The United States of America is a country of 50 states that stretches across most of North America, with Alaska in the northwest and Hawaii extending its reach into the Pacific Ocean. On the Atlantic Coast, New York City is a global financial and cultural hub; Washington D.C. is the nation’s capital. A world-renowned filmmaking center on the west coast is Hollywood, while Chicago is known for its architecture. In addition to states, the country also has five populated territories and about nine uninhabited small territories.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE UNITED STATES
- Official Name: United States of America
- Date Founded: July 4, 1776; Declaration of Independence from Britain
- Type of Government: Federal presidential constitutional-based republic
- Motto: In God We Trust
- Capital City: Washington D.C.
- Largest City: New York City
- Estimated Population (as of 2021): 331,893,745
- Currency: U.S. Dollar
- National bird: The Bald Eagle
- Official flower: The rose
- Total Size Of The Country: 3,796,742 sq mi (9,833,520 km2)
- Spoken languages: English & Spanish (no official national language)
Native people inhabited a vast area that would become the United States for centuries. The first settlers arrived in the New World in the 16th century, established colonies, and displaced these native peoples.
In 1565, Spaniards arrived at St. Augustine, Florida; in 1587, British settlers landed in present-day Roanoke, Virginia. An additional British colony was established in 1606 in Jamestown, Virginia. A French settlement was founded in Quebec in 1608, and a Dutch colony in New York in 1609. Over the next couple of centuries, increasing numbers of Europeans settled in the New World.
Native American conflict
Native Americans resisted European attempts to gain land and power, but they were often outnumbered and lacked the weapons Europeans possessed. Furthermore, the settlers brought diseases that the native peoples had never encountered, which sometimes had terrible consequences. Native Americans in North America died from an epidemic in 1616 that killed 75 percent of them.
As more people claimed the land where Native Americans lived, fights between settlers and Native Americans erupted often. Between the mid-18th century and the mid-19th century, the U.S. government signed nearly 400 peace agreements with Indigenous tribes. However, most of these treaties were not honored by the government, and military units were sent to remove Native Americans from their lands.
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which granted land west of the Mississippi River to Native American tribes who agreed to give up their lands. That, however, went against other treaties he had signed with Native American tribes in the Southeast. Jackson used legal and military means to remove several tribes from their homelands and terminated nearly 70 treaties during his presidency.
In the mid-19th century, most Native American tribes had been wiped out or moved to much smaller areas in the Midwest.
The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was drafted by colonists living in New England in 1776, stating that the colonies were tired of being ruled by Great Britain (now called the United Kingdom). After winning their independence, the settlers formed a union of states based on a new constitution. Despite the Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal,” millions of people were enslaved in the new nation.
A brief history of slavery in the United States
As early as 1619, boats brought enslaved Africans to North America. Over the following centuries, more than 12.5 million people were kidnapped from Africa and sold at ports throughout the Americas due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Nearly four million enslaved people lived in the country by 1860. Sugar, cotton, and tobacco flourished in the South due to free labor. Enslaved people built the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
The nation had argued about slavery and each state’s right to allow it for more than a century when Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861. His goal was to abolish slavery. The majority of people in the northern states agreed with him. However, some southerners relied on slave labor to farm their crops and did not want slavery to end. As a result, the Confederate States of America was formed by 11 southern states to oppose the remaining 23 northern states. On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began.
People who wanted to end slavery fought against the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War. Midway through the war, Lincoln delivered his famous Emancipation Proclamation speech, freeing enslaved people. But, unfortunately, Union forces won the Civil War two years later.
In the same year, the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery and ended nearly 250 years of slavery in America. Racism, however, persisted. Both formerly enslaved people and their descendants struggled with discrimination, and African American heroes still fight for equality today.
The 20th century: Progress & wars
As the United States expanded westward after the Civil War, it declared the West fully explored in 1890. Around five million people lived in 1800, but by 1900 there were over 80 million.
In the early 1900s, the United States experienced a period of progress. Among the reasons for this was the large number of immigrants seeking work in the country. Fifteen million immigrants from Italy, Russia, and Poland arrived in the United States between 1900 and 1915. Gold mines and garment factories were among the places where the new citizens worked, along with railroads and canals. In addition, the immigrants introduced new ideas and cultures to the young country.
