|United States of America|
|Motto: In God We Trust (official)
E Pluribus Unum (traditional)
(Latin: Out of Many, One)
|Anthem: "The Star-Spangled Banner"
|Largest city||New York City|
|Official language(s)||None at federal level[a]|
|National language||English (de facto)[b]|
|Government||Federal presidential constitutional republic|
|-||President||Barack Obama (D)|
|-||Vice President||Joe Biden (D)|
|-||Speaker of the House||John Boehner (R)|
|-||Chief Justice||John Roberts|
|-||Lower House||House of Representatives|
|Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain|
|-||Declared||July 4, 1776|
|-||Recognized||September 3, 1783|
|-||Current constitution||June 21, 1788|
|-||Total||9,826,675 km2 [c](3rd/4th)
3,794,101 sq mi
|-||2011 estimate||322,785,000 (3rd)|
|GDP (PPP)||2011 estimate|
|-||Total||$15.065 trillion (1st)|
|-||Per capita||$48,147 (8th)|
|GDP (nominal)||2011 estimate|
|-||Total||$15.065 trillion (1st)|
|-||Per capita||$48,147 (15th)|
|Gini (2007)||45.0 (39th)|
|HDI (2010)||0.902 (very high) (4th)|
|Currency||United States dollar ($) (
|Time zone||(UTC−5 to −10)|
|-||Summer (DST)||(UTC−4 to −10)|
|Date formats||m/d/yy (AD)|
|Drives on the||right|
|Internet TLD||.us .gov .mil .edu|
|^ a. English is the official language of at least 28 states—some sources give a higher figure, based on differing definitions of "official". English and Hawaiian are both official languages in the state of Hawaii.
^ b. English is the de facto language of American government and the sole language spoken at home by 80% of Americans age five and older. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language.
^ c. Whether the United States or the People's Republic of China is larger is disputed. The figure given is from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook. Other sources give smaller figures. All authoritative calculations of the country's size include only the 50 states and the District of Columbia, not the territories.^ d. The population estimate includes people whose usual residence is in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, including noncitizens. It does not include either those living in the territories, amounting to more than 4 million U.S. citizens (most in Puerto Rico), or U.S. citizens living outside the United States.
The United States of America—also referred to as the United States, the USA, the U.S., America, or (archaically) Columbia–is a federal republic of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each of the 50 states has a high level of local autonomy under the system of federalism.
The United States was born as a nation with the Declaration of Independence made by the 13 colonies on July 4, 1776. It was recognized internationally by the Treaty of Paris (1783) after the defeat of British forces in the Revolutionary War. Its roots, however, begin in the seventeenth century, when British, Dutch, and German colonists began migrating to North America seeking freedom and economic opportunity. They included Puritans, Quakers, and others who wanted to freely practice their religion; many of these devout men and women thought of America as God's "new Israel," a place to build a godly society that would become a beacon of hope to the world. This can be called America's Protestant root, one which has had a lasting impress on its identity. Equally important were the motives and hopes of people seeking economic freedom in a new land without the restrictions of European class society; they came, from the colonists of Jamestown (1609) to the later waves of immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The frontier would encourage this love of freedom and its endless possibilities; anyone, regardless of his or her background, could become wealthy by self-reliance and hard work under a system of free-market capitalism. America's identity is thus rooted in the power of these two universal ideas – the exemplary society and the land of freedom and opportunity. In this it is unique among nations, which by and large base their identity on ethnicity or tribe: Germany for Germans, Japan for Japanese, and so on. The idea of America transcending ethnicity made it a successful multi-ethnic society.
From the beginning, slavery and racism have been the nemesis of the United States. Slavery, considered essential by plantation owners in the South, was reluctantly permitted in the Constitution, even though it contradicted the universal rights that were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and violated the Protestant conscience (as expressed in the Abolitionist movement). The struggle to establish full rights for all Americans would lead to a bloody Civil War (1861–1865) that abolished slavery, and a hundred years later the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. finally ended legal racial discrimination and set the U.S. on the course to becoming a genuinely color-blind society.
In the nineteenth century, the U.S. became an industrial power. The nation became a center for invention and technological development; major technologies that America either developed or was greatly involved in improving are electricity, the telephone, the automobile, television, computers, the Internet, nuclear power, air travel, space travel, and genetic engineering. With its new-found might and its native idealism, in the twentieth century America took a major role on the world stage as a defender of democracy in World War I, World War II, and the Cold War (which included the Korean and the Vietnam Wars). In the twenty-first century, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has been acting as the world's only superpower, and yet in the face of new challenges like the ambiguities of the War on Terrorism it is unsure of how to define its role in the world.
The European colonization of the Americas began after Christopher Columbus (re)discovered them in 1492. There is speculation that Norwegian expeditions to North America led by Leif Eriksson c. 1000 C.E. and the Chinese to South America c. 1421 predated Columbus. Yet the saga of the United States began with Columbus's European discovery.
In the seventeenth century, many British, Dutch, and German colonists began migrating to North America seeking freedom and economic opportunity. In the North, many colonists included Puritans, Quakers, and others who wanted to freely practice their religion. Some thought of it as God's new Israel and set out to build the Kingdom of God in America. In the South, many plantations were built to export agricultural products to Europe. In 1754, at the Albany Congress, Benjamin Franklin made the first serious proposal for a union of British colonies in North America. However, the colonists became increasingly frustrated by British rule and, in 1776, 13 colonies issued the Declaration of Independence. They formed a confederation of states in 1777, which was ratified in 1781 as the Articles of Confederation. This government failed because it was unable to raise revenues to pay for the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). George Washington called the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and after long debate, the United States Constitution was adopted in 1789, forming the world's first constitutional federal republic. The young republic was confirmed after it survived British invasion in the War of 1812.
From the beginning, slavery has been the nemesis of the United States. The practice of slavery, considered essential by plantation owners in the South, was inherited from colonial rule. At the founding, it was reluctantly allowed by northerners with the hope that the practice would eventually be phased out. Some viewed it as denying people rights that were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. However, the practice continued in the South, and when efforts were made to expand the practice into new territories, and supported by the Supreme Court with the Dred Scott decision, it became an issue that helped precipitate the Civil War (1861–1865).
