U.S. state
Category Federated state
Location United States
Number 50
Government State government

A U.S. state (abbreviation of United States state) is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile.[1] Four states use the official title of commonwealth rather than state. State citizenship is flexible and no government approval is required to move between states (with the exception of convicts on parole).

The United States Constitution allocates power between these two levels of government. By ratifying the Constitution, the people transferred certain limited sovereign powers to the federal government from their states. Under the Tenth Amendment, all powers not delegated to the U.S. government nor prohibited to the states are retained by the states or the people. Historically, the tasks of public safety (in the sense of controlling crime), public education, public health, transportation, and infrastructure have generally been considered primarily state responsibilities, although all of these now have significant federal funding and regulation as well (based largely upon the Commerce Clause, the Taxing and Spending Clause, and the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution).

Over time, the Constitution has been amended, and the interpretation and application of its provisions have changed. The general tendency has been toward centralization and incorporation, with the federal government playing a much larger role than it once did. There is a continuing debate over states' rights, which concerns the extent and nature of the states' powers and sovereignty in relation to the federal government as well as the rights of individual persons.

Congress may admit new states on an equal footing with existing ones; this last happened in 1959 with the admission of Alaska and Hawaii. The Constitution is silent on the question of whether states have the power to unilaterally leave, or secede from, the Union, but the Supreme Court has ruled[2][3] secession to be unconstitutional, a position driven in part by the outcome of the American Civil War.

List of states

AlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyomingDelawareMarylandNew HampshireNew JerseyMassachusettsConnecticutWest VirginiaVermontRhode Island
About this image

The following table lists each of the 50 states of the United States with the following information:

  1. The state name
  2. The preferred pronunciation of the common state name as transcribed with the International Phonetic Alphabet (see Help:IPA for English for a key)
  3. The United States Postal Service (USPS) two-character state abbreviation[4]
    (also used as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standard 3166-2 country subdivision code)
  4. An image of the official state flag
  5. The date the state ratified the United States Constitution or was admitted to the Union
  6. The total land and water area of the state
  7. The United States Census 2010 of state population as of 02010-04-01April 1, 2010[5]
  8. The state capital
  9. The most populous incorporated place or Census Designated Place within the state as of 02008-07-01July 1, 2008, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau[6]
  10. Preceding entity of the state, in which it does not account for the Ordinance of Secession during the American Civil War of 13 states, 11 of which formed the Confederate States of America, and the subsequent restoration of those states to representation in Congress (sometimes called "readmission") between 1866 and 1870, or the end of the reconstruction era of the United States.

