the United States descend from European immigrants. Many people are descended from Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Africa, and Italy. 13% of the people in the United States are African-American. Most of them descend from the African slaves that were brought to America. Asian-Americans make up only 5% of the population in America but make up a bigger portion in the west coast. For example, in California, Asian-Americans make up 13% of the population of that state. Hispanic-Americans or people of Latin origins make up 15% of the nation. The original peoples, called Native American, American Indians, or Amerindians and Inuit (Eskimos) are a very small group.
11% of the people in the United States are foreign born. 18% speak a language other than English at home. For people 25 and older, 80% are high school graduates while 25% have a bachelor's degree or higher.
The 2000 Census counted self-reported ancestry. It identified 43 million German-Americans, 30.5 million Irish-Americans, 24.9 million African-Americans, 24.5 million English-Americans, and 18.4 million Mexican-Americans.
The social structure of the United States has a big range. This means that some Americans are much, much richer than others. The average (median) income for an American was $37,000 a year in 2002. However, the richest 1% of Americans have as much money as the poorest 90%. 51% of all households have access to a computer and 41% had access to the Internet in 2000, a figure which had grown to 75% in 2004. Also, 67.9% of American families owned their homes in 2002. There are 200 million cars in the United States, two for every three Americans. The debt has grown to over $16,000,000,000,000.
There are many different religions in the U.S. Statistically, the largest religion is Christianity, including groups such as Catholicism, Protestantism and Mormonism. Other religions include Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, Wicca, Druidry, Baha'i, Raelism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism and Jainism. Religions which were founded within the United States include Eckankar, Satanism and Scientology. Native American religions have various animistic beliefs.
The United States is one of the most religious countries in the Western World, and most Americans believe in God. The number of Christians in the U.S. has gone down. 86.2% called themselves Christian in 1990 and 78.4% said this in 2007. The others include Judaism (1.7%), Islam (0.8%), Buddhism (0.7%), Hinduism (0.4%), and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%). Those who have no religion are at 16.1%. There is a large difference between those who say that they belong to a religion and those who are members of a religious body of that religion.
Doubts about the existence of a God, gods or goddesses are higher among young people.  Among the non-religious population of the U.S., there are deists, humanists, ignotic, atheists, and agnostics.
|Spanish, incl. Creole||34.5 million|
|French, incl. Creole||2.0 million|
The United States does not have an official language, the United States Congress has considered officially designating English as such for many years, since it is the most used language, and the language in which the United States Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution are written. 38 states out of 50 have English as the official language. Spanish has increased in usage in certain sectors of society, due to a flow of immigrants—especially from Mexico and Cuba. French is also a main language in parts of Louisiana because France once owned the area as a colony.
American popular culture goes out to many places in the world. It has a large influence on most of the world, especially the Western world. American music is heard all over the world, and American movies and television shows can be seen in most countries.
|January 1||New Year's Day||Celebrates the beginning of the year|
|3rd Monday in January||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day||Honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an African-American civil rights leader|
|3rd Monday in February||President's Day||Honors all of the American presidents, but specifically George Washington (b. February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (b. February 12)|
|Last Monday in May||Memorial Day||Honors military servicemen, who gave their lives, also marks the traditional start of summer|
|July 4||Independence Day||Celebrates the Declaration of Independence; otherwise known as "The Fourth of July"|
|1st Monday in September||Labor Day||Celebrates the achievements of workers, and marks the traditional end of summer|
|2nd Monday in October||Columbus Day||Honors Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered the Americas for Europe (not celebrated in some states, like Montana)|
|November 11||Veterans Day||Honors all military servicemen (past and present)|
|4th Thursday in November||Thanksgiving||Gives thanks for God's blessings, and the autumn harvest, and marks the traditional beginning of the "holiday season"|
|December 25||Christmas||Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ (non-Christians celebrate it as a winter holiday)|
The American flag is made up of 50 stars on a blue background, and has 13 stripes, seven red and six white. It is one of many symbols of the United States like the Bald Eagle. The 50 stars represent the 50 states. The red stands for courage. The blue stands for justice. The white represents peace and cleanness. The 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies.
American music is deeply influenced by African-American music, making it different from European music. Elements from folk such as the blues were changed into popular genres with big audiences. Jazz was invented by people like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in the early 20th century. Country music started in the 1920s, and rhythm and blues in the 1940s.
Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry composed rock and roll pieces, and James Brown composed funk pieces. Hip hop and house music is American music. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Madonna have composed pieces in the US, as have artists Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Beyoncé.
Images for kids
The signing of the Mayflower Compact, 1620
The Declaration of Independence: the Committee of Five presenting their draft to the Second Continental Congress in 1776
U.S. troops approaching Omaha Beach in 1944
The bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782.
Congressional leadership meeting with then-President Obama in 2011.
The United Nations Headquarters was built in Midtown Manhattan in 1952.
A tract housing development in San Jose, California.
Apple pie is a food commonly associated with American cuisine.
The Grammy Award is awarded to leading music artists.
The Hollywood Sign in Los Angeles, California
The corporate headquarters of the American Broadcasting Company in New York City
Health spending per capita, in US$ PPP-adjusted, compared amongst various first world nations.
United States Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.