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, people seeking freedom and prosperity poured into the United States from Europe. New states were added to the original 13 as the nation expanded across the North American continent, obtaining territories held by Spain, France, Mexico, Britain, and Russia. Many Native American nations were destroyed and resettled in the process. The U.S. became an industrial power as trade protection, banking reforms, and corporate legislation helped domestic companies expand. The country flexed its naval muscle in the Spanish-American War (1898), which led to the acquisition of overseas territories in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
The twentieth century has been termed "the American Century," despite the hardships of the Great Depression (1929–1939). The nation became a center for invention and technological development; major technologies that America either developed or was greatly involved in improving are electricity, the telephone, the automobile, television, computers, the Internet, nuclear power, air travel, space travel, and genetic engineering.
The United States took a major role on the world stage as the defender of democracy in World War I, World War II, the Cold War (which included the Korean and the Vietnam Wars), and the Gulf War. After World War II the United States emerged as one of two superpowers, the other being the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States was left as the world's leading military power. It became involved in police actions and peacekeeping beginning in the 1990s, through United Nations actions in Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, and Liberia, and NATO actions in Libya.
After terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. started a war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and later a war in Iraq. These attempts to reign in Islamic fundamentalism and bring democracy and political stability to the Middle East by the use of military force have met with only limited success. They challenge the United States to rethink its role in the world and how it can best deal with an increasingly pluralistic world and an unlimited budget.
The 13 colonies which formed the United States were based on different philosophies and religions within Western Civilization. Puritans settled in New England, Baptists in Rhode Island, Quakers in Pennsylvania, Roman Catholics in Maryland, Dutch Reformed in New York, and Episcopalians in Virginia. Unity among these religious faiths could only be achieved through a national philosophy that was general and tolerant.
Benjamin Franklin's own philosophy paralleled that of the American founding. Born to a candlemaker in Puritan Boston, he became a wealthy self-made publisher, philosopher, and world-renowned scientist in Philadelphia, the most cosmopolitan city in the colonies, where free religious expression was cherished. Franklin personally donated money to every church in Philadelphia, to the revivalist preacher George Whitefield, and to the Jewish synagogue, under the philosophy that religion by whatever name promotes the moral rectitude and spiritual self-discipline required of a free people. Franklin also founded the American Philosophical Society. When Thomas Paine wanted to publish his manuscript on the errors and contradictions in Christianity and the Bible, Franklin told him to burn it because it was not constructive and could undermine the morality of the people.
While fighting a common enemy in the English crown, most people in the United States, regardless of religion, agreed that certain truths were universal and self-evident: that human beings were created equal and they desired life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This was the sacred bedrock of their philosophy enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. They believed in a Creator whose laws governed the universe and they attempted to create a more perfect system of justice that reflected these universal laws. Based on their study of history, philosophy, and literature (the Bible, ancient Greece, Rome, and modern European philosophy), they developed a constitution that also emphasized personal freedom and responsibility, equal justice and checks and balances on power.
In the philosophy of the founders, families and religions in the private sphere, not the government, were responsible for the cultivation of citizens capable of self-governance and democracy. Checks and balances on power prevented anyone from abusing power and becoming a tyrant (like the king in England). No earthly authority was entitled to absolute power; that was left to the Creator. The Constitution also prevented any faith from being established as a national religion. This led to a very lively free market in religion.
Many early Christian colonists believed that God would work through them to establish God's sovereignty in America, that the Old World was in the clutches of Satan, and that America was reserved for the "last days," when a "new heaven and a new earth" would appear. They were a "second Israel," "God's faithful remnant," in a new land. Such biblical language was adapted to the unique situation in which these fervent believers found themselves building afresh and having these views reinforced in church sermons every Sunday. Many communities and towns were given biblical names like "New Canaan" in Connecticut, or theological terms like "Providence" in Rhode Island.
The theme of God's Sovereignty corresponded to the Founders' notion of a Supreme Being, whose laws governed the universe, and of which their laws were to be a reflection. This theme was present during the Constitutional Convention when Benjamin Franklin gave an impassioned speech urging delegates to put aside petty interests for the sake of future generations. For Franklin and others, they had a special chance to create a new model of government for the world. Jacksonian Democrats who spoke of expansion referred to the Manifest Destiny of the United States.
This founding philosophy first faced the test of slavery, which contradicted the principles of freedom and "unalienable rights" that America stands for. Strengthened by waves of Christian revivals in the 1840s, Americans in the North and West flocked to the cause of Abolitionism, generating the moral fervor that helped fuel the Civil War.
However, as popular theology in the nineteenth century shifted from the "Sovereignty of God" to the more limited Christocentic idea of the "Reign of Christ," a number of Protestants attempted to challenge the more inclusive society envisioned by the Founders. Persecutions followed in which Freemasons and Deists, whose philosophy most closely corresponded to the more liberal founders, were publicly made to stand up in churches and renounce their belief. Roman Catholics were widely persecuted to the point where they felt they had to create private schools to protect their children.
In response, nineteenth-century liberals and transcendentalists, exemplified by Ralph Waldo Emerson, secularized the theme of the special role of the United States as a leader in human progress. The United States itself, rather than God, became the rescuer, the safe haven, and the land of hope. This theme is stamped in bronze on the Statue of Liberty with the poetic imagery of Emma Lazarus:
Beginning in the 1870s, progressivists, increasingly influenced by Darwinism and Marxism, lobbied for government social-welfare programs to supplement what they saw as inadequate programs run by the churches. Progressives, often with an atheistic faith, were as far to the left of the Enlightenment thinkers as Christian revivalists were to the right.
Meanwhile, the moral idealism of Protestantism continued to leaven American society. The popular theme promoted by the churches to the masses in this period of progressivism was perfectionism and the literal building of the Kingdom of God in America with a theology known as the social gospel. Orphanages and schools for poor workers, such as Hull House founded by Jane Addams, encouraged the ethic of compassion and solidarity with slum-dwellers as society industrialized. Andrew Carnegie and other business tycoons began the tradition of American philanthropy, based on the belief that their wealth was ultimately a gift of God and should be used according to the tenets of the Gospels. The moral crusading continued with Prohibitionists crusading against public intoxication.
The twentieth century saw America's idealism channeled into safeguarding democracy abroad, through participation in World War I and World War II, as well as the Cold War. Fighting the evil represented by the Nazi regime, and later the communist regimes that were enslaving millions, gave Americans a sense that they were truly fulfilling the special role for which divine Providence had prepared the nation.