The 50 United States of America
Name IPA USPS Flag Statehood Area (sq mi) Population (2010) Capital Most populous city Preceding entity
Alabama /ˌæləˈbæmə/ AL Flag of Alabama.svg 01819-12-14December 14, 1819 &000000000013576500000052,419 sq mi (135,765 km2) 4,779,736 Montgomery Birmingham Alabama Territory
Alaska /əˈlæskə/ AK Flag of Alaska.svg 01959-01-03January 3, 1959 &0000000001717854000000663,267 sq mi (1,717,854 km2) 710,231 Juneau Anchorage Alaska Territory
Arizona /ˌærɪˈzoʊnə/ AZ Flag of Arizona.svg 01912-02-14February 14, 1912 &0000000000295254000000113,998 sq mi (295,254 km2) 6,392,017 Phoenix Phoenix Arizona Territory
Arkansas /ˈɑrkənsɔː/ AR Flag of Arkansas.svg 01836-06-15June 15, 1836 &000000000013700200000052,897 sq mi (137,002 km2) 2,915,918 Little Rock Little Rock Arkansas Territory
California /ˌkælɪˈfɔrnjə/ CA Flag of California.svg 01850-09-09September 9, 1850 &0000000000423970000000163,700 sq mi (423,970 km2) 37,253,956 Sacramento Los Angeles Directly admitted from Mexican Cession
Colorado /ˌkɒləˈrædoʊ/ CO Flag of Colorado.svg 01876-08-01August 1, 1876 &0000000000269837000000104,185 sq mi (269,837 km2) 5,029,196 Denver Denver Colorado Territory
Connecticut /kəˈnɛtɪkət/ CT Flag of Connecticut.svg 01788-01-09January 9, 1788 &00000000000143560000005,543 sq mi (14,356 km2) 3,574,097 Hartford Bridgeport[7] Connecticut Colony, then sovereign state in Confederation
Delaware /ˈdɛləwɛər/ DE Flag of Delaware.svg 01787-12-07December 7, 1787 &00000000000064520000002,491 sq mi (6,452 km2) 897,934 Dover Wilmington Lower Counties on Delaware, then sovereign state in Confederation
Florida /ˈflɒrɪdə/ FL Flag of Florida.svg 01845-03-03March 3, 1845 &000000000017030400000065,755 sq mi (170,304 km2) 18,801,310 Tallahassee Jacksonville[8] Florida Territory
Georgia /ˈdʒɔrdʒə/ GA Flag of Georgia (U.S. state).svg 01788-01-02January 2, 1788 &000000000015390900000059,425 sq mi (153,909 km2) 9,687,653 Atlanta Atlanta Province of Georgia, then sovereign state in Confederation
Hawaii /həˈwaɪ.iː/ HI Flag of Hawaii.svg 01959-08-21August 21, 1959 &000000000002831100000010,931 sq mi (28,311 km2) 1,360,301 Honolulu Honolulu Territory of Hawaii
Idaho /ˈaɪdəhoʊ/ ID Flag of Idaho.svg 01890-07-03July 3, 1890 &000000000021663200000083,642 sq mi (216,632 km2) 1,567,582 Boise Boise Idaho Territory
Illinois /ɪlɪˈnɔɪ/ IL Flag of Illinois.svg 01818-12-03December 3, 1818 &000000000014199800000054,826 sq mi (141,998 km2) 12,830,632 Springfield Chicago Illinois Territory, formed from the Northwest Territory
Indiana /ˌɪndiˈænə/ IN Flag of Indiana.svg 01816-12-11December 11, 1816 &000000000009432100000036,418 sq mi (94,321 km2) 6,483,802 Indianapolis Indianapolis Indiana Territory, formed from the Northwest Territory
Iowa /ˈaɪ.ɵwə/ IA Flag of Iowa.svg 01846-12-28December 28, 1846 &000000000014574300000056,272 sq mi (145,743 km2) 3,046,355 Des Moines Des Moines Iowa Territory
Kansas /ˈkænzəs/ KS Flag of Kansas.svg 01861-01-29January 29, 1861 &000000000021309600000082,277 sq mi (213,096 km2) 2,853,118 Topeka Wichita Kansas Territory
Kentucky[9] /kɪnˈtʌki/ KY Flag of Kentucky.svg 01792-06-01June 1, 1792 &000000000010465900000040,409 sq mi (104,659 km2) 4,339,367 Frankfort Louisville Split off from Virginia with that state's consent. The former huge Kentucky County
