U.S. state

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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 relationship

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

State names speak to the circumstances of their creation. (See the lists of U.S. state name etymologies and U.S. county name etymologies for more detail.)


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.

Native American

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).

Origin unknown

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.

Postal Traditional State Capital Largest City
AL Ala. Alabama Montgomery Birmingham
AK Alaska Alaska Juneau Anchorage
AZ Ariz. Arizona Phoenix Phoenix
AR Ark. Arkansas Little Rock Little Rock
CA Cal. or Calif. California Sacramento Los Angeles
CO Colo. Colorado Denver Denver
CT Conn. Connecticut Hartford Bridgeport
DE Del. Delaware Dover Wilmington
FL Fla. Florida Tallahassee Jacksonville
GA Ga. Georgia Atlanta Atlanta
HI Hawaii Hawaii Honolulu Honolulu
ID Idaho Idaho Boise Boise
IL Ill. Illinois Springfield Chicago
IN Ind. Indiana Indianapolis Indianapolis
IA Ia. Iowa Des Moines Des Moines
KS Kan. or Kans. Kansas Topeka Wichita
KY Ky. Kentucky Frankfort Louisville
LA La. Louisiana Baton Rouge New Orleans
ME Maine Maine Augusta Portland
MD Md. Maryland Annapolis Baltimore
MA Mass. Massachusetts Boston Boston
MI Mich. Michigan Lansing Detroit
MN Minn. Minnesota Saint Paul Minneapolis
MS Miss. Mississippi Jackson Jackson
MO Mo. Missouri Jefferson City Kansas City
MT Mont. Montana Helena Billings
NE Neb. Nebraska Lincoln Omaha
NV Nev. Nevada Carson City Las Vegas
NH N.H. New Hampshire Concord Manchester
NJ N.J. New Jersey Trenton Newark
NM N.M. New Mexico Santa Fe Albuquerque
NY N.Y. New York Albany New York City
NC N.C. North Carolina Raleigh Charlotte
ND N.D. or N.Dak. North Dakota Bismarck Fargo
OH O. Ohio Columbus Columbus
OK Okla. Oklahoma Oklahoma City Oklahoma City
OR Ore. or Oreg. Oregon Salem Portland
PA Penn. or Penna. Pennsylvania Harrisburg Philadelphia
RI R.I. Rhode Island Providence Providence
SC S.C. South Carolina Columbia Columbia
SD S.D. or S.Dak. South Dakota Pierre Sioux Falls
TN Tenn. Tennessee Nashville Memphis
TX Tex. or Texas Texas Austin Houston
UT Utah Utah Salt Lake City Salt Lake City
VT Vt. Vermont Montpelier Burlington
VA Va. Virginia Richmond Virginia Beach
WA Wash. Washington Olympia Seattle
WV W.Va. West Virginia Charleston Charleston
WI Wis. or Wisc. Wisconsin Madison Milwaukee
WY Wyo. Wyoming Cheyenne Cheyenne




Grouping of the states in regions

File:Map of USA showing regions.png
U.S. Census Bureau regions:
The West, The Midwest, The South and The Northeast. Note that Alaska and Hawaii are shown at different scales, and that the Aleutian Islands and the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are omitted from this map.

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.

State lists

See also



External links

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