Definitions

America

America

[uh-mer-i-kuh]
America [for Amerigo Vespucci], the lands of the Western Hemisphere—North America, Central (or Middle) America, and South America. The world map published in 1507 by Martin Waldseemüller is the first known cartographic use of the name. In English, America and American are frequently used to refer only to the United States.

Radio broadcasting network of the U.S. government. Its function is to promote understanding of the U.S. and spread democratic values. Its daily broadcasts include news reports, editorials, and discussions of U.S. political and cultural events. Its first broadcast, in German, took place in 1942 to counter Nazi propaganda. By the end of World War II, it was broadcasting 3,200 programs in 40 languages every week. During the Cold War it focused its message at the communist countries of eastern and central Europe. It became part of the U.S. Information Agency when that agency was formed in 1953.

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known as Annapolis

Institution for the training of commissioned officers for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. It was founded at Annapolis, Md., in 1845 and reorganized in 1850–51. Women were first admitted in 1976. Graduates are awarded the degree of bachelor of science and a commission as ensign in the Navy or as second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Annapolis has produced many notable Americans, including George Dewey, Richard E. Byrd, Chester Nimitz, William F. Halsey, Jr., A.A. Michelson, Hyman Rickover, Jimmy Carter, Ross Perot, and several astronauts.

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known as West Point

Institution for the training of commissioned officers for the U.S. Army. Founded in 1802 at the fort at West Point, N.Y., it is one of the oldest service academies in the world. It was established as an apprentice school for military engineers and was, in effect, the first U.S. school of engineering. It was reorganized in 1812, and in 1866 its educational program was expanded considerably. Women were first admitted in 1976. The four-year course of college-level education and training leads to a bachelor of science degree and a commission as second lieutenant in the Army. West Point has trained such leaders as Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, John Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Omar Bradley, and George Patton.

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Institution for the training of commissioned officers for the U.S. Air Force, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Created by an act of Congress in 1954, it opened in 1955. Graduates receive a bachelor's degree and a second lieutenant's commission. Most physically qualified graduates go on to Air Force pilot-training schools. Candidates may come from the ranks of the U.S. Army or Air Force, may be children of deceased veterans of the armed forces, or may be nominated by U.S. senators or representatives or by the president or vice president. All applicants must take a competitive entrance examination.

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officially United States of America

Country, North America. It comprises 48 conterminous states occupying the mid-continent, Alaska at the northwestern extreme of North America, and the island state of Hawaii in the mid-Pacific Ocean. Area, including the U.S. share of the Great Lakes: 3,676,487 sq mi (9,522,058 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 296,748,000. Capital: Washington, D.C. The population includes people of European and Middle Eastern ancestry, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians (Native Americans), and Alaska Natives. Languages: English (predominant), Spanish. Religions: Christianity (Protestant, Roman Catholic, other Christians, Eastern Orthodox); also Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. Currency: U.S. dollar. The country encompasses mountains, plains, lowlands, and deserts. Mountain ranges include the Appalachians, Ozarks, Rockies, Cascades, and Sierra Nevada. The lowest point is Death Valley, Calif. The highest point is Alaska's Mount McKinley; within the conterminous states it is Mount Whitney, Calif. Chief rivers are the Mississippi system, the Colorado, the Columbia, and the Rio Grande. The Great Lakes, the Great Salt Lake, Iliamna Lake, and Lake Okeechobee are the largest lakes. The U.S. is among the world's leading producers of several minerals, including copper, silver, zinc, gold, coal, petroleum, and natural gas; it is the chief exporter of food. Its manufactures include iron and steel, chemicals, electronic equipment, and textiles. Other important industries are tourism, dairying, livestock raising, fishing, and lumbering. The U.S. is a federal republic with two legislative houses; its head of state and government is the president.