Industrialization also took place during the 20th century. In the 1920s, automobiles and airplanes led to an increase in factory jobs and a major shift in how people lived and worked.
It wasn’t all easy, though. During World War I, the United States fought alongside Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, and Japan against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire (now known as Turkey).
Then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt led the country during the Second World War, alongside allies France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union (now Russia), against Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Following World Wars I and II and the Great Depression, the United States became known as a progressive country. During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, America saw great innovation. For example, NASA explored astronautics and space exploration in 1958. As a result, NASA landed the first human on the moon in 1969.
During these three decades, Americans of all backgrounds fought for equal rights for their fellow citizens as they fought for civil rights in the country. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most famous speeches associated with the civil rights movement. In addition, people of color achieved historical firsts during these decades, including Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian American elected to the Congress in 1957; Thurgood Marshall becoming the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court in 1967; and Shirley Chisholm becoming the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968.
In the late 1900s, the United States government was involved in several wars, including the Vietnam War, a conflict between North and South Vietnam in which it supported South Vietnam; the Cold War, a period of non-violent tensions between the United States and the former Soviet Union, now Russia; and the Gulf War, which involved more than 30 nations, led by the United States against Iraq.
A terrorist attack on the United States
Despite its relative youth, the United States had become a global power by the dawn of the 21st century. However, this power was perceived as a threat by some.
Nineteen terrorists hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001, to protest U.S. involvement in world affairs. New York City’s World Trade Center was hit by two of the aircraft. Another plane collided with the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C. The fourth plane went down in a Pennsylvania field. About 3,000 people died.
After 9/11, then-president George W. Bush Jr dispatched troops to Afghanistan. In addition to Osama bin Laden, he hoped to capture those responsible for the attacks. Then, in 2003, Bush sent troops to Iraq after rumors spread that the country was hiding dangerous weapons that the president wanted to discover and destroy.
The United States is still engaged in “the war on terrorism” today, even after bin Laden was found and killed in 2011.
A Pandemic & Historical Firsts
The United States made more progress in the 21st century, particularly at its highest levels of government. As the first African American president of the United States, Barack Obama was elected in 2008. In addition, Kamala Harris was elected vice president in 2020, the first person of color selected.
Also during the early 2000s, Donald Trump, the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, was elected in 2016; and Joe Biden, the oldest person to be elected president, was elected in 2020. The United States also endured the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and the rest of the world.
With a population of nearly 335 million, the United States is the world’s third-largest country. On the West, the country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean; on the east, it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. Canada and Mexico form the northern and southern borders, respectively. The country is divided into 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The United States is twice the size of the European Union, with high mountains in the West and a vast plain in the middle. Death Valley is the lowest point in the country at -282 feet (86 meters), and the highest peak is Denali (Mt. McKinley) at 20,320 feet (6,198 meters).
The American Culture and People
Immigrants have shaped the United States throughout its history. Many people worldwide come here seeking refuge and a better life.
Six regions make up the United States: New England, the mid-Atlantic, the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the West. In search of religious freedom, Europeans migrated to New England. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont also attracted many people from Europe in those early years.
Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and the city of Washington D.C., are among the mid-Atlantic states. These industrial areas attracted millions of European immigrants, resulting in the rise of some of the largest cities on the East Coast: New York City, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.
Among the states in the South were Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, all of which struggled after the Civil War, which ended in 1865.
“The nation’s breadbasket,” the Midwest is home to the country’s agricultural base. It consists of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Prairies and deserts make up the landscape of the Southwest. Southwest states Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas are home to some of the world’s greatest natural wonders, including the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns.
With its rolling plains and cowboys, the American West represents the pioneering spirit of the United States. The West is diverse, from endless wildernesses to barren deserts and coral reefs to Arctic tundra, Hollywood to Yellowstone. Alaska, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming are among the West’s states.
Governance & Politics
Every four years, citizens over 18 vote for the President and Vice President of the United States. Washington, D.C., is the capital city of the United States and home to the White House.
House of Representatives and Senate are the two houses of Congress. Senate members are elected six years at a time, two from each state. Every two years, 435 representatives are elected.
There are nine justices on the Supreme Court, chosen by the president and approved by Congress.
Barack Obama became the first African American president in the nation’s history in 2008. In 2012, he was reelected to a second term.
