United States

The United States of America is a federal republic consisting of 50 states, a federal district (Washington, D.C., the capital city of the United States), five major territories, and various minor islands. The 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., are in North America between Canada and Mexico. Alaska is an exclave in the far northwestern part of North America, connected only to Canada, and Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific. Territories of the United States are scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

According to the numerous decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the 50 individual states and the United States as a whole are each sovereign jurisdictions. The states are not administrative divisions of the country; the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution allows states to exercise all powers of government not delegated to the federal government. These include regulating intrastate commerce, running elections, creating local governments, and ratifying constitutional amendments. Each state has its own constitution, grounded in republican principles, and government, consisting of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. All states and their residents are represented in the federal Congress, a bicameral legislature consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each state is represented by two senators, while representatives are distributed among the states in proportion to the most recent constitutionally mandated decennial census. Additionally, each state is entitled to select a number of electors to vote in the Electoral College, the body that elects the president of the United States, equal to the total of representatives and senators in Congress from that state. Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution grants to Congress the authority to admit new states into the Union. Since the establishment of the United States in 1776, the number of states has expanded from the original 13 to the current total of 50, and each new state is admitted on an equal footing with the existing states.

As provided by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, Congress exercises “exclusive jurisdiction” over the federal district, which is not part of any state. Prior to passage of the 1973 District of Columbia Home Rule Act, which devolved certain Congressional powers to an elected mayor and council, the district did not have an elected local government. Even so, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the council and intervene in local affairs. As it is not a state, the district does not have representation in the Senate. However, since 1971, its residents have been represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate. Additionally, since 1961, following ratification of the 23rd Amendment, the district has been entitled to select three electors to vote in the Electoral College.

In addition to the 50 states and federal district, the United States has sovereignty over 14 territories. Five of them (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) have a permanent, nonmilitary population, while nine of them do not. With the exception of Navassa Island, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are located in the Caribbean, all territories are located in the Pacific Ocean. One territory, Palmyra Atoll, is considered to be incorporated, meaning the full body of the Constitution has been applied to it; the other territories are unincorporated, meaning the Constitution does not fully apply to them. Ten territories (the Minor Outlying Islands and American Samoa) are considered to be unorganized, meaning they have not had an Organic Act enacted by Congress; the four other territories are organized, meaning they have had an Organic Act that has been enacted by Congress. The five inhabited territories each have limited autonomy and a non-voting delegate in Congress, in addition to having territorial legislatures and governors, but residents cannot vote in federal elections.

 

 


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