United States of America.


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United States of America.

 

The United States of America is a country in North America. It has an area of 9.4 million sq km and a population of 219 million (as of Jan. 1, 1979). The capital city is Washington, D.C. The country is divided administratively into 50 states and the Federal District of Columbia. The states are divided into counties.

Since 1959 the USA has consisted of three, noncontiguous physiographic divisions—the coterminous states, Alaska, and the Hawaiian Islands—which vary in size, level of development, and population. The coterminous states (within the USA’s pre-1959 borders) have an area of 7.8 million sq km and a population of 202 million (1970 census). They border Canada on the north, Mexico on the south, the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Gulf of Mexico on the southeast. Alaska occupies the northwestern part of North America and includes many islands, for example, the Aleutians. The Hawaiian Islands are situated in the Pacific Ocean (seeHAWAII and HAWAIIAN ISLANDS).

For statistical purposes the USA is divided into nine census bureau

Table 1. Area and population of the United States
Regions and statesArea (thousand sq km)Population (thousands, 1970 census)Capital
1The city of Washington, D.C. is coextensive with the District of Columbia.
North
New England ...............172.611,842 
Maine ...............86.0992Augusta
New Hampshire ...............24.1738Concord
Vermont ...............24.9444Montpelier
Massachusetts ...............21.55,689Boston
Rhode Island ...............3.2947Providence
Connecticut ...............12.93,032Hartford
Middle Atlantic ...............266.137,199 
New York ...............128.418,237Albany
New Jersey ...............20.37,168Trenton
Pennsylvania ...............117.411,794Harrisburg
East North Central ...............643.140,253 
Ohio ...............106.710,652Columbus
Indiana ...............94.15,194Indianapolis
Illinois ...............146.111,114Springfield
Michigan ...............150.38,875Lansing
Wisconsin ...............145.44,418Madison
West North Central ...............1,339.716,320 
Minnesota ...............217.83,805St. Paul
Iowa ...............145.82,824Des Moines
Missouri ...............180.44,677Jefferson City
North Dakota ...............183.1618Bismarck
South Dakota ...............199.5666Pierre
Nebraska ...............200.01,483Lincoln
Kansas ...............213.12,247Topeka
South
South Atlantic ...............722.330,671 
Delaware ...............5.3548Dover
Maryland ...............27.43,922Annapolis
Virginia ...............105.74,648Richmond
West Virginia ...............62.61,744Charleston
North Carolina ...............136.55,082Raleigh
South Carolina ...............80.42,591Columbia
Georgia ...............152.54,590Atlanta
Florida ...............151.76,789Tallahassee
District of Columbia ...............0.27571
East South Central ...............471.312,804 
Kentucky ...............104.63,219Frankfort
Tennessee ...............109.43,924Nashville
Alabama ...............133.73,444Montgomery
Mississippi ...............123.62,217Jackson
West South Central ...............1,136.419,320 
Arkansas ...............137.51,923Little Rock
Louisiana ...............125.73,641Baton Rouge
Oklahoma ...............181.12,559Oklahoma City
Texas ...............692.111,197Austin
West
Mountain ...............2,237.38,282 
Montana ...............381.1694Helena
Idaho ...............216.4713Boise
Wyoming ...............253.6332Cheyenne
Colorado ...............269.92,207Denver
New Mexico ...............315.11,016SantaFe
Arizona ...............295.01,771Phoenix
Utah ...............219.91,059Salt Lake City
Nevada ...............286.3489Carson City
Pacific ...............2,374.326,522 
Washington ...............176.63,409Olympia
Oregon ...............251.22,091Salem
California ...............411.019,953Sacramento
Alaska ...............1,518.8300Juneau
Hawaii ...............16.7796Honolulu

regions. Historically the territory of the coterminous states has been divided into three principal regions: the North, South, and West (see Table 1).