Louisiana /luːˌiːziˈænə/ LA Flag of Louisiana.svg 01812-04-30April 30, 1812 &000000000013538200000052,271 sq mi (135,382 km2) 4,533,372 Baton Rouge New Orleans Territory of Orleans
Maine /ˈmeɪn/ ME Flag of Maine.svg 01820-03-15March 15, 1820 &000000000009164600000035,385 sq mi (91,646 km2) 1,328,361 Augusta Portland Split off from Massachusetts with that state's consent (the former District of Maine)
Maryland /ˈmɛrələnd/ MD Flag of Maryland.svg 01788-04-28April 28, 1788 &000000000003213300000012,407 sq mi (32,133 km2) 5,773,552 Annapolis Baltimore[10] Province of Maryland, then sovereign state in Confederation
Massachusetts[9] /ˌmæsəˈtʃuːsɪts/ MA Flag of Massachusetts.svg 01788-02-06February 6, 1788 &000000000002733600000010,554 sq mi (27,336 km2) 6,547,629 Boston Boston Province of Massachusetts Bay, then sovereign state in Confederation
Michigan /ˈmɪʃɪɡən/ MI Flag of Michigan.svg 01837-01-26January 26, 1837 &000000000025379300000097,990 sq mi (253,793 km2) 9,883,640 Lansing Detroit Michigan Territory, formed from the Northwest Territory
Minnesota /ˌmɪnɪˈsoʊtə/ MN Flag of Minnesota.svg 01858-05-11May 11, 1858 &000000000022518100000086,943 sq mi (225,181 km2) 5,303,925 Saint Paul Minneapolis Minnesota Territory
Mississippi /ˌmɪsɪˈsɪpi/ MS Flag of Mississippi.svg 01817-12-10December 10, 1817 &000000000012544300000048,434 sq mi (125,443 km2) 2,967,297 Jackson Jackson Mississippi Territory, formed from land donated to the U.S. by Georgia
Missouri /mɪˈzʊəri, mɪˈzʊərə/ MO Flag of Missouri.svg 01821-08-10August 10, 1821 &000000000018053300000069,704 sq mi (180,533 km2) 5,988,927 Jefferson City Kansas City[11] Missouri Territory
Montana /mɒnˈtænə/ MT Flag of Montana.svg 01889-11-08November 8, 1889 &0000000000381156000000147,165 sq mi (381,156 km2) 989,415 Helena Billings Montana Territory
Nebraska /nəˈbræskə/ NE Flag of Nebraska.svg 01867-03-01March 1, 1867 &000000000020052000000077,420 sq mi (200,520 km2) 1,826,341 Lincoln Omaha Nebraska Territory
Nevada /nəˈvædə/ NV Flag of Nevada.svg 01864-10-31October 31, 1864 &0000000000286367000000110,567 sq mi (286,367 km2) 2,700,551 Carson City Las Vegas Nevada Territory
New Hampshire /nuː ˈhæmpʃər/ NH Flag of New Hampshire.svg 01788-06-21June 21, 1788 &00000000000242170000009,350 sq mi (24,217 km2) 1,316,470 Concord Manchester[12] Province of New Hampshire, then sovereign state in Confederation
New Jersey /nuː ˈdʒɜrzi/ NJ Flag of New Jersey.svg 01787-12-18December 18, 1787 &00000000000226080000008,729 sq mi (22,608 km2) 8,791,894 Trenton Newark[13] Province of New Jersey, then sovereign state in Confederation
New Mexico /nuː ˈmɛksɪkoʊ/ NM Flag of New Mexico.svg 01912-01-06January 6, 1912 &0000000000315194000000121,697 sq mi (315,194 km2) 2,059,179 Santa Fe Albuquerque New Mexico Territory
New York /nuː ˈjɔrk/ NY Flag of New York.svg 01788-07-26July 26, 1788 &000000000014129900000054,556 sq mi (141,299 km2) 19,378,102 Albany New York City[14] Province of New York, then sovereign state in Confederation
North Carolina /ˌnɔrθ kærəˈlaɪnə/ NC Flag of North Carolina.svg 01789-11-21November 21, 1789 &000000000013950900000053,865 sq mi (139,509 km2) 9,535,483 Raleigh Charlotte Province of North Carolina, then sovereign state in Confederation
North Dakota /ˌnɔrθ dəˈkoʊtə/ ND Flag of North Dakota.svg 01889-11-02November 2, 1889 &000000000018327200000070,762 sq mi (183,272 km2) 672,591 Bismarck Fargo Dakota Territory