The territory was originally inhabited for several thousand years by numerous American Indian peoples who had probably migrated from Asia. European exploration and settlement from the 16th century began displacement of the Indians. The first permanent European settlement, by the Spanish, was at Saint Augustine, Fla., in 1565. The English settled Jamestown, Va. (1607); Plymouth, Mass. (1620); Maryland (1634); and Pennsylvania (1681). The English took New York, New Jersey, and Delaware from the Dutch in 1664, a year after English noblemen had begun to colonize the Carolinas. The British defeat of the French in 1763 (see French and Indian War) assured Britain political control over its 13 colonies. Political unrest caused by British colonial policy culminated in the American Revolution (1775–83) and the Declaration of Independence (1776). The U.S. was first organized under the Articles of Confederation (1781), then finally under the Constitution (1787) as a federal republic. Boundaries extended west to the Mississippi River, excluding Spanish Florida. Land acquired from France by the Louisiana Purchase (1803) nearly doubled the country's territory. The U.S. fought the War of 1812 against the British and acquired Florida from Spain in 1819. In 1830 it legalized the removal of American Indians to lands west of the Mississippi River. Settlement expanded into the Far West in the mid-19th century, especially after the discovery of gold in California in 1848 (see gold rush). Victory in the Mexican War (1846–48) brought the territory of seven more future states (including California and Texas) into U.S. hands. The northwestern boundary was established by treaty with Britain in 1846. The U.S. acquired southern Arizona by the Gadsden Purchase (1853). It suffered disunity during the conflict between the slavery-based plantation economy in the South and the industrial and agricultural economy in the North, culminating in the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery under the 13th Amendment. After Reconstruction (1865–77) the U.S. experienced rapid growth, urbanization, industrial development, and European immigration. In 1887 it authorized allotment of American Indian reservation land to individual tribesmen, resulting in widespread loss of land to whites. Victory in the Spanish-American War brought the U.S. the overseas territories of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. By the end of the 19th century, it had further developed foreign trade and acquired other outlying territories, including Alaska, Midway Island, the Hawaiian Islands, Wake Island, American Samoa, and the Panama Canal Zone.

The U.S. participated in World War I in 1917–18. It granted suffrage to women in 1920 and citizenship to American Indians in 1924. The stock market crash of 1929 led to the Great Depression, which New Deal legislation combated by increasing the federal government's role in the economy. The U.S. entered World War II after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941). The explosion by the U.S. of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima (Aug. 6, 1945) and another on Nagasaki (Aug. 9, 1945), Japan, brought about Japan's surrender. Thereafter the U.S. was the military and economic leader of the Western world. In the first decade after the war, it aided the reconstruction of Europe and Japan and became embroiled in a rivalry with the Soviet Union known as the Cold War. It participated in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. In 1952 it granted autonomous commonwealth status to Puerto Rico. Racial segregation in schools was declared unconstitutional in 1954. Alaska and Hawaii were made states in 1959. In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and authorized U.S. entry into the Vietnam War. The mid- to late 1960s were marked by widespread civil disorder, including race riots and antiwar demonstrations. The U.S. accomplished the first manned lunar landing in 1969. All U.S. troops were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1973. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. assumed the status of sole world superpower. The U.S. led a coalition of forces against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War (1990–91). Administration of the Panama Canal was turned over to Panama in 1999. After the September 11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001 destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, the U.S. attacked Afghanistan's Taliban government for harbouring and refusing to extradite the mastermind of the terrorism, Osama bin Laden. In 2003 the U.S. attacked Iraq, with British support, and overthrew the government of Ssubdotaddām Hsubdotussein (see Iraq War).

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Fundamental law of the U.S. federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world. It is the oldest written national constitution in operation, completed in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention of 55 delegates who met in Philadelphia, ostensibly to amend the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was ratified in June 1788, but because ratification in many states was contingent on the promised addition of a Bill of Rights, Congress proposed 12 amendments in September 1789; 10 were ratified by the states, and their adoption was certified on Dec. 15, 1791. The framers were especially concerned with limiting the power of the government and securing the liberty of citizens. The Constitution's separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, the checks and balances of each branch against the other, and the explicit guarantees of individual liberty were all designed to strike a balance between authority and liberty. Article I vests all legislative powers in the Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate. Article II vests executive power in the president. Article III places judicial power in the hands of the courts. Article IV deals, in part, with relations among the states and with the privileges of the citizens, Article V with amendment procedure, and Article VI with public debts and the supremacy of the Constitution. Article VII stipulates that the Constitution would become operational after being ratified by nine states. The 10th Amendment limits the national government's powers to those expressly listed in the Constitution; the states, unless otherwise restricted, possess all the remaining (or “residual”) powers of government. Amendments to the Constitution may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. (All subsequent amendments have been initiated by Congress.) Amendments proposed by Congress must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures or by conventions in as many states. Twenty-seven amendments have been added to the Constitution since 1789. In addition to the Bill of Rights, these include the 13th (1865), abolishing slavery; the 14th (1868), requiring due process and equal protection under the law; the 15th (1870), guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race; the 17th (1913), providing for the direct election of U.S. senators; the 19th (1920), instituting women's suffrage, and the 22nd (1951), limiting the presidency to two terms. Seealso civil liberty; commerce clause; Equal Rights Amendment; establishment clause; freedom of speech; judiciary; states' rights.