Yet, any certainty about America's role in the world was undone in the late twentieth century by a "culture war" between the conservative right and the liberal left. Yet neither side's narrow and partial philosophy that represented special interests was by itself capable of sustaining national life. The growth of the welfare state, decried by the right, and the influence of corporations on government, attacked by the left, gave an additional economic dimension to this conflict, that eventually came at the expense of the Middle Class. This led to the rise of a "Tea Party" that emphasized limited government and the virtues of thrift and self-reliance. Also at issue was America's attitude towards the United Nations: many on the right see American exceptionalism as making it morally superior to the quarreling and corrupt UN system, while many on the left believe America should be a partner with the UN in creating a multilateral world order. Hence, even though the United States found itself the sole superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it became a nation deeply divided over its sense of purpose and place in the world.
There are three levels of government in the United States—federal, state, and local. All of these are elected by the American people.
The federal government is the national government. The Constitution of the United States initially limited the powers of the federal government to defense, foreign affairs, printing money, controlling trade and relations between the states, and protecting human rights. However, the federal government has increasingly overstepped these bounds, especially in welfare and education. The federal government is made up of the Congress (the legislative branch), the President (the executive branch), and the Supreme Court (the judicial branch). These three branches were intended to supply checks and balances on each other.
The Congress is a bicameral lawmaking institution composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate, both of which meet in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The House has 435 representatives, also called congressmen and congresswomen, who are elected by the people of a congressional district to represent that district for a term of two years. The number of districts for each state depends on the size of the population of the state, but each state has at least one representative. During the 2000 United States census, the districts had an average size of about 640,000 people.
The Senate consists of 100 senators, who are also elected by the people of a state to represent that state for a term of six years. Each state has two senators, regardless of its size. The Constitution initially gave the power to elect senators to the state legislatures; the 17th Amendment (1913) transferred this ability to the people, eliminating an important check and balance on power between the two houses that the founders intended.
At the top of the executive branch is the President of the United States, who acts as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. The President signs laws into action and can also issue pardons. He has few other Constitutional duties, among them being the requirement to give a State of the Union address to Congress periodically. Since counting began with Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (1862), U.S. Presidents have issued nearly 14,000 executive orders, which are like edicts or decrees. The Supreme Court has rarely challenged the practice, and it has become a common way for the president to increase his power.
Congress has its own ways of checking the powers of an excessively imperial President through its control of the budget and appropriations, through the Senate's role in the approval process of cabinet appointments, by holding congressional hearings to expose presidential wrongdoings, and by its power to impeach the President and other high officials in the executive branch.
Below the President is the Vice President, who is first in line of succession and is the President of the Senate, with the ability to cast a tie-breaking vote. Both of these are elected by the people via an electoral college for four-year terms.
Next are the members of the Cabinet. These are positions created by the President to assist in performing his or her executive duties. The departments they head include the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, and the State Department.
The Constitution instructed the Congress to establish a Supreme Court and inferior courts as necessary. The Supreme Court initially had six justices and its number stabilized at nine in 1869. The Supreme Court was intended to interpret the law and to decide on conflicts between states. A case could be appealed from a state court to a federal court only if there was a federal question, the supreme court of a state was to be the final authority on the interpretation of that state's laws and constitution, which governed relations among citizens of states. The Supreme Court can declare legislation made at any level of the government as unconstitutional, nullifying the law and creating precedent for future law and decisions.
Some have complained that the Supreme Court sometimes exceeds its Constitutional mandate by de facto creating laws, not just interpreting them. For example, after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment (1868) was passed for the purpose of guaranteeing the rights of former slaves. However, it has primarily been used to give the federal government authority on economic and social matters that the founders had intended to be the jurisdiction of states. On the other hand, the President and/or Congress can reign in a court that they regard as excessively activist through the process of appointing new justices to fill vacancies on the Court.
Below the Supreme Court are the courts of appeals, and below them are the district courts, which are the general trial courts for federal law.
The state governments have the greatest influence over people's daily lives. Each state originally had citizens from different religious and cultural backgrounds. Each has its own written constitution and has different laws. The highest elected official of each state is the governor. Each state also has an elected legislature with one or two houses, whose members represent the different parts of the state. Of note is the New Hampshire legislature, which is the third-largest legislative body in the English-speaking world, and has one representative for every 3,000 people. Each state maintains its own judiciary, with the lowest level typically being county courts and culminating in each state supreme court, though sometimes named differently. In some states, supreme and lower court justices are elected by the people; in others, they are appointed, as they are in the federal system.
The institutions responsible for local government at the town, city, or county levels make laws that affect their particular area. These laws concern issues such as traffic, zoning and land use, and law enforcement. The highest elected official of a town or city is usually the mayor.
The Constitution gave the president the authority to conduct foreign policy. In his Farewell Address, George Washington stated that the United States should form no alliances and should seek good trade relations with all nations. Except for expansion within North America, the United States adhered to this policy until the 1890s. At that time the United States began to build up a navy for the purpose of guaranteeing secure trade routes overseas. Shortly thereafter the U.S. began to exercise its muscle in "gunboat diplomacy," taking Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1898). The United States has had peaceful relations with Canada, its largest trading partner, throughout its history.
At the end of the nineteenth century, many Americans began to support international institutions for world peace. Andrew Carnegie donated funds to build a house for the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Theodore Roosevelt supported the use of the Court to settle a dispute between Japan and Russia. However, Roosevelt refused to allow the Hawaiians to bring the United States to the Court to discuss the occupation of Hawaii. The United States eventually allied with France and Britain in World War I, motivated by the ideal of safeguarding democracy. After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson lobbied Europe for fairer treatment of Germany and support for a League of Nations; however, the country returned to isolationism until Hitler had taken much of Europe and Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. After World War II, the United States was a key player in the formation of the United Nations. It was a time when America was at the peak of influence around the world, as the exemplar of democracy and freedom, and having demonstrated generosity even to its former enemies Germany and Japan.
During World War II the United States developed a large military supply industry that it continued to expand as an arms race with the Soviet Union continued through the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States emerged as the world's sole superpower. However, rather than enjoying its status, perceived unilateralism and inconsistency in U.S. foreign policy has led to growing suspicion around the world.
With the Declaration of Independence, the 13 colonies were for a brief time each nation-states modeled after the European states of the time. However, with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, they surrendered certain powers to the federal government but retained the majority of legislative authority for themselves. 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 50. By the end of the Civil War, the Union had become a nation-state in its own right, while the states had lost most of their autonomy. The states are generally divided into smaller administrative regions, including counties, cities, and townships. Several autonomous territories, or reservations, have been set aside for Native Americans by treaty.
