A U.S. state is any one of the fifty states (four of which officially favor the term commonwealth) which, with the District of Columbia form the United States of America. The separate state governments and the U.S. federal government share sovereignty, in that an "American" is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of residence.
The United States Constitution allocates power between the two levels of government in general terms; the general idea is that by ratifying the Constitution, each state (a) transfers certain sovereign powers to the federal government, e.g., the power to create money, (b) agrees to share other powers, e.g., the power to raise a militia, and (c) exclusively retains the remainder for itself, e.g., authority to regulate the practice of law and medicine. The tasks of education, health, transportation, and other infrastructure are generally the responsibility of the states. All states transferred, shared, and kept the same powers.
Over time, the Constitution has been amended, and the interpretation and application of its provisions have changed. The general tendency has been toward centralization, with the federal government playing a much larger role than it once did. A continuing debate involves "states' rights", how much and which powers did states give to the federal government.
Legal status at end of Revolutionary War
At the time of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, the 13 colonies became 13 independently sovereign states, which became fourteen in 1777 with the formation of the Vermont Republic; for a brief period, they were in effect legally separate nations.
Union as a single nation
Upon the adoption of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the states became a single sovereign political entity as defined by international law, empowered to levy war and to conduct international relations, albeit with a very loosely structured and inefficient central government. After the failure of the union under the Articles of Confederation, the thirteen states joined the modern union via ratification of the United States Constitution, beginning in 1789.
Relationship among the states
Under Article IV of the Constitution, which outlines the relationship between the states, the Congress has the power to admit new states to the union. The states are required to give "full faith and credit" to the acts of each other's legislatures and courts, which is generally held to include the recognition of legal contracts, marriages, criminal judgments, and — at the time — slave status. The states are guaranteed military and civil defense by the federal government, which is also required to ensure that the government of each state remains a republic.
The Constitution is silent on the issue of the secession of a state from the union. The Articles of Confederation had stated that the earlier union of the colonies "shall be perpetual", and the preamble to the Constitution states that Constitution was intended to "form a more perfect union". In 1860 and 1861, several states attempted to secede, but were brought back into the Union by force of arms during the Civil War. Subsequently, the federal judicial system, in the case of Texas v. White, established that states do not have the right to secede without the consent of the other states.
Commonwealths and states
Four of the states bear the formal title of Commonwealth: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In these cases, this is merely a name and has no legal effect. However, the United States has non-state areas called commonwealths (Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianas) which do have a legal status different from the states.
State judicial systems
States are free to organize their judicial systems differently from the federal judiciary, as long as due process is protected. See state court and state supreme court for more information. Most have a trial level court, generally called a District Court or County Court, a first-level appellate court, generally called Courts of Appeals, and a Supreme Court. Texas, however, has a Court of Criminal Appeals as the highest court for criminal cases and the Supreme Court for civil cases. Although New York follows the traditional three-level pattern, the trial court is called a Supreme Court, appeals are heard by the Supreme Court, Appellate Division and the highest court is the Court of Appeals; however, unlike Texas, these are only differences in terminology, not function.
Subdivision of Texas to form new states
The joint resolution which admitted the Republic of Texas to the Union as a state guaranteed Texas the right to divide itself up into up to 5 states. This clause may be redundant, however, as any such state would arguably require Congressional approval, just as when Maine was split off from Massachusetts; it may also be unconstitutional, as reducing the equal suffrage of the other states in the United States Senate.
In reality it is pointless—there is a saying in Texas, "Texas will never split up because no part would be willing to give up the Alamo."
Republic of Texas and California Republic
Texas and California still appear on some official seals and documents as the Republic of Texas and the California Republic, as both were briefly independent nations. However, these anachronisms have no legal consequence.
Origin of states' names
- Southern states on the Atlantic coast originated as British colonies named after British monarchs: Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland. Some northeastern states, also former British colonies, take their names from places in the British Isles: New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York.
- Many states' names are those of Native American tribes or are from Native American languages: Kansas, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Texas, Utah, and others.
- Because they are on territories previously controlled by Spain or Mexico, many states in the southeast and southwest have Spanish names. They include Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and Nevada.
- Because it was previously a French colony, Louisiana is named after the Louis XIV (King of France at the time).
- The origins of the names of California, Oregon, Idaho, and Rhode Island are unknown, although various theories exist.
List of states
The states, with their U.S. postal abbreviations, traditional abbreviations, capitals and largest cities, are as follows. For a complete list of non-state dependent areas and other territory under control of the U.S., see United States dependent areas.
- "Georgia" can refer to either a U.S. state or to an independent country in the Caucasus.
- The name "New York" can refer to any one of three geographical levels: a state, a city in that state, or a county (coterminous with the borough of Manhattan) in that city.
