The United States of America (U.S.A.), also referred to as the United States (U.S.), America¹, or the States, is a federal republic in North America and the Pacific Ocean (the islands of Hawaii, and the Aleutians). It extends from the Atlantic coast in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west. It shares land borders with Canada in the north and Mexico in the south, shares a marine border with Russia in the west, and has a collection of districts, territories, and possessions around the world including Puerto Rico, Midway Atoll, and Guam. The country has fifty states, which have a level of local autonomy according to the system of federalism. A United States citizen is usually identified as an American¹.
The United States traces its national origin to the declaration by thirteen Britishcolonies in 1776 that they were free and independent states. Before the British, and in terms of territory, the Dutch, Spanish and French had a stronger foothold on the New Continent where Native Americans (also called American Indians, Red Indians, or Indians, though the terms are inaccurate and now considered offensive) had lived for thousands of years. Since the mid-20th century, it has surpassed all other nations in contemporary economic, political, military and cultural influence.
The United States of America consists of 50 states with limited autonomy in which federal law takes precedence over state law. In general, matters that lie entirely within state borders are the exclusive concern of state governments. These include internal communications; regulations relating to property, industry, business, and public utilities; the state criminal code; and working conditions within the state.
The various state constitutions differ in some details but generally follow a pattern similar to that of the federal Constitution, including a statement of the rights of the people and a plan for organizing the government. On such matters as the operation of businesses, banks, public utilities and charitable institutions, state constitutions are often more detailed and explicit than the federal Constitution. In recent years, the federal government has assumed broader responsibility in such matters as health, education, welfare, transportation, housing and urban development.
The federal and state government is dominated by two political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. The dominant political culture in the United States is, as a whole, somewhat to the right of the dominant political culture in European democracies. Given their complex support bases it is difficult to specifically categorize the two major parties' appeal. Within the United States political culture, the Republican Party is described as center-right and the Democratic Party is described as center-left. Minor party and independent candidates are very occasionally elected, usually to local or state office, but the United States political system has historically supported "catch all parties" rather than coalition governments. The ideology and policies of the sitting President of the United States commonly play a large role in determining the direction of his political party, as well as the platform of the opposition.
Political parties in the United States do not have formal "leaders" unlike many other countries, although there are complex hierarchies within the political parties that form various executive committees. Party ideology remains very individually-driven, with a diverse spectrum of moderates, centrists, and radicals within each party.
The two parties exist on both the state and federal level, although the parties' organization, platform, and ideologies are not necessarily uniform across all levels of government.
Both major parties draw some support from all the diverse socio-economic classes which compose the mature multi-ethnic capitalist society which makes up the United States. Business interests provide support to both parties. Funding and support to the Republican Party comes from morality and Christian groups, while labor unions and minority ethnic groups provide support to the Democrats. However the major source of funding to both parties comes from the business community. Because elections in the United States are among the most expensive in the world access to funds is vital in the political system due to the financial costs of mounting political campaigns. Thus, through lobbying, corporations, unions, and other organized groups that provide funds and political support to parties and politicians play the largest role in determining political agendas and government decision-making.
The immense cultural, economic, and military influence of the United States has made foreign relations an especially important topic in its politics, with considerable concern about the image of the United States throughout the world.
At the time of the United States Declaration of Independence, the thirteen colonies transformed themselves into states, initially connected in a loose confederation, and later united as a unified country (cf. the United States). In the following years, the number of states within the U.S. grew steadily, due to western expansion, the conquest and purchase of lands by the national government, and the subdivision of existing states, resulting in the current total of fifty. The states are generally divided into smaller administrative regions: counties, cities and townshipss.
As the world's third largest nation (total area), the United States landscape varies greatly: temperate forestland on the East coast, mangrove forests in Florida, the Great Plains in the center of the country, the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the Rocky Mountains west of the plains, deserts and temperate coastal zones west of the Rocky Mountains and temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest. The arctic regions of Alaska and the volcanic islands of Hawaii only increase the geographic and climatic diversity.
The climate varies along with the landscape, from sub-tropical in Florida to tundra in Alaska. Large parts of the country have a continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Some parts of the United States, particularly parts of California, have a Mediterranean climate.
There are also points that extend far in one direction in the United States, just like any other country. Each point extends farther than any other area of land in the United States in a certain direction. (See Extreme Points of the United States for more information).
The U.S. economy is marked by steady growth, low unemployment, low inflation, a large trade deficit and rapid advances in technology; its economy can be regarded as the most important in the world. Several countries have coupled their currency with the dollar, or even use it as a currency, and the U.S. stock markets are globally seen as an indicator of world economy.