The United States also holds several other territories, districts and possessions, notably the District of Columbia, which is the nation's capital, and several overseas possessions, the most significant of which are Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States has held a Naval Base at an occupied portion of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since 1898. The United States government claims a lease to this land, which only mutual agreement or U. S. abandonment of the area can terminate. The Cuban government disputes this arrangement.
The armed forces of the United States of America consist of:
The combined U.S. Armed Forces consists of 1.4 million active duty personnel along with several hundred thousand each in the Reserves and National Guard. There is currently no conscription. The U.S. Armed Forces is the most powerful military in the world and their force projection capabilities are unrivaled by any other single nation.
The United States is located primarily in central North America. It has land borders with Canada and Mexico, as well as several territorial water boundaries with Canada, Russia, Cuba, 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 Straits of Florida. Two of the 50 states, Alaska and Hawaii, are not contiguous with any of the other states. The United States also has several territories and possessions around the world.
As the world's third-largest country (by total area), the U.S. landscape varies greatly: temperate forestland and rolling hills on the East Coast, mangrove in Florida, the Great Plains in the center of the country, the Mississippi–Missouri river system, the Great Lakes which are shared with Canada, the Rocky Mountains west of the plains, deserts and temperate coastal zones west of the Rocky Mountains and temperate rain forests in the Pacific Northwest. Alaska's tundra and the volcanic, tropical islands of Hawaii add to the geographic and climatic diversity.
The climate varies along with the landscape, from tropical in Hawaii and southern Florida to tundra in Alaska and atop some of the highest mountains. Most of the North and East experience a temperate continental climate, with warm summers and cold winters. Much of the American South experiences a subtropical humid climate with mild winters and long, hot, humid summers. Rainfall decreases markedly from the humid forests of the eastern Great Plains to the semiarid shortgrass prairies on the High Plains abutting the Rocky Mountains. Arid deserts, including the Mojave, extend through the lowlands and valleys of the American Southwest from westernmost Texas to California and northward throughout much of Nevada. Some parts of the American West, particularly Southern California, have a Mediterranean climate. Rain forests line the windward mountains of the Pacific Northwest from Oregon to Alaska.
The political geography is notable as well, with the Canadian border being the longest undefended border in the world, and with the country being divided into three distinct sections: The continental United States, also known as the lower 48; Alaska, which is physically connected only to Canada; and the archipelago of Hawaii in the central Pacific Ocean.
There are 52 metropolitan areas with populations greater than one million. Of the 50 fastest-growing metro areas, 47 are in the West or South. The metro areas of Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix all grew by more than a million people between 2000 and 2008.
|Leading population centers|
|Rank||Core city (cities)||Metro area population||Metropolitan Statistical Area||Region||
New York City
|1||New York City||19,015,900||New York–New Jersey–Connecticut–Pennsylvania, NY–NJ–CT–PA MSA||Northeast|
|2||Los Angeles||12,944,801||Los Angeles–Long Beach–Santa Ana, CA MSA||West|
|3||Chicago||9,504,753||Chicago–Joliet–Naperville, IL–IN–WI MSA||Midwest|
|4||Dallas–Fort Worth||6,526,548||Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington, TX MSA||South|
|5||Houston||6,086,538||Houston–The Woodlands-Sugar Land MSA||South|
|6||Philadelphia||5,992,414||Philadelphia–Camden–Wilmington, PA–NJ–DE–MD MSA||Northeast|
|7||Washington, D.C.||5,703,948||Washington, DC–VA–MD–WV MSA||South|
|8||Miami||5,670,125||Miami–Fort Lauderdale–Pompano Beach, FL MSA||South|
|9||Atlanta||5,359,205||Atlanta–Sandy Springs–Marietta, GA MSA||South|
|10||Boston||4,591,112||Boston–Cambridge–Quincy, MA–NH MSA||Northeast|
|11||San Francisco||4,391,037||San Francisco–Oakland–Fremont, CA MSA||West|
|12||San Bernardino-Riverside||4,304,997||San Bernandino–Riverside–Ontario, CA MSA||West|
|13||Detroit||4,285,832||Detroit–Warren–Livonia, MI MSA||Midwest|
|14||Phoenix||4,263,236||Phoenix–Mesa–Glendale, AZ MSA||West|
|15||Seattle||3,500,026||Seattle–Tacoma–Bellevue, WA MSA||West|
|16||Minneapolis–St. Paul||3,318,486||Minneapolis–St. Paul–Bloomington, MN–WI MSA||Midwest|
|17||San Diego||3,140,069||San Diego–Carlsbad–San Marcos, CA MSA||West|
|18||Tampa–St. Petersburg||2,824,724||Tampa–St. Petersburg–Clearwater, FL MSA||South|
|19||St. Louis||2,817,355||St. Louis–St. Charles–Farmington, MO–IL MSA||Midwest|
|20||Baltimore||2,729,110||Baltimore–Towson, MD MSA||South|
|based upon 2011 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau|
The economy of the United States began with two distinct visions. Thomas Jefferson envisioned a society of farmers, tradesmen, and artisans with family businesses. This model appealed to the colonists who had thrown tea in Boston Harbor in what has been called the first protest against globalization. The East India Company and Hudson's Bay Company were viewed as tools of oppression used by King George III against the colonists. Jefferson wanted protection from corporations built into the Bill of Rights. Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists aspired to a more capitalist economy modeled after England.
During its first 60 years, the United States was very ambivalent towards banks and corporations. In 1829, President Andrew Jackson closed the federal bank. Most states kept corporations on a tight leash, often only allowing those that existed for a public purpose, and then limiting their charters to 20 years.
Originally federal revenues were raised through tariffs on trade. These tariffs protected industry in the North and allowed them to flourish in a market where domestic goods could enjoy more profit yet be cheaper to the American consumer than foreign products. The tariffs, on the other hand, hurt the South, whose products were exported. Foreign countries imposed tariffs on Southern agricultural products like cotton in retaliation for American tariffs. Great debates, such as the one between Henry Clay and John Calhoun, persuaded many Southerners that they had to secede from the Union or perish economically.