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Legislature of the U.S., separated structurally from the executive and judicial (see judiciary) branches of government. Established by the Constitution of the United States, it succeeded the unicameral congress created by the Articles of Confederation (1781). It consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Representation in the Senate is fixed at two senators per state. Until passage of the 17th Amendment (1913), senators were appointed by the state legislatures; since then they have been elected directly. In the House, representation is proportional to each state's population; total membership is restricted (since 1912) to 435 members (the total rose temporarily to 437 following the admission of Hawaii and Alaska as states in 1959). Congressional business is processed by committees: bills are debated in committees in both houses, and reconciliation of the two resulting versions takes place in a conference committee. A presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds majority in each house. Congress's constitutional powers include the setting and collecting of taxes, borrowing money on credit, regulating commerce, coining money, declaring war, raising and supporting armies, and making all laws necessary for the execution of its powers. All finance-related legislation must originate in the House; powers exclusive to the Senate include approval of presidential nominations, ratification of treaties, and adjudication of impeachments. Seealso bicameral system.

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Bank chartered in 1791 by the U.S. Congress. It was conceived by Alexander Hamilton to pay off the country's debts from the American Revolution and to provide a stable currency. Its establishment, opposed by Thomas Jefferson, was marked by extended debate over its constitutionality and contributed significantly to the evolution of pro- and anti-bank factions into the first U.S. political parties, the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party. The national bank played the unexpected but beneficial role of preventing private state banks from overextending credit, a restriction that some nevertheless considered an affront to states' rights. Meanwhile, agrarian populists regarded the bank as an institution of privilege and wealth and the enemy of democracy and the interests of the common people. Antagonism over the bank issue grew so heated that its charter could not be renewed in 1811. Criticism of the bank reached its height during the administration of Pres. Andrew Jackson, who led anti-bank forces in the long struggle known as the Bank War. The bank's charter expired in 1836. Its reorganization as the Bank of the United States of Pennsylvania ended its regulation of private banks.

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U.S. labour union. Founded in 1890, the UMWA grew rapidly under the leadership of John Mitchell (president 1898–1908) despite determined opposition from coal-mine operators. By 1920, when John L. Lewis took over, the union had half a million members. Lewis capitalized on the pro-labour climate of the New Deal and led numerous strikes to win fair pay, safe working conditions, and benefits. The UMWA was a mainstay of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (see AFL-CIO) in its early years, but Lewis withdrew the union from the CIO in 1942. Unaffiliated for decades, the UMWA finally joined the AFL-CIO in 1989. The UMWA's importance declined in the later 20th century with the waning of the labour movement and the rise of alternative sources of fuel, and by the 1990s it had fewer than 200,000 members.

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Continent, Western Hemisphere. The world's fourth largest continent, it is bounded by the Caribbean Sea to the northwest, the Atlantic Ocean to the northeast, east, and southeast, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is separated from Antarctica by the Drake Passage and is joined to North America by the Isthmus of Panama. Area: 6,895,210 sq mi (17,858,520sq km). Pop., 2002 est.: 350,977,000. Four main ethnic groups have populated South America: Indians, who were the continent's pre-Columbian inhabitants; Spanish and Portuguese who dominated the continent from the 16th to the early 19th century; Africans imported as slaves; and the postindependence immigrants from overseas, mostly Germans and southern Europeans but also Lebanese, South Asians, and Japanese. Nine-tenths of the people are Christian, the vast majority of whom are Roman Catholic. Spanish is the official language everywhere except in Brazil (Portuguese), French Guiana (French), Guyana (English), and Suriname (Dutch); some Indian languages are spoken. South America has three major geographic regions. In the west, the Andes Mountains, which are prone to seismic activity, extend the length of the continent; Mount Aconcagua, at 22,834 ft (6,960 m), is the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere. Highlands lie in the north and east, bordered by lowland sedimentary basins that include the Amazon River, the world's largest drainage basin, and the Pampas of eastern Argentina, whose fertile soils constitute one of South America's most productive agricultural areas. Other important drainage systems include those of the Orinoco and São Francisco rivers and the ParanáParaguay–Río de la Plata system. Four-fifths of South America lies within the tropics, but it also has temperate, arid, and cold climatic regions. Less than one-tenth of its land is arable, producing mainly corn (maize), wheat, and rice, and about one-fourth is under permanent pasture. About half is covered by forest, mainly the enormous but steadily diminishing rainforest of the Amazon basin. Almost one-fourth of all the world's known animal species live in the continent's rainforests, plateaus, rivers, and swamps. South America has one-eighth of the world's total deposits of iron and one-fourth of its copper reserves. Exploitation of these and numerous other mineral resources are important to the economies of many regions. Commercial crops include bananas, citrus fruits, sugar, and coffee; fishing is important along the Pacific coast. Trade in illegal narcotics (mostly for export) is a major source of revenue in some countries. Most countries have free-market or mixed (state and private enterprise) economies. Income tends to be unevenly distributed between large numbers of poor people and a small number of wealthy families, with the middle classes, though growing, still a minority in most countries. Asiatic hunters and gatherers are thought to have been the first settlers, probably arriving less than 12,000 years ago. The growth of agriculture from circa 2500 BC (it had begun some 6,000 years earlier) initiated a period of rapid cultural evolution whose greatest development occurred in the central Andes region and culminated with the Inca empire. European exploration began when Christopher Columbus landed in 1498; thereafter Spanish and Portuguese adventurers (see conquistadores) opened it for plunder and, later, settlement. According to terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas, Portugal received the eastern part of the continent, while Spain received the rest. The Indian peoples were decimated by this contact, and most of those who survived were reduced to a form of serfdom. The continent was free of European rule by the early 1800s except for the Guianas. Most of the countries adopted a republican form of government; however, social and economic inequalities or border disputes led to periodic revolutions in many of them, and by the early 20th century most had fallen under some form of autocratic rule. All joined the United Nations after World War II (1938–45), and all joined the Organization of American States in 1948. By the second half of the 20th century most countries had begun to integrate their economies into world markets, and by the 1990s most had embraced democratic rule.

