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The United States of America (also referred to as the United States, the U.S.

, the USA,
or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal
district. The country is situated mostly in central North America, where its forty-eight
contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie between the Pacific and
Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The state of
Alaska is in the northwest of the continent, with Canada to the east and Russia to the west
across the Bering Strait. The state of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific. The
country also possesses several territories in the Caribbean and Pacific.

At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with over 310 million people, the
United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area, and the third largest both
by land area and population. It is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and
multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries.[7] The
U.S. economy is the world's largest national economy, with an estimated 2009 GDP of
$14.3 trillion (a quarter of nominal global GDP and a fifth of global GDP at purchasing
power parity).

Independence and expansion

Tensions between American colonials and the British during the revolutionary period of
the 1760s and early 1770s led to the American Revolutionary War, fought from 1775
through 1781. On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress, convening in Philadelphia,
established a Continental Army under the command of George Washington. Proclaiming
that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "certain unalienable Rights," the
Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson,
on July 4, 1776. That date is now celebrated annually as America's Independence Day. In
1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak confederal government that
operated until 1789.

Government and elections

The United States is the world's oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic
and representative democracy, "in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights
protected by law."[46] The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances
defined by the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the country's supreme legal document.
In the American federalist system, citizens are usually subject to three levels of
government, federal, state, and local; the local government's duties are commonly split
between county and municipal governments. In almost all cases, executive and legislative
officials are elected by a plurality vote of citizens by district. There is no proportional
representation at the federal level, and it is very rare at lower levels.
Religion

The United States is officially a secular nation; the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids the establishment of any
religious governance. In a 2002 study, 59% of Americans said that religion played a
"very important role in their lives," a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy
nation.[140] According to a 2007 survey, 78.4% of adults identified themselves as
Christian,[141] down from 86.4% in 1990.[142] Protestant denominations accounted for
51.3%, while Roman Catholicism, at 23.9%, was the largest individual denomination.
The study categorizes white evangelicals, 26.3% of the population, as the country's
largest religious cohort;[141] another study estimates evangelicals of all races at 30–35%.
[143]
The total reporting non-Christian religions in 2007 was 4.7%, up from 3.3% in 1990.
[142]
The leading non-Christian faiths were Judaism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%), Islam
(0.6%), Hinduism (0.4%), and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%).[141] The survey also
reported that 16.1% of Americans described themselves as agnostic, atheist, or simply
having no religion, up from 8.2% in 1990.

Culture

The United States is a multicultural nation, home to a wide variety of ethnic groups,
traditions, and values.Aside from the now small Native American and Native Hawaiian
populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors immigrated within the past five
centuries.The culture held in common by most Americans—mainstream American culture
—is a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants with
influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from Africa
More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has added to a cultural
mix that has been described as both a homogenizing melting pot and a heterogeneous
salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural
characteristics.

Education

American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the
United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. Children
are required in most states to attend school from the age of six or seven (generally,
kindergarten or first grade) until they turn eighteen (generally bringing them through
twelfth grade, the end of high school); some states allow students to leave school at
sixteen or seventeen.[145] About 12% of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian
private schools. Just over 2% of children are homeschooled.[146]
The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher
education, as well as local community colleges with open admission policies. Of
Americans twenty-five and older, 84.6% graduated from high school, 52.6% attended
some college, 27.2% earned a bachelor's degree, and 9.6% earned graduate degrees.[147]
The basic literacy rate is approximately 99%.[1][148] The United Nations assigns the United
States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.