After the Civil War, American industrialists gained increasing influence on the U.S. economy. By 1870 many corporate lawyers had become Supreme Court justices; they changed laws to be more favorable for industry. In 1886 in Santa Clara County vs. the Southern Pacific Railroad, corporations were given personhood with many of the same rights and protections as individual citizens. By the 1890s corporations were pushing for a navy to escort the shipment of products abroad, and a few years later they reversed their position on tariffs and advocated their substitution with income taxes to make U.S. products more affordable in foreign markets.
Capitalists continued to influence U.S. politics until the Great Depression, when unregulated investment schemes, overpriced stocks, and overextended banks led to an economic collapse. In the 1930s, with the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted more government regulation, such as founding the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and social welfare programs like Social Security and unemployment benefits. The welfare state gradually expanded, placing a greater burden on taxpayers through the Carter administration in the late 1970s. High inflation and interest rates as much as 20 percent on home loans prompted the Reagan "supply side" economic revolution of 1980, which led to an undoing of much industrial regulation and a dramatic growth in the economy, paving the way for U.S. leadership in globalization of the world economy.
However, corporate greed and unwise government laws, often based on collusion with special interests, led to corporate scandals and economic bubbles, like the U.S. housing bubble that collapsed in 2008. This bubble was also related to parallel tends in subsidized lending and over-building in Western Europe.
The United States has rich mineral resources, with extensive gold, oil, coal, and uranium deposits. Successful farm industries rank the country among the top producers of, among others, corn, wheat, sugar, and tobacco. The U.S. manufacturing sector produces, among other things, cars, airplanes, and electronics. The largest sector of the economy now is the service sector; about three-quarters of U.S. residents are employed in that sector.
Economic activity varies greatly from one part of the country to another, with many industries being largely dependent on a certain city or region; New York City is the center of the American financial, publishing, broadcasting, and advertising industries; Silicon Valley is the country’s primary location for high technology companies, while Los Angeles is the most important center for film production. The Midwest is known for its reliance on manufacturing and heavy industry, with Detroit serving as the center of the American automotive industry; the Great Plains are known as “the breadbasket of America” for their tremendous agricultural output, while Texas is largely associated with the oil industry; the southeastern U.S. is a major hub for medical research, as well as many of the nation's textiles manufacturers.
To link its vast territories, the United States has built a network of roads, of which the most important aspect is the Interstate highway system. Americans are renowned for their "car-crazy" lifestyle and the sprawling car-oriented design of their cities. The United States also has a transcontinental rail system that is used for moving freight across the lower 48 states.
Air travel is often preferred for destinations over 300 miles (500 km) away, and some airports, such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and O'Hare International Airport, are among the busiest in the world. There are several major seaports in the United States, including New York City; Savannah, Georgia; Miami, Florida; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; and Seattle, Washington, plus Anchorage, Alaska and Honolulu, Hawaii outside the contiguous 48 states.
Several countries have linked their currency to the dollar (such as the People's Republic of China), or even use it as a currency (such as Ecuador), although this practice has subsided in recent years.
The largest trading partner of the United States is Canada (20 percent), followed by Mexico (12 percent), China (Mainland 10 percent, Hong Kong 1 percent) and Japan (8 percent). More than 50 percent of total trade is with these four countries. In 2003, the United States was ranked as the third-most visited tourist destination in the world; its 40.4 million visitors ranked behind France's 75 million and Spain's 52.5 million.
The United States is the third most-populous country in the world, behind China and India. It has been bolstered by waves of immigration, especially from Europe in the nineteenth century, and from Latin America and Asia in the twentieth century.
Americans, in part due to categories decided by the U.S. government, generally describe themselves as being one of five ethnic groups: White, also called Caucasian; African-American, also called Black; Hispanic, also called Latino; Asian-American, frequently specified as Chinese American, Indian American, Korean American, Vietnamese American, etc.; and Native American, also called American Indian.
The majority of the 295 million people currently living in the United States at the 2000 Census descend from European immigrants who have arrived since the establishment of the first colonies. Major components of the European segment of the U.S. population are descended from immigrants from Germany (15.2 percent), Ireland (10.8 percent), England (8.7 percent), Italy (5.6 percent), Scandinavia (3.7 percent), and many immigrants also coming from Slavic countries. Other significant immigrant populations came from eastern and southern Europe and French Canada; few immigrants came directly from France. These numbers, however, are inaccurate as many citizens listed themselves as "American" on the census (7.2 percent). A county-by-county map of plurality ethnic groups reveals that the areas with the largest "American" ancestry populations were mostly settled by English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh (the percentages of whom should consequently be slightly larger).
While there were few immigrants directly from Spain, Hispanics from Mexico and South and Central America are considered the largest minority group in the country, comprising 13.4 percent of the population in 2002. This has brought increasing use of the Spanish language in the United States. Mexicans alone made up 7.3 percent of the population in the 2000 Census, and this proportion is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades. The "Hispanic" category is based more on language than race and is defined by the Census as anybody from or with forebears from Spain or Spanish-speaking Latin America, so Hispanics may be of any race. About 45 percent identify by their ethnic background only ("Mexican," "Salvadoran"); they are usually mestizos or even American Indians of unmixed ancestry. About 40 percent identify as white with more European (especially Spanish) ancestry; however, on average, they tend to have more American Indian or African blood than non-Hispanic whites. They are a diverse group consisting of mostly Puerto Ricans and Cubans, and a large proportion of the New Mexican Spanish, Tejanos, and recent South American immigrants, as well as children of mixed marriages between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites. Another 5 percent identify as black or mulatto; they typically are descended from Spanish-speaking Caribbean immigrants such as Dominicans. The remainder includes mostly self-identified Indians (Maya, Mixtec, etc.) and people of mixed background. Most Filipinos, however, are not considered Hispanic.
About 12.9 percent (2000 Census) of the American people are African Americans, most of whom are descendants of the enslaved Africans brought to the U.S. from the 1620s into the nineteenth century. Starting in the 1970s, the black population has been bolstered by immigration from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica and Haiti; more recently, starting in the 1990s, there has been an influx of African immigrants to the United States due to the instability in political and economic opportunities in various nations in Africa.
A third significant minority is the Asian American population (4.2 percent), most of whom are concentrated on the West Coast and Hawaii. It is by no means monolithic; the largest groups are immigrants or descendants of emigrants from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan.
According to the 2000 Census, the United States has 31 ethnic groups with at least one million people.
The United States does not have an official language at federal level; however, English is the language of the government and is spoken by the majority of the population.
