A U.S. state is any one of the 50 states which have membership of the federation known as the United States of America (USA or U.S.). The separate state governments and the U.S. federal government share sovereignty. The United States Constitution allocates power between the two levels of government in general terms. 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.
List of states
The states, with their US postal abbreviations, Associated Press abbreviations, and capitals, are:
For a complete list of non-state dependent areas and other territory under control of the U.S., see United States dependent areas.
At the time of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, the 13 colonies became 13 independently sovereign states. 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 13 states joined the modern union via ratification of the Constitution, beginning in 1789.
The U.S. Congress has the power to admit new states to the Union.
The Constitution is silent on the issue of the secession of a state from the United States, but the Articles of Confederation stated that "the union shall be perpetual," and the Declaration of Independence already clarifies the circumstances that permit legitimate secession, limiting that justification to overtly tyrannical government. Also, the U.S. judicial system, in the case of Texas v. White, established that states do not have the right to secede, at least under normal circumstances.
Various facts about the states
- "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.
- 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).
- States are free to organize their judicial systems differently from the federal judiciary, as long as due process is protected. See state supreme court for more information. For example, most lawsuits in the state of New York are filed in the Supreme Court, and then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The highest court in New York is the Court of Appeals.
- One state at the time of joining the United States had the right to divide itself into up to five separate states. The treaty of annexation by which the Republic of Texas joined the United States in 1845 included this provision; the state of Texas arguably retains that right by virtue of the treaty.
- 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.
- State names speak to the circumstances of their creation. (See also List of U.S. state name etymologies.)
- 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 Great Britain: New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York.
- Many states' names are those of Native American tribes or are from Native American languages: Connecticut, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Texas and more; half the state-names have such origins, not counting Hawaii.
- Because they are on territories previously controlled by Spain or Mexico, many states in the southeast and southwest have Spanish names. They include New Mexico, California, Colorado, Florida, and Nevada.
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.