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The United States of America, commonly known as the United States or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major unincorporated territories, 326 Indian reservations, and nine minor outlying islands. At nearly 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million square kilometers), it is the world’s fourth-largest country by land area and third-largest by total area. The United States shares land and maritime borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south as well as maritime borders with the Bahamas, Cuba, and Russia. With more than 331 million people, it is the third most populous country in the world. The national capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city and financial center is New York City.
The United States is a federal presidential constitutional republic with three separate branches of government, including a bicameral legislature. It is a founding member of the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States, and other international organizations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The United States is a member of multiple military alliances, including NATO, AUKUS, and unilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Considered a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, its population has been profoundly shaped by centuries of immigration. The United States is liberal democracy; it ranks high in international measures of economic freedom, quality of life, education, and human rights; and it has low levels of perceived corruption. Unlike other western democracies, the United States lacks universal health care, retains capital punishment, and has high levels of incarceration and inequality.
The United States is a highly developed country, and its economy accounts for approximately a quarter of global GDP and is the world’s largest by GDP at market exchange rates. By value, the United States is the world’s largest importer and second-largest exporter of goods. Although its population is only 4.2% of the world’s total, it holds over 30% of the total wealth in the world, the largest share held by any country. Making up more than a third of global military spending, the United States is the foremost military power in the world and a leading political, cultural, and scientific force.
The first known use of the name “America” dates back to 1507 when it appeared on a world map produced by the German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller in the French city of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. On his map, the name is shown in large letters on what would now be considered South America, in honor of Amerigo Vespucci. The Italian explorer was the first to postulate that the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern limit but were part of a previously unknown landmass. In 1538, the Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator used the name “America” on his own world map, applying it to the entire Western Hemisphere.
The first documentary evidence of the phrase “United States of America” dates from a January 2, 1776 letter written by Stephen Moylan to Joseph Reed, George Washington’s aide-de-camp. Moylan expressed his wish to go “with full and ample powers from the United States of America to Spain” to seek assistance in the revolutionary war effort. The first known publication of the phrase “United States of America” was in an anonymous essay in The Virginia Gazette newspaper in Williamsburg, on April 6, 1776.
The second draft of the Articles of Confederation, prepared by John Dickinson and completed no later than June 17, 1776, declared “The name of this Confederation shall be the ‘United States of America’. The final version of the Articles, sent to the states for ratification in late 1777, stated that “The Stile of this Confederacy shall be ‘The United States of America’.” In June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the phrase “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” in all capitalized letters in the headline of his “original Rough draft” of the Declaration of Independence. This draft of the document did not surface until June 21, 1776, and it is unclear whether it was written before or after Dickinson used the term in his June 17 draft of the Articles of Confederation.
The phrase “United States” was originally plural in American usage. It described a collection of states — e.g., “The United States are …” The singular form became popular after the end of the Civil War and is now standard usage. A citizen of the United States is an “American”. “United States”, “American”, and “U.S.” refer to the country adjectivally (“American values”, “U.S. forces”). In English, the word “American” rarely refers to topics or subjects not directly connected with the United States.
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