Twenty-seven individual states have adopted English as their official language, and three of those—Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Mexico—have also adopted Hawaiian, French and Spanish as their official languages, respectively. Spanish follows English as the second most-spoken language in the United States due to the influence of the mass waves of (often illegal) Mexican immigrants in recent decades, and is becoming a primary language in some areas of the Southwest. The primarily signed language is American Sign Language (ASL).
As of 2004, the United States was the home of approximately 336 languages (spoken or signed), of which 176 are indigenous to their areas.
According to surveys in 2001, the distribution for major religions in the United States was estimated as follows: Protestant (52 percent), Roman Catholic (24 percent), no religious faith (14 percent, including atheists and agnostics), Jewish (1.5 percent), Muslim (0.5 percent), Buddhist (0.5 percent), Hindu (0.4 percent), and Unitarian Universalist (0.3 percent). The largest single religious denomination in the United States is the Roman Catholic Church, followed by the Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran churches. Counted together, Christians numbered 77 percent of the population.
The United States stands out among industrialized nations for its relatively high level of religiosity. This is in part due to the separation of church and state. Not supported by the state, religious leaders must go beyond tradition and compete to serve the spiritual needs of their congregations or lose their financial support. Nearly 44 percent of Americans attend a religious service at least once a week. However, this rate is not uniform across the country; attendance is more common in the Bible Belt–composed largely of Southern and Midwestern states—than in the Northeast and West Coast.
In terms of relative wealth, most U.S. residents enjoy a standard of personal economic wealth that is far greater than that known in most of the world. For example, 51 percent of all households have access to a computer, and 67.9 percent of U.S. households owned their dwellings in 2002. However, there is also a considerable amount of poverty in the United States with 12.1 percent of the population living below the official national poverty level.
The social structure of the United States is somewhat stratified, with a significant class of very wealthy individuals, who are often alleged to hold disproportionate cultural and political influence. On one widely used measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, the United States has the highest inequality of any wealthy country, and that inequality is growing. Nevertheless, ideas of social mobility figure prominently in the American Dream, which holds that someone born into a poor family can, through hard work, ultimately rise into the upper classes. There is much debate over how often this actually occurs in modern American society, both compared with earlier eras and with other developed nations.
The United States began with diverse groups of people with different social and cultural interests and goals living in different states. The Constitution left the creation of positive social goals and the solution to issues to the individual states, for citizens to work out in their own way. Instead, it created restraints on social policies through the provisions of the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, freedom of religion, trial by jury, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. The formation of national media, the common struggle for independence, commercial exchange, and internal migration led to a gradual homogenization of the national culture and the formation of common national goals. Over the years, national goals and social policies have evolved that often conflict with the original freedoms and responsibilities envisioned by the founders of United States for its citizens.
Slavery stood as an obvious contradiction to the ideal that all people deserve equal treatment under the law. After the Civil War, the greatest catalyst for the formation of national identity, the 14th Amendment was passed, allowing the Federal Supreme Court to make decisions related to the rights of individuals relative to state governments. This legislation was passed for the protection of former slaves. Following on the 14th Amendment, many anti-discrimination and reverse-discrimination laws have been passed in an attempt to promote justice for minority groups. Some examples of these are the Civil Rights Acts, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and hate crime legislation.
The 14th Amendment has led to federal intrusions into state affairs in many other ways as well, to the chagrin of those who value states' rights. However, the sorry record of the states in protecting civil rights in the past seemed to justify these intrusions. Today many Americans expect the Supreme Court to make decisions on controversial social issues that divide the nation, such as abortion, to protect the rights of women or the unborn, and euthanasia, to protect the rights of the elderly. Where there is no national consensus on these matters, such rulings can create dissatisfaction.
Despite high ideals, the United States has at times been criticized for violations of human rights, including racial discrimination, police brutality, unwarranted incarceration, and the imposition of the death penalty in some states. Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized human rights abuses in the United States, most recently at the U.S.-run detention camps in Guantanamo Bay (Cuba). There is increasing concern about the potential for surveillance of computer records to erode human rights and liberties.
These criticisms show that law alone is incapable of guaranteeing human rights. Civil and responsible individual and group behavior, which includes love and respect for others, is essential for the guarantee of human rights in a democracy. The founders of the United States expected families, churches, and schools in the private sector to produce such people. Such moral education is a necessary counterpart to law in a free society.
Today in the United States, all students must attend mandatory schooling from kindergarten through 12th grade. Parents may send their children to a public school, which is free, or to a private school, where parents must pay tuition. Public schools are highly decentralized, with funding and curriculum decisions taking place mostly at the local level through school boards.
Early in the history of the United States there was no requirement for children to attend school. As an agrarian society, schooling was not required to earn a livelihood, unless one was to become a teacher, lawyer, or minister. Apprenticeships were common in preparation for a skilled trade. Reading was usually taught so that one could read the religious texts that would help guide one to a responsible moral life.
The push for public education came from industrial leaders in the mid-nineteenth century as they tired of providing support for private schools that could provide a basic education for employees in need of greater skills for industry, such as math, accounting, science, and drawing. Political leaders like Horace Mann also advocated public education as a method of creating good United States citizens. From the beginning, public education has been fraught with moral and religious controversies over what “good” values are for citizens and what constitutes "truth." On the frontier, many teachers of one-room schoolhouses were Christians who openly taught Protestantism. Discrimination against Catholics became so widespread that they set up an entire parallel school system.
Generally, until the 1960s, a "civil religion," which supported a belief in God and Country, prevailed. The counter-cultural movement, which solidified in the 1960s, promoted a secular, if not anti-religious, worldview for public schools, one which opposed civil religion in education. This caused many parents to feel that public schools had been politically co-opted and that they undermined the values of religion and citizenship they were teaching their children at home. This led to increased home schooling, the formation of private schools, and new experiments with charter schools in which parents could feel more comfortable with what their children were being taught.
Public education is still a much politicized and highly emotional issue in the United States, with citizens very divided over the purpose and content of public education.
The United States is a great center of higher education, boasting more than 4,000 universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning, the top tier of which may be considered to be among the most advanced in the world. Many foreign students study in the United States, both bringing their culture with them, and taking American culture back to their home nations. Universities in the United States range from prestigious Harvard University (founded in 1636) to the local community colleges, where most people can get a post-secondary education at a much lower cost. In the twentieth century, with increases in jobs requiring higher education, it became more popular to send children to college. However, only 25 percent of jobs in the United States require college degrees.