Ohio /oʊˈhaɪ.oʊ/ OH Flag of Ohio.svg 01803-03-01March 1, 1803 &000000000011609600000044,825 sq mi (116,096 km2) 11,536,504 Columbus Columbus[15] Northwest Territory, land donated to the U.S. by Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York
Oklahoma /ˌoʊkləˈhoʊmə/ OK Flag of Oklahoma.svg 01907-11-16November 16, 1907 &000000000018119500000069,960 sq mi (181,195 km2) 3,751,351 Oklahoma City Oklahoma City Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory
Oregon /ˈɒrɪɡən/ OR Flag of Oregon.svg 01859-02-14February 14, 1859 &000000000025502600000098,466 sq mi (255,026 km2) 3,831,074 Salem Portland Oregon Territory
Pennsylvania[9] /ˌpɛnsɪlˈveɪnjə/ PA Flag of Pennsylvania.svg 01787-12-12December 12, 1787 &000000000011928300000046,055 sq mi (119,283 km2) 12,702,379 Harrisburg Philadelphia Province of Pennsylvania, then sovereign state in Confederation
Rhode Island[16] /rɵd ˈaɪlənd/ RI Flag of Rhode Island.svg 01790-05-29May 29, 1790 &00000000000031400000001,210 sq mi (3,140 km2) 1,052,567 Providence Providence Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, then sovereign state
South Carolina /ˌsaʊθ kærəˈlaɪnə/ SC Flag of South Carolina.svg 01788-05-23May 23, 1788 &000000000008293100000032,020 sq mi (82,931 km2) 4,625,364 Columbia Columbia[17] Province of South Carolina, then sovereign state in Confederation
South Dakota /ˌsaʊθ dəˈkoʊtə/ SD Flag of South Dakota.svg 01889-11-02November 2, 1889 &000000000019990500000077,184 sq mi (199,905 km2) 814,180 Pierre Sioux Falls Dakota Territory
Tennessee /ˌtɛnɪˈsiː/ TN Flag of Tennessee.svg 01796-06-01June 1, 1796 &000000000010924700000042,181 sq mi (109,247 km2) 6,346,105 Nashville Memphis[18] Formed from western land donated to the U.S. by North Carolina
Texas /ˈtɛksəs/ TX Flag of Texas.svg 01845-12-29December 29, 1845 &0000000000696241000000268,820 sq mi (696,241 km2) 25,145,561 Austin Houston[19] Republic of Texas
Utah /ˈjuːtɔː/ UT Flag of Utah.svg 01896-01-04January 4, 1896 &000000000021988700000084,899 sq mi (219,887 km2) 2,763,885 Salt Lake City Salt Lake City Utah Territory
Vermont /vərˈmɒnt/ VT Flag of Vermont.svg 01791-03-04March 4, 1791 &00000000000249230000009,623 sq mi (24,923 km2) 625,741 Montpelier Burlington Province of New York and New Hampshire Grants (ownership disputed); Vermont Republic
Virginia[9] /vərˈdʒɪnjə/ VA Flag of Virginia.svg 01788-06-25June 25, 1788 &000000000011078500000042,774 sq mi (110,785 km2) 8,001,024 Richmond Virginia Beach[20] Colony of Virginia, then sovereign state in Confederation
Washington /ˈwɒʃɪŋtən/ WA Flag of Washington.svg 01889-11-11November 11, 1889 &000000000018482700000071,362 sq mi (184,827 km2) 6,724,540 Olympia Seattle Washington Territory
West Virginia /ˌwɛst vərˈdʒɪnjə/ WV Flag of West Virginia.svg 01863-06-20June 20, 1863 &000000000006275500000024,230 sq mi (62,755 km2) 1,852,994 Charleston Charleston Divided off from Virginia with the questionable consent of that state
Wisconsin /wɪsˈkɒnsɪn/ WI Flag of Wisconsin.svg 01848-05-29May 29, 1848 &000000000016963900000065,498 sq mi (169,639 km2) 5,686,986 Madison Milwaukee Wisconsin Territory, formed from the Northwest Territory
Wyoming /waɪˈoʊmɪŋ/ WY Flag of Wyoming.svg 01890-07-10July 10, 1890 &000000000025334800000097,818 sq mi (253,348 km2) 563,626 Cheyenne Cheyenne Wyoming Territory

