The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district. The country is situated in central North America between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.
At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km) and with over 300 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and third largest by land area and by population. It is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries. Whites are the largest racial group, comprising 74.67%, followed by Hispanic or Latinos, comprising 14.50%, African Americans comprising 12.12%, Asians following with 4.32%, while Native Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiins and Pacific Islanders make up the rest.
Geography and Climate
The United States is the world’s third or fourth largest nation by total area, before or after the People’s Republic of China, depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted. Including only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada. The continental Unites States stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and from Canada to Mexico. Alaska is the largest state in the area. Separated by Canada, it touches the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Hawaii occupies an archipelago in the Pacific, southwest of North America. The commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the largest and most populous U. S. territory, is in the northeastern Carribean. With a few exceptions, such as the territory of Guam and the westernmost portions of Alaska, nearly all of the country lies in the western hemisphere.
Because of the large size and wide range of geographic features in the United States, nearly every type of climate is represented. The climate is temperate in most areas, tropical in Hawaii and Southern Florida, polar in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the 100th meridian, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California and arid in the Great Basin. Extreme weather is not uncommon; the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes and most of the world’s tornadoes occur within the continental United States.
Culture and Society
The United States is a culturally diverse nation, home to a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions and values. The culture held in common by the majority of Americans is referred to as “mainstream American culture,” a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of Western European migrants, beginning with the early English and Dutch settlers. German, Irish and Scottish cultures have also been very influential. Certain Native American traditions and many cultural characteristics of enslaved West Africans were absorbed into the American mainstream. Westward expansion brought close contact with the culture of Mexico and a large-scale immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from Southern and Eastern Europe introduced many new cultural elements. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has had a broad impact, resulting in a mix of cultures which may be characterized as a homogeneous melting pot.
Although the United States has no official language at the federal level, English is the national language. Spanish, spoken by over 10% of the population at home, is the second most common language and most widely taught foreign language. Chinese, French (including Creole), Tagalog, Vietnamese and German are among the other languages spoken.
The United States government does not audit Americans’ religious beliefs. In a private survey conducted in 2001. 76.7% of American adults identified themselves as Christian. Protestant denominations accounted for 52%, while Roman Catholics, at 24.5% were the largest individual denomination. The leading non-Christian faiths were Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Unitarian Universalism.
Government and Politics
The United States is the world’s oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic. In the American federalist system, citizens are usually subject to three levels of government, federal, state and local. The voting age is 18 and voter registration is the individual’s responsibility; there are no mandatory voting laws.
The federal government is composed of three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. All laws and procedures of both state and federal governments are subject to review, and any law ruled in violation of the Constitution by the judicial branch is overturned.
Politics in the United States have operated under a two-party system for virtually all of the country’s history. Since the general election of 1856, the two dominant parties have been the Democratic party and the Republican Party.
Within the American political culture, the Republican Party is considered “center-right” or conservative and the Democratic Party is considered “center-left” or liberal, but members of both parties have a wide range of views. The States of the Northeast, Great lakes, and the West Coast are relatively liberal-leaning and are known as “blue states”, while the “red states” of the South and the Rocky Mountains lean conservative.
American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions in federal grants. The 12th grade marks the end of high school. The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education, as well as local community colleges of varying quality with open admission policies. The basic literacy rate rate is approximately 99%. The United Nations assigns the United States and Education Index of 99.9, tying it with twenty other nations for the top score.
Food and Clothing
Mainstream American culinary arts are similar to those in other Western countries. Soul food, developed by African slaves, is popular around the South and among many African Americans elsewhere. Syncretic cuisines such as Louisiana Creole, Cajun and Tex-Mex are regionally important. Fried chicken, which combines Scottish and African American culinary traditions, is a national favorite. Iconic American dishes such as apple pie, pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various European immigrants. So-called French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed.
Apart from professional business attire, U. S. fashions are eclectic and predominantly informal. While Americans’ diverse cultural roots are reflected in their clothing, particularly those of recent immigrants, cowboy hats and boots and leather motorcycle jackets are emblematic of specifically American styles. Blue jeans were popularized as work clothes in the 1850’s by Levi Strauss and are now widely worn on every continent by people of all ages and social classes. The country is also home to the headquarters of many designer labels such as Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. Labels such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Ecko cater to various niche markets.
Since the nineteenth century, baseball has been regarded as the national pastime. Football, basketball and ice hockey are the country’s three other leading professional team sports. Boxing, wrestling, horse racing, golf, auto racing (particularly NASCAR), soccer, tennis and many other outdoor sports are also popular.