Possessions of the USA in the West Indies include Puerto Rico (area, 8,900 sq km; population, 3.2 million in 1976), which has the formal status of a commonwealth, and the Virgin Islands (area, 300 sq km; population, 95,000). Possessions in the Pacific Ocean include Guam (area, 500 sq km; population, 96,000), American Samoa (area, 200 sq km; population, 30,000), and a number of smaller islands. Also under US administration are the UN trust territories of the Caroline, Mariana, and Marshall islands in the Western Pacific.

The USA is a federal republic consisting of 50 states. Its Constitution was drafted in 1787 by a constitutional convention held in Philadelphia. Prior to 1787 the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781, had functioned as a constitution. The Constitution is concisely worded, and many of its articles are general in nature. Hence, its interpretation, the duty of the Supreme Court, is vitally important. A very complicated procedure has been set up for adding amendments to the Constitution. The amendments are proposed by Congress or by a constitutional convention convoked by Congress on the petition of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. An amendment has the force of law after it has been ratified by the legislatures or special conventions of three-fourths of the states. Since 1787, 26 amendments have been adopted.

The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were adopted in 1789. The amendments subsequently adopted are as follows:

Eleventh Amendment (1798), limiting the jurisdiction of the federal courts;

Twelfth Amendment (1804), establishing a procedure for electing the president, including the election of the president and vice-president by the House of Representatives if none of the candidates receives a majority of the electoral votes;

Thirteenth Amendment (1865), abolishing slavery;

Fourteenth Amendment (1868), protecting the life, liberty, and property of citizens through due process of law and setting up a system for the apportionment of representatives in Congress;

Fifteenth Amendment (1870), prohibiting discrimination in voting;

Sixteenth Amendment (1913), giving Congress the power to levy and collect taxes on incomes;

Seventeenth Amendment (1913), establishing the procedure for senatorial elections, including the introduction of the popular election of senators;

Eighteenth Amendment (1919), prohibiting the production and sale of alcoholic beverages (the “dry law”);

Nineteenth Amendment (1920), granting women the right to vote;

Twentieth Amendment (1933), establishing the date for the beginning of the terms of office of the president, vice-president, senators, and representatives;

Twenty-first Amendment (1933), abolishing the Eighteenth Amendment;

Twenty-second Amendment (1951), prohibiting the same person from being elected president more than twice;

Twenty-third Amendment (1961), granting the residents of Washington D.C. the right to vote for president and vice-president;

Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964), abolishing the poll tax;

Twenty-fifth Amendment (1967), establishing a procedure for filling in a vacancy in the office of the president or vice-president by confirmation of the Congress;

Twenty-sixth Amendment (1971), setting the voting age at 18 or older.

A twenty-seventh amendment to the Constitution, granting equal rights to women, was proposed in 1972 but has not yet been ratified by enough states.

The US Constitution is theoretically constructed on the principle of the separation of powers. It stipulates that legislative power belongs to the Congress, executive power to the president, and judicial power to the Supreme Court. The area of competence of each of these powers is clearly defined.

The president, the head of state and government, is elected by the population for a four-year term by means of indirect election (by way of the Electoral College). The vice-president is on the same ballot as the president; for electoral purposes they never come from the same state. The Constitution provides that the president must be a natural-born citizen who is at least 35 years of age and has lived in the USA for at least 14 years. A president can be removed from office only by impeachment, a special procedure provided for by the Constitution for indicting persons in the federal service, including the president and Supreme Court justices, for such crimes as committing treason and accepting bribes. Impeachment is initiated by the House of Representatives; the case is tried by the Senate, with conviction requiring a two-thirds vote of the senators present. An official who is found guilty is removed from office and may subsequently be tried before an ordinary court like any other citizen. Impeachment has been initiated 12 times; only four cases ended in conviction. A president was impeached only once, in 1868. In 1974, President Nixon was forced to resign when threatened with impeachment.

