Officially, its name is the United States of America. But people often call it the United States, the USA, or America.
The United States is a vast and beautiful land. It’s home to rich farmland, towering mountains, huge stands of timber, mighty rivers, and valuable mineral deposits.
Colonists from Europe founded the United States more than 200 years ago. They created a new kind of society based on the ideals of freedom and opportunity. The American people, through their ambitiousness and hard work, built one of the world’s richest and most powerful nations.
|Official name||United States of America|
|Rank among countries in population||3rd|
|Major cities||New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia|
|Area||3,790,000 square miles|
9,830,000 square kilometers
|Rank among countries in area||3rd|
|Highest point||Mt. McKinley|
20,320 feet/6,194 meters
|Currency||United States dollar|
FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA
The United States is the third largest country in area in the world, after Russia and Canada. It covers the width of North America between Canada and Mexico. That gives the United States long coastlines facing both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
A broad coastal plain lines the East Coast of the United States. To the west, the land climbs to the rugged Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachians are a chain of thickly wooded mountains that stretch from Maine to Alabama. They contain rich veins of coal.
West of the Appalachians, the land drops to the greatest river in America, the mighty Mississippi. West of the Mississippi is a vast open area called the Great Plains. The Mississippi rolls along the eastern edge of the Plains.
West of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains rise to peaks of more than 14,000 feet (4,260 meters). They span the country from north to south. Farther west, along the coast, stands another great system of mountains, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges.
In the northwestern corner of North America lies Alaska, still mostly a rugged wilderness. About 2,400 miles (3,680 kilometers) across the Pacific Ocean is Hawaii, a group of tropical islands. Alaska and Hawaii were the last two states to join the Union. They were admitted in 1959.
The United States is a democracy. This means that American citizens choose their government, rather than having one forced on them. Americans choose their government by voting.
The capital of the United States is Washington, D.C. That’s where the federal (national) government is based. The United States is made up of 50 individual states. Each state has its own separate, democratically elected government.
The foundation of American democracy is the U.S. Constitution. This document, written in 1787, created the American system of government. It opens with these three words: “We, the people ….”
The Constitution defines the powers of the U.S. Congress, president, and federal courts. Just as important, the Constitution lays out the rights and freedoms of all American citizens in the Bill of Rights.
LAND OF IMMIGRANTS
Today, the United States is home to about 304 million people. That makes it the world’s third most populated country, after China and India. The motto of the United States is E Pluribus Unum. You can read it on all the nation’s coins and paper money. But what does it mean?
E Pluribus Unum is a Latin phrase that means “from many, one.” It was first used to unify the 13 English colonies in North America during the American Revolution (1775-1783). But the phrase took on new meaning when wave after wave of immigrants came to settle in the United States.
Over the last 200 years, tens of millions of people from other lands have come to live in America. Why so many? There are many answers. The United States had open space for people to build homes and towns. It had plenty of jobs. It was a place where people could practice a religion of their own choosing.
For most immigrants, the United States was a land of opportunity. It was a place for people looking to make a new life. Today, most Americans are descended from immigrants.
MELTING POT CULTURE
The United States is often called the melting pot. Most immigrants adapt to the American way of life. They “melt” together in one big pot. But they also bring their own cultures and traditions with them. These different traditions often blend together to form something new and uniquely American.
The blending of different traditions is at the heart of American culture. You can see it in food, music, clothing, architecture, and many other things.
American pizza, for instance, is adapted from a dish made by Italian immigrants. Hot dogs are based on a sausage dish made by German immigrants. The American musical styles of jazz and blues have roots in Africa. African immigrants brought their musical traditions with them. Country music has roots in the folk music carried to America by immigrants from the British Isles.
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
The history of the United States has not always been simple or easy. America was founded on the ideals of freedom and opportunity for all. But many people have had to struggle to gain the basic freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
America long tolerated the enslavement of millions of people from Africa. In the 1860s, the United States split apart over the issue of slavery. The Civil War was fought to hold the country together.
Meanwhile, American pioneers pushed westward from the Atlantic Coast, building settlements in the wilderness. As they did, new states were added to the original 13, greatly expanding the size of the country. But American expansion caused conflict with Native Americans, who were gradually forced off their land.
Despite these difficulties, the United States prospered. Today, it is the world’s richest, most powerful nation. Its fertile land, diverse people, troubled past, and great successes are all a part of the American experience.