Nearing the midpoint of its third century of nationhood, the U.S. plays host to the gamut of human intellectual and artistic endeavor in nearly every major city, offering classical and popular music; historical, scientific, and art research centers and museums; dance performances, musicals, and plays; outdoor art projects; and internationally significant architecture.
In most traditional societies the state religion or authoritarian ruler has enforced a particular vision of culture "from above." The freedom of expression in United States has allowed for the widespread development of popular culture, or culture "from below." Singers, artists, writers, and sports players compete for audiences that will be attracted to their various forms of cultural expression. Popular culture is also a boon to national media, which gain by promoting these various forms of expression.
The original 13 colonies were permeated with culture promoted by elite social leaders. In the North, many colonists came seeking to build societies based on religious principles. In the South, the aristocracy promoted family, civil behavior, good manners, and loyalty to the government. These cultural values helped create the self-directed and self-restrained behavior needed by a democracy. Traditional religious and social leaders often lament that popular culture undermines the values necessary to promote a healthy society.
U.S. culture has a large influence on the rest of the world. This influence is often criticized as cultural imperialism by those who feel their own traditional values are being displaced by a popular hedonistic culture that does not promote good citizenship. Popular culture tests behavioral limits. Thirty years after the free sex and drugs associated with the 1960s, social scientists have shown these behaviors to be self-destructive and socially destructive. However, the freedom of expression in the United States has also given birth to new cultural elements that have made a lasting contribution to civilization.
U.S. music, "good" or "bad," is heard all over the world, and it is the sire of such forms as blues and jazz and had a primary hand in the shaping of modern rock and roll and popular music culture. Many great Western classical musicians and ensembles find their home in the U.S. New York City is a hub for international operatic and instrumental music as well as world-famed Broadway plays and musicals, while Seattle and the rest of Washington is a world leader in the grunge and heavy metal music industries, as well as the visual arts and various media in fantasy. New York, Seattle, and San Francisco are worldwide leaders in graphic design, and New York and Los Angeles compete with major European cities in the fashion industry. Several forms of electronic music originated from the United States. This includes house from Chicago, techno from Detroit, and garage from New York.
U.S. movies (primarily embodied in Hollywood) and television shows can be seen almost anywhere. This is in stark contrast to the early days of the republic, when the country was viewed by Europeans as an agricultural backwater with little to offer the culturally "advanced" world centers of Asia and Europe. Since the mid-twentieth century, cinema and television have supplanted both the novel and the theater as the primary literary vehicles for conveying a story; and creative efforts in both these media are dominated by the United States.
Sports: Some sports that originated or evolved in the United States, particularly baseball, basketball and American football, have achieved a worldwide audience; the Super Bowl, the annual championship game of the National Football League, is one of the most-watched broadcasts in the world, with viewership far outnumbering the total American population. Baseball is extremely popular in Latin American nations and Southeast Asia, and football has had some success in expanding to Europe (NFL Europe). However, few "foreign" sports like hockey have caught on in America; attempts to create professional soccer (football) leagues have struggled, and cricket and rugby are not played at any professional level.
The United States hosts some of the premier events in other sports such as golf (including The Masters), tennis (U.S. Open), and auto racing (particularly the Indianapolis 500). It has also hosted the World Cup in 1994, and has hosted eight Olympiads, more than any other nation.
The United States suffers from an accumulation of law, as have other aging societies such as the Roman Empire in the third century C.E. Sometimes antiquated laws remain in effect that complicate or even contradict newer laws, creating several layers of law over time. The principles of justice that legitimated the nation at the time of its founding are sometimes obscured by more recent laws designed to shift money or wealth from one person or group to another, causing allegations of injustice. Laws have also been passed, designed to protect individual rights that complicate trials by imposing procedures and rules of evidence that shield a jury from truth and create more work for lawyers, making trials more lucrative. Rules and procedures have been devised by Congress to pass legislation secretly or obfuscate it, through committees or omnibus legislation containing irrelevant "pork." These procedures reduce transparency and the accountability of members of Congress. In a similar manner, the Supreme Court has ruled on laws and amendments, developing a body of interpretation that becomes enforceable and thus reduces the realm of individual or state freedom on those issues. Over time, the creation of Cabinet posts with a weighty bureaucracy, executive orders, the promulgation of doctrine in foreign policy, and homeland security measures have aged the executive branch into a complicated and expensive arm of the government that places a tax burden on citizens and reduces their freedom. These agencies often work at cross-purposes, unnecessarily duplicate the efforts of one another, or remain in existence after they are no longer needed. These combined effects of aging reduce the legitimacy of government in the eyes of those who suffer injustice or a lack of freedom as a result of them. These problems caused the Roman Empire to eventually become a police state; and the United States must work hard to make the laws and the machinery of its government reflect the principles of justice for which it stands in order to remain legitimate in the eyes of its citizens and the world at large.
Moving from a population in which 80 percent were subsistence farmers to one in which 60 percent were industrial workers brought a Great Depression and hardship as the society was forced to adjust to industrial development. A similar shift began in the 1960s and is being completed with outsourcing, robotic production processes, and economies of scale that reduce the amount of industrial labor needed to a small percentage of the U.S. population. Today, with over 75 percent of jobs in the service sector, Americans must find ways to provide useful goods or services to others without relying on either farmland or a job as an industrial laborer. This requires an appropriate shift in education and entrepreneurship.
The U.S. economy also suffers from its disproportional involvement in production of military hardware dating back to the war economy of World War II. A development that President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex involved collusion between the military and industry to direct significant portions of the federal budget toward new military technology regardless of proven national need. Today the United States suffers some of the same problems faced by the Soviet Union just before its collapse. The heavy weight of a military economy tempts the nation toward empire in foreign policy, making new enemies as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and causing a spiral that at some point may become unsustainable. Other nations, notably in Europe and Asia, are developing peace-time economies based on goods and services used by citizens in daily life, giving them long-term economic advantages over the United States amid predictions that China will overtake the United States as the leading economic power of the twenty-first century.
A significant challenge for the United States is its national debt. It has not gone down, in absolute terms, in any single year since the Eisenhower administration in 1960. Since then, under both democratic and republican governments, social programs and military spending caused the national debt to balloon to over $125,000 per family in 2005. Lack of national fiscal control is a cultural and moral problem as well as an economic challenge.