The president’s powers are very broad. They include the right to veto bills passed by Congress; a presidential veto may, however, be overridden by repassage of the bill by a two-thirds majority of both houses. The president drafts a national budget and sends messages to Congress, setting forth his own legislative program. In addition, the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and has the power to conclude international treaties and executive agreements (the latter without the advice and consent of the Senate). The president may order the commencement of military operations. He has the authority to make appointments to the highest positions, with the advice and consent of the Senate; he also has the unilateral right to dismiss these officials. The president also has the right of pardon.

The administrative establishment subordinate to the president consists of the cabinet, the executive office of the president, and various administrative agencies and commissions.

The cabinet, which includes 12 department heads (secretaries) and a number of persons having the rank of cabinet members, is a consultative body without any constitutional powers. The president selects the members of the cabinet, and cabinet meetings are held at the president’s request. Cabinet members may not be members of Congress.

The executive office of the president coordinates domestic and foreign policy. Its agencies include the White House Office, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Domestic Council, and the Council of Economic Advisers. The executive branch also includes a number of administrative and independent agencies, for example, the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Reserve System, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the International Communication Agency, and the Civil Service Commission.

Congress consists of two houses—the Senate and the House of Representatives—which are chosen by direct election. The Senate has 100 members (two from each state), elected for six-year terms. Only one-third of the Senate seats become vacant in any single election year. A senator must be at least 30 years old, a US citizen for at least nine years, and a resident of the state he or she represents. The vice-president is the president of the Senate. The House of Representatives consists of 435 members, elected for two-year terms. A representative must be at least 25 years old, a US citizen for at least seven years, and a resident of the state he or she represents. The presiding officer elected by the House is the speaker. Congressional business is conducted along party lines, with each party electing its own leaders. Permanent (standing) and temporary congressional committees do the preparatory work on legislation; bills coming out of the committees are later introduced onto the floors of both houses for action.

After the 1978 elections, the membership of the House of Representatives included 276 Democrats and 159 Republicans, and the membership of the Senate included 58 Democrats, 41 Republicans, and one Independent.

Congress’ area of competence is defined by the Constitution. The principal functions of Congress are law-making and the approval of a national budget. Congress also regulates commerce with foreign countries and among the states. It has the right to declare war, to conclude treaties concerning loans, and to raise and support armies. Legislative initiative belongs to the members of both houses, and the powers of the houses are considered to be equal. The Senate, however, has the exclusive right to ratify international treaties and to confirm the president’s appointment of certain high-ranking officials, including cabinet secretaries and ambassadors. Money bills may be introduced only in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution defines the general principles of election law. Electoral systems, even for federal elections, are basically established by the states. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a number of electoral reforms were carried out: poll taxes were abolished, the legal minimum voting age was lowered to 18, and the literacy requirement was dropped. However, there are still numerous means of preventing citizens, especially Negroes, from voting; for example, most states have a residency requirement, ranging from one month to one year. Elections are characterized by absenteeism—the conscious nonparticipation of eligible voters. For example, only 63 percent of eligible voters participated in the presidential election in 1960, 61 percent in 1964 and 1968, and 55 percent in 1972.

The states have various nominating systems, including nomination by petition and nomination by party convention. Twenty-six states hold primaries, or preliminary elections, in which the voters choose a candidate to represent the state party organization. Each party may nominate only one candidate for president, and this candidate is selected at the party’s national convention. The results of elections are determined by the majority system; in other words, the winning candidate is the one who receives the majority of votes. There are laws limiting campaign spending, but they are systematically circumvented.

The judicial system includes federal, state, and local courts. The federal system consists of 89 district courts, 11 circuit (appellate) courts, and the Supreme Court. All federal judges are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Supreme Court is composed of nine justices. It has original jurisdiction in certain important types of cases, but it basically considers appeals from lower court rulings. Moreover, the Supreme Court carries out the function of constitutional supervision. The national judicial system also includes a number of special courts, for example, the Customs Court, the Tax Court, the Court of Claims, and the Court of Military Appeals. The states have their own judicial systems, headed by state supreme courts.