- "Washington" is a state, a city corresponding to the District of Columbia (and thus not part of any state), and a number of cities and counties in various states. See the list of places named for George Washington.
- The state of Washington is the only state named after a U.S. President (or after a person born within the area now comprising the U.S., for that matter).
- The official name of Rhode Island is "the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations."
- Only two states have state capitals named for the state (however, such name-sharing occurs commonly with states and provinces in some other countries, where the state or province actually often takes its name from a capital city): Oklahoma, with capital Oklahoma City, and Indiana, with capital Indianapolis (which means Indiana City). Iowa City, Iowa was the first state capital of Iowa but the capital was later moved to Des Moines, Iowa.
- Maine is the only state with a one-syllable name.
- Colorado and Wyoming are bounded by two circles of latitude and two meridians each, i.e. they appear to be rectangles in a cylindrical map projection.
- Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming are the only states whose borders are made up of only straight lines (taking meridians and circles of latitude as straight lines) and, thus, the only states whose borders completely ignore natural features.
- Every state—except Hawaii, which has no land boundaries—has straight lines as at least part of its boundaries. These are usually combined with rivers (see river borders of U.S. states), ridge lines and other natural boundaries. Pennsylvania and Delaware are unique in that their common border is an arc of a circle, see The Twelve-Mile Circle.
- The lower peninsula of Michigan is shaped like a mitten; Louisiana is shaped like a boot.
- Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia have panhandles.
- Alabama, Missouri, New Mexico and Mississippi have bootheels.
- Alaska and Hawaii are the only states that are not physically connected to other states; Maine is the only state that borders only one other state. Missouri and Tennessee each border eight other states, the most for any state.
- Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah are the only four states to share a common border, known as the "Four Corners."
- Appearances given by the stereographic projection to the contrary, Minnesota is the northernmost of the forty-eight contiguous United States, as a northern spur of the state contains a portion of Lake of the Woods. At one time it was thought that Lake of the Woods contained the headwaters of the Mississippi River (now known to be at Lake Itasca).
- Alaska is the northernmost state and the westernmost state. Some would argue that it is also the easternmost state, as the Aleutian island chain crosses the 180º line of longitude.
- The southernmost point is Ka Lae, Hawaii at Template:Coor dms. Ballast Key Florida is the southernmost point in the contiguous 48 states at Template:Coor dms.
Grouping of the states in regions
States may be grouped in regions; there are endless variations and possible groupings, as most states are not defined by obvious geographic or cultural borders. For further discussion of regions of the U.S., see the list of regions of the United States.
- List of U.S. state capitals
- List of current and former capital cities within U.S. states
- List of U.S. states' largest cities
- List of U.S. states by date of statehood
- List of U.S. states that were never territories
- List of U.S. state name etymologies
- List of U.S. state legislature websites
- List of U.S. states by area
- List of U.S. states by elevation
- List of U.S. states by population
- List of U.S. states by population density
- List of U.S. states by population growth
- List of U.S. states by time zone
- List of U.S. states by unemployment rate
- Traditional U.S. state abbreviations
- U.S. postal abbreviations
- U.S. state temperature extremes
- Codes: FIPS state code, ISO 3166-2:US
- Lists of U.S. state insignia
- List of U.S. state amphibians
- List of U.S. state beverages
- List of U.S. state birds
- List of U.S. state butterflies
- List of U.S. state colors
- List of U.S. state dances
- List of U.S. state dinosaurs
- List of U.S. state fish
- List of U.S. state flags
- List of U.S. state flowers
- List of U.S. state foods
- List of U.S. state fossils
- List of U.S. state grasses
- List of U.S. state insects
- List of U.S. state license plates
- List of U.S. state mammals
- List of U.S. state minerals, rocks, stones and gemstones
- List of U.S. state mottos
- List of U.S. state nicknames
- List of U.S. state reptiles
- List of U.S. state seals
- List of U.S. state slogans
- List of U.S. state soils
- List of U.S. state songs
- List of U.S. state sports
- List of U.S. state trees
- Extreme points of the United States
- Geography of the United States
- List of regions of the United States
- Political divisions of the United States
- United States territory
- United States territorial acquisitions
- List of U.S. counties that share names with U.S. states
- States' rights
- State Quarters
- United States Declaration of Independence (text)
- Declaration of Independence (United States)
- United States Constitution
- Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
- Tables with areas, populations, densities and more (in order of population)
- Tables with areas, populations, densities and more (alphabetical)
- US Newspapers by State
- Origin of State Names
- Rick's Search Engine List - Web links and addresses for many state agencies, e.g., Motor Vehicles, Corporate Records, Insurance, Attorneys General
- United States Postal Service
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