Since 1959, the United States has had 50 official states. Sometimes, people incorrectly consider Washington, D.C., which is a federal district, and Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, the 51st and 52nd states.
The United States formed on July 4, 1776, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In this vital document, 13 colonies expressed their desire to gain independence from Great Britain. Many people consider the signing of the Declaration of Independence to be the start of the United States.
The 13 Colonies
The original 13 colonies consisted of: New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia. Collectively, these colonies formed America. The first state in the nation was Delaware, which was granted statehood on December 7, 1787. Under the rule of King James I, states along the Atlantic seaboard were divided into two separate colonies. The northern states went to the Plymouth Company, while the southern states went to the London Company. Massachusetts was an important area of trade and commerce, while settlers yearning freedom and independence gravitated to New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The Middle Colonies, which occupied the space between New England and Virginia, prospered from agricultural operations. The southern colonies, in contrast to their northern cousins, were much less prosperous. Farming and crop production constituted the primary economic income for settlers in the swath of land between present-day Virginia and Florida. Georgia was established in 1732 to create a buffer zone between South Carolina and Spanish settlements in Florida. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. After withdrawing, it joined Confederate forces of the South.
U.S. State Facts
Presently, 48 of the United States are situated on the mainland. Hawaii and Alaska are physically separated from the nation. The smallest state in the country is Rhode Island, which has an area of 1,545 square miles. The largest state is Alaska, which covers 656,424 square miles. With its large landmass, Alaska accounts for 17 percent of the total landmass in the United States. The most recent state to join the United States was Hawaii, which entered statehood on August 1,1959. Alaska was the second most recent state in the nation; it acquired statehood on January 3, 1959.
Although it is not an official U.S. state, Puerto Rico has been a member of the United States since 1898, after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. The U.S. government calls Puerto Rico an unincorporated territory, which means that this isolated nation falls under the control of the U.S. government but is not physically attached by the mainland. Although Puerto Rico is not considered a U.S. state, its citizens can move freely back and forth between Puerto Rico and the United States. Puerto Rico's citizens do not have voting power in Congress, and while they can't help elect a president of the United States, they are able to vote in the primaries. It remains to be seen whether or not Puerto Rico will become a U.S. state in the future, but historic votes and polls indicate that a majority of Americans support the adoption of this Caribbean country.