The U.S. has established itself as a world leader economically, militarily, and technologically in the past 100 years. For example, the United States is the world’s primary coal supplier.
The Natural World
From tropical beaches in Florida to peaks in the Rocky Mountains, from rolling prairies and barren deserts in the West to dense wilderness areas in the Northeast and Northwest, the landscape of the United States varies considerably. The Great Lakes, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Valley, and the Mississippi River are throughout the country.
In the same way that the landscape is diverse, so is the wildlife. Previously, bison roamed freely across the plains, but now only live in preserves. The largest carnivores are black bears, grizzlies, and polar bears. The majority of flower species are from Europe. Over 400 areas are protected and maintained by the National Park Service and many other parks throughout each state.
As a protected species, the bald eagle is the nation’s symbol and national bird.
The IMF estimates that the U.S. gross domestic product of $22.7 trillion constitutes 24% of the world’s gross domestic product at market exchange rates and over 16% at purchasing power parity. As of February 2, 2022, the United States owed $30 trillion in debt.
Although U.S. exports per capita are relatively low, the country is the second-largest importer of goods. As of 2010, the government had a $635 billion trade deficit. Its top trading partners are Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and the European Union.
U.S. real compounded annual GDP growth from 1983 to 2008 was 3.3%, compared to a weighted average of 2.3% for the rest of the G7. Nominal GDP per capita in the nation ranks fifth, and PPP GDP per capita ranks seventh. The U.S. dollar is the world’s most important reserve currency.
86.4% of the economy was accounted for by the private sector in 2009. Despite reaching a post-industrial level of development, the United States remains a significant industrial power. Approximately 51% of American workers were employed in August 2010. In terms of employment, the public sector employs 21.2 million people. With 16.4 million people employed, health care and social assistance are the largest private sector. Most other high-income countries have a more significant welfare state and redistribute income through government action less.
In addition to not guaranteeing paid vacation, the United States is one of the few countries without paid family leave. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74% of full-time American workers have access to paid sick leave, but only 24% of part-time workers do.
The United States Military
Washington, D.C., is home to the Pentagon, which houses the U.S. Department of Defense.
According to the Constitution, the president appoints the secretary of defence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff as leaders of the United States Armed Forces. In addition to the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Space Force, five of the six branches of the Department of Defense are headquartered at the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.
Another armed forces branch, the Coast Guard, is administered by Homeland Security during peacetime and transferred to the Navy during wartime. In 2019, all six branches of the U.S. Armed Forces reported 1.4 million personnel on active duty. In addition, 2.3 million troops were added by the Reserves and National Guard. Including contractors, the Department of Defense employs about 700,000 civilians.
USS George Washington (CVN 73) is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
In the United States, military service is voluntary, though conscription may occur through the Selective Service System during wartime. Military service was mandatory from 1940 to 1973, including during periods of peace. In addition to the Navy’s eleven aircraft carriers, the Air Force can quickly deploy its XVIII Airborne Corps and 75th Ranger Regiment by an aircraft carrier and Marine Expeditionary Units for deployment at sea with the Navy.
Through its fleet of strategic bombers, the Air Force strikes targets worldwide, maintains air defense across the United States, and provides close air support to Army and Marine Corps ground forces. The Space Force operates the Global Positioning System, the Eastern and Western Ranges for all launches into orbit, and the United States Space Surveillance and Missile Warning systems. In addition, the military operates about 800 bases and facilities in 25 countries where more than 100 active duty personnel are deployed.
The U.S. military spending in 2019 was $649 billion, or 36% of global military spending. Saudi Arabia spent the most on military expenditures as a percentage of GDP, at 4.7%.
The Department of Defense funds roughly half of U.S. federal research and development. Historically, the share of the U.S. defense budget in the overall economy has declined, from 14.2% of GDP in 1953 and 69.5% of federal spending in 1954 to 4.7% of GDP and 18.8% of federal spending in 2011. U.S. armed forces have the third-largest combined strength in the world, behind the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and Indian Armed Forces.
The United States is one of nine countries with nuclear weapons and one of five nuclear weapons states. Nuclear weapons are its second-largest stockpile, behind Russia’s. The United States owns more than 40% of the world’s 14,000 nuclear weapons.