Each state has its own constitution; most state constitutions have been in effect since the late 18th century. Legislative power belongs to the state legislatures, which are elected for terms ranging from two to four years. Executive power belongs to a governor, who is popularly elected for a term of two to four years; judicial power belongs to the state supreme court. All legislatures are bicameral, with the exception of Nebraska’s single-house legislature. Each state has set up its own system of local government. Counties and large cities have governing boards and mayors, and in a number of cities a small commission is elected to run the city. Also widespread is the city manager system, whereby a person is hired to run a city under the supervision of an elected council.

REFERENCES

Gromyko, A. A. Kongress SShA. (Vybory, organizatsiia, polnomochiia). Moscow, 1957.
Gromakov, B. S. Ocherki po istorii antidemokraticheskogo zakono datel’stva SShA. Moscow, 1958.
Mishin, A. A. Gosudarstvennyi stroi SShA. Moscow, 1958.
Boichenko, G. G. Konstitutsiia SShA. Moscow, 1959.
“Konstitutsiia SShA.” In the collection Konstitutsii gosudarstv ameri-kanskogo kontinenia, vol. 3. Moscow, 1959.
Gitsenko, K. F. Sudebnaia sistema SShA i ee klassovaia sushchnost’. Moscow, 1961.
Mamaev, V. A. Reglament kongressa SShA. Moscow, 1962.
Marinin, S. B. SShA: Politika i upravlenie. Moscow, 1967.
Krylov, B. S. SShA: Federalizm, shtaty i mestnoe upravlenie. Moscow, 1968.
Kalenskii, V. G. Politicheskaia nauka v SShA. Moscow, 1969.
Belonogov, A. M. Belyi dom i kapitolii: Partnery i soperniki. Mos cow, 1974.

M. V. BAGLAI

Most of the territory of the USA lies in the subtropical and temperate belts of North America; it stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Alaska is situated in the subarctic and arctic belts and borders on the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Occupying the tropical belt are southern Florida and the Hawaiian Islands.

Coasts. The coastline of the mainland USA is 22,860 km long. The Atlantic coast is low-lying, bordered by a broad shelf reaching 300 km in width, and strongly dissected by bays (river estuaries and lagoons). The Pacific coast is hilly and bordered by a shelf reaching 100 km in width. The northern Pacific coast, along Washington and southern Alaska, is characterized by branching systems of fjords and straits separated from the ocean by islands.

Terrain. Mountains and tablelands occupy about one-half of the mainland USA. The western part of the country, including almost all of Alaska, consists of the high mountain ranges, tablelands, and plateaus of the Cordilleran mountain system. Great elevations and dissected surfaces characterize the Appalachian Mountains (Appalachia). The Northern Appalachians extend to the Atlantic Ocean, but the Southern Appalachians are separated from the ocean by the flat Atlantic Coastal Plain.

West of Appalachia is the southern part of the Laurentian Upland (with elevations ranging from 300 to 400 m) and the Interior Plains, which include the Central Lowland, the Great Plains, and the Gulf Coastal Plain. The Central Lowland has elevations from 200 and 500 m; it is characterized by hilly, morainal terrain in the north and by eroded terrain in the central and southern parts. The Great Plains, which are situated west of 97°-98° W long., constitute a strongly dissected piedmont plateau of the Cordilleras. They have elevations ranging from 500 m in the east to 1,600 m in the foothills; in certain regions the network of valleys is so dense that the territory is unsuitable for economic use. The Gulf Coastal Plain, with elevations reaching 150 m, is swampy near the coast and bordered by a belt of marshes.

The Cordilleras consist basically of a number of mountain chains, with maximum elevations from 3,000 to 5,000 m, and a broad band of interior tablelands and plateaus. In Alaska the ranges extend mainly from west to east, and in the northern section they are bordered by the flat Arctic Slope. They include the Brooks Range, the Yukon Plateau, the Aleutian Range, the Alaska Range, the Kenai Mountains, the Chugach Mountains, and the St. Elias Mountains. The Alaska Range includes Mount McKinley, which at 6,193 m is the highest peak in the USA and all of North