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Continent, Western Hemisphere. The third-largest continent on earth, it lies mostly between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer. It is almost completely surrounded by bodies of water, including the Pacific Ocean, the Bering Strait, the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Area: 9,361,791 sq mi (24,247,039 sq km). Population (2001 est.): 454,225,000. Shaped like an inverted triangle, North America was apparently the first continent to achieve its current approximate size and shape. Its geologic structure is built around a stable platform of Precambrian rock called the Canadian Shield. To the southeast are the Appalachian Mountains and to the west are the younger and much taller Cordilleras. These mountains extend the length of the continent and occupy about one-third of the total land area. The Rocky Mountains constitute the eastern Cordillera. The highest point is Mount McKinley. The Mississippi River basin, including its major tributaries, the Missouri and Ohio, occupies more than one-eighth of the continent's total area. Generally temperate climatic conditions prevail. Arable land accounts for about one-eighth of the land area and forests for about one-third. English, the primary language of the U.S., predominates, followed by Spanish; French is spoken in parts of Canada. Most of the continent's population of European descent is found in the U.S. and Canada. Intermarriage between whites and Indians was common in Mexico, and mestizos constitute about three-fifths of the Mexican population. North America has a mixture of developed, partly developed, and developing economies, adequate reserves of most metallic resources, and the world's largest reserves of cadmium, copper, lead, molybdenum, silver, and zinc. It is the world's leading food producer, largely because of mechanized and scientific farming in the U.S. and Canada. Among the continent's democratically governed states are Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the U.S. The nations of North America have sought hemispheric unity as members of the Organization of American States, which also includes South American countries. They also sought stronger economic ties, and in 1992 Canada, the U.S., and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which called for the elimination of most tariffs and other trade barriers between the three countries. The first inhabitants were American Indians, who migrated from Asia about 20,000 years ago. The greatest pre-Columbian civilizations were in Mesoamerica (see Mesoamerican civilization) and included the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec, who were conquered by the Spanish. The continent long remained sparsely settled and undeveloped. Beginning in the 17th century it underwent a profound transformation with the coming of Europeans and the Africans they introduced as slaves. The style of life became Latin American south of the Rio Grande and Anglo-American to the north, with enclaves of French culture in Canada and Louisiana. Slavery, practiced in the 16th–19th centuries, added a significant minority culture of African origin, especially in the U.S. and the Caribbean (see West Indies). The huge industrial economy of the U.S., its abundant resources, and its military strength give the continent considerable global influence.

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Memorial, southeastern Nebraska, U.S. Established in 1936 as a memorial to the hardships of pioneer life, it is the site of the first claim under the Homestead Act of 1862 and has exhibits tracing the development of the Homestead Movement. It occupies 163 acres (66 hectares) and includes a homestead log cabin.

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or Confederacy

Government of the 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860–61 until its defeat in the American Civil War in 1865. In the months following Abraham Lincoln's election as president in 1860, seven states of the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) seceded. After the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia joined them. The government was directed by Jefferson Davis as president, with Alexander H. Stephens as vice president. Its principal goals were the preservation of states' rights and the institution of slavery. The government's main concern was raising and maintaining an army. It counted on the influence of King Cotton to exert financial and diplomatic pressure on the Union from sympathetic European governments. Battlefield victories for the South in 1861–62 gave the Confederacy the moral strength to continue fighting, but from 1863 dwindling finances and battlefield reverses increasingly led to demoralization. The surrender at Appomattox Court House by Gen. Robert E. Lee precipitated its dissolution.

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(1867) Act of the British Parliament by which three British colonies—Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Canada—were united as “one Dominion under the name of Canada.” The act also divided the province of Canada into the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. It served as Canada's “constitution” until 1982, when it became the basis of the Canada Act.

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