Issues related to social security, welfare, education, gambling, health insurance, and corporate welfare are issues now in the hands of state governments and the federal government. These issues have been shaped by political pressure and bureaucratic expansion rather than reason or market forces. Social issues were all originally left to families, communities, and religious groups by the founding fathers; today these same issues have become often selfish demands converted to so-called entitlements, which governments have been unable to provide economically or shape efficient and workable policy over. A grave sense of inequity and unfairness is often perceived by some groups in existing policies. The negative effects of slavery still haunt the United States as social and educational inequalities continue in other forms. Motivated by their "bottom line," corporations and many wealthier taxpayers seek to eliminate social services altogether and return them to the private sphere, where failure occurred in the past. Those seeking or dependent on government social services, on the other hand, make demands without regard to their necessity or cost. A genuinely whole and workable view is seldom promoted through the two-party system, which reflects one interest or the other but not a broad view of society as a whole. Genuine facts and figures must be brought together with appropriate responsibility and market forces at all levels. It is a major challenge to the political system as it exists.
The twentieth century saw America's sense of exceptionalism – the Puritan and biblical image of "a light to the nations," channeled into safeguarding democracy abroad, through participation in World War I and World War II, as well as the Cold War. Apparent clarity about America's role in the world, however, was undone in the late twentieth century by a "culture war" between the conservative right and the liberal left. Conservatives held to a vision of America's moral superiority, and its duty to remake the world in its image. Progressives and leftists saw the hubris in such a position, and pointed to America's warts and foibles, epitomized in the expression "ugly American." This conflict began in earnest with the Vietnam War, when many became disillusioned with the apparent corruption of the South Vietnamese regime which America was propping up in the name of anti-Commumism. The debate surfaced again over the role America should play in the United Nations, as many on the right viewed the United States as morally superior to the quarreling and corrupt UN system, while many on the left believed that America should be a partner with the UN in creating a multilateral world order. The dominance of corporate interests and their foreign policy goals, such as safeguarding the nations' need for oil, gave an additional economic dimension to this conflict.
In the twenty-first century this questioning of America's role in the world continued with the perceived misadventure in the Iraq war. Even though the United States had the satisfaction of finding itself the sole superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 (thus seemingly confirming the moral superiority of its democratic system), it is a nation deeply divided over its sense of purpose and place in the world. Hence, its foreign policy has been rendered largely reactive of events, unable to project a positive national image or purpose. Perceived unilateralism and inconsistency in U.S. foreign policy has led to growing suspicion around the world. Overcoming this challenge will require Americans to harness their idealism to the service of humanity recognizing the diversity of global cultures, while resisting the temptation to simplistic military "solutions."
|January 1||New Year's Day||Beginning of year, marks the traditional end of "holiday season."|
|January, third Monday||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day||Honors the late civil rights leader. Few organizations outside federal and state governments grant time off for this holiday, though many colleges and universities observe the day with special events and canceled classes.|
|February, third Monday||Presidents' Day||Honors former U.S. presidents, especially Washington and Lincoln, who both share February birthdays. Few organizations outside federal and state governments grant time off for this holiday.|
|May, last Monday||Memorial Day||Honors servicemen and women who died in service; also marks the traditional beginning of summer.|
|July 4||Independence Day||Usually called the Fourth of July. Celebrates the United States' independence from Great Britain, formally declared on this date in 1776.|
|September, first Monday||Labor Day||Celebrates achievements of workers. This holiday is held instead of the traditional worldwide Labor Day, May 1, which actually began in the U.S. Also marks the traditional end of summer.|
|October, second Monday||Columbus Day||Honors Christopher Columbus, traditional discoverer of the Americas. Somewhat controversial, and few organizations outside federal and state governments grant time off for this holiday.|
|November 11||Veterans' Day||Previously known as Armistice Day, it honors those who have served in the military. Also marks the end of World War I in 1918. Traditional observation of a moment of silence at 11 a.m. in remembrance of military service members occurs.|
|November, fourth Thursday||Thanksgiving||Day of thanks that marks the traditional beginning of the "holiday season." The day before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S., and the day after is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year, known as "Black Friday."|
|December 25||Christmas and Winter Solstice||Celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. In recent years, there has also been an effort to relate this holiday to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Over time, it has returned to a more secular winter solstice holiday outside of religious communities, with many non-Christians and non-observant Christians feasting, and buying and exchanging traditional Christmas gifts. Most retailers count on the Christmas holiday to provide a significant portion of their total annual sales.|
All links retrieved August 2, 2013.
|Political divisions of the United States|
|Topics in the United States|
|History||Timeline ( Colonial Era | American Revolution | Westward Expansion | Civil War | World War I | Great Depression | World War II | Cold War | Vietnam War | Civil Rights) | Foreign relations | Military | Demographic and Postal history|
|Politics||Law ( Constitution and Bill of Rights | Declaration of Independence) | Political parties ( Democrats & Republicans) | Elections (Electoral College) | Political scandals | Political divisions|
|Government||Federal agencies | Legislative branch (Congress: House | Senate) Executive branch ( President & Vice-President | Cabinet | Attorney-General | Secretary of State) | Law enforcement ( FBI | Intelligence:CIA | DIA | NIMA | NRO | NSA) | Judicial branch ( Supreme Court) | Military ( Army | Navy | Marines | Air Force)|
|Geography||Appalachian Mtns. | Rocky Mtns. | Great Plains | Midwest | The South | Mississippi River | New England | Mid-Atlantic | Pacific Northwest | Mountains | Valleys | Islands | Rivers | States | Cities | Counties | Regions | Extreme points|
|Economy||Banking | Companies | Standard of living | U.S. Dollar | Wall Street|
|Demographics||US Census Bureau | Languages | Religion | Social structure | Standard of living|
|Arts & Culture||Music (hippies | blues | jazz | rock and roll | hip hop | gospel | country) | Film & TV (Hollywood) | Literature ( Poetry | Transcendentalism | Harlem Renaissance | Beat Generation) | Visual arts ( Abstract expressionism) | Cuisine | Holidays | Folklore | Dance | Architecture | Education | Languages | Media|
|Other||United States territory | Communications | Transportation ( Highways and Interstates | Railroads) | Uncle Sam | Flag | American Dream | Media | Education | Tourism | Social issues ( Immigration | Affirmative action | Racial profiling | Human rights | War on Drugs | Pornography | same-sex marriage | Poverty | Prisons | Capital punishment) | American Exceptionalism | Anti-Americanism | American Folklore | American English | United States-Mexico barrier|
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