Federal power

The Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States which has expanded the scope of federal power. The Cambridge Economic History of the United States says, "On the whole, especially after the mid-1880s, the Court construed the Commerce Clause in favor of increased federal power."[21] In Wickard v. Filburn 317 U.S. 111 (1942), the court expanded federal power to regulate the economy by holding that federal authority under the commerce clause extends to activities which are local in character.[22] For example, Congress can regulate railway traffic across state lines, but it may also regulate rail traffic solely within a state, based on the theory that wholly intrastate traffic can still have an impact on interstate commerce. In recent years, the Court has tried to place limits on the Commerce Clause in cases like United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison.

Another source of Congressional power is its spending power—the ability of Congress to impose uniform taxes across the nation and then distribute the resulting revenue back to the states (subject to conditions set by Congress). A classic example of this is the system of federal-aid highways, which includes the Interstate Highway System. The system is mandated and largely funded by the federal government, but also serves the interests of the states. By threatening to withhold federal highway funds, as upheld in South Dakota v. Dole, Congress has been able to pressure state legislatures to pass a variety of laws. Although some object that this infringes on states' rights, the Supreme Court has upheld the practice as a permissible use of the Constitution's Spending Clause.


States are free to organize their individual governments any way they like, so long as they conform to the sole requirement of the U.S. Constitution that they have "a Republican Form of Government". (This means that each State government must be a republic; it is not a reference to the Republican Party, which was not founded until 1854—over 60 years after the Constitution was ratified.) In practice, each State has adopted a three-branch system of government (with legislative, executive, and judiciary branches) generally along the same lines as that of the Federal government — though this is not a requirement.

Despite the fact that every state has chosen to follow the Federal model of government, there are significant differences in some states.


While there is only one federal president, who then selects his own Cabinet responsible to him, most states have a "plural executive", in which various members of the executive branch are elected directly by the people. Thus, they serve as members of the executive branch who are not beholden to the governor and cannot be dismissed by him or her.

The governor may veto legislation. In forty four states, governors have line item veto power.


The legislatures of 49 of the 50 states are made up of two chambers: a lower house (termed the House of Representatives, State Assembly or House of Delegates) and a smaller upper house, always termed the Senate. The exception is the unicameral Nebraska Legislature, which is composed of only a single chamber.

Most states have part-time legislatures, while six of the most populated states have full-time legislatures. However, several states with high population have short legislative sessions, including Texas and Florida.[23]

In Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court held that all states are required to elect their legislatures in such a way as to afford each citizen the same degree of representation. This is the standard commonly known as "one person, one vote". In practice, most states choose to elect legislators from single-member districts, each of which has approximately the same population. Some states, like Maryland and Vermont, divide the state into single- and multi-member districts, in which case a district electing two representatives must have approximately twice the population of a district electing just one and so on.

If the governor vetoes legislation, all legislatures may override it, usually, but not always, requiring a two-thirds majority.


States can also organize their judicial systems differently from the federal judiciary, as long as they protect the constitutional right of their citizens to procedural due process. Most have a trial level court, generally called a District Court or Superior Court, a first-level appellate court, generally called a Court of Appeal (or Appeals), and a Supreme Court. However, Oklahoma and Texas have separate highest courts for criminal appeals. New York state is notorious for its unusual terminology, in that the trial court is called the Supreme Court. Appeals are then taken to the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, and from there to the Court of Appeals. Most states base their legal system on English common law (with substantial indigenous changes and incorporation of certain civil law innovations), with the notable exception of Louisiana, which draws large parts of its legal system from French civil law.

Also, just few states choose to have their judges on the state's courts serve for life terms. Most of the state judges, including the justices on the highest court in the state, are either elected or appointed for terms of a limited number of years, such as five years. They can often be then re-elected or reappointed if their performance has been judged to be satisfactory.


Under Article Four of the United States Constitution, which outlines the relationship between the states, the United States 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 before 1865 — slavery status. States are prohibited from discriminating against citizens of other states with respect to their basic rights, under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. 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.

Four states use the official name of commonwealth, rather than state.[24] However, this is merely a paper distinction, and the U.S. Constitution uniformly refers to all of them as "States", such as in Article One, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitution, concerning the U.S. House of Representatives, in which Representatives are to be elected by the people of the "States". Furthermore, Article One, Section 3, Clause 1, concerning the U.S. Senate, allocates to each "State" two Senators. However, each of the four above-mentioned "Commonwealths" counts as a State.

Admission into the union

U.S. states by date of statehood


The order in which the original 13 states ratified the constitution, then the order in which the others were admitted to the union. (Click to see animation)

Since the establishment of the United States, the number of states has expanded from the original thirteen to fifty. The U.S. Constitution is rather laconic on the process by which new states could be added, noting only that "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union", and forbidding a new state to be created out of the territory of an existing state, or the merging of two or more states into one without the consent of both Congress and all the state legislatures involved.

In practice, most of the states admitted to the union after the original thirteen have been formed from Territories of the United States (that is, land under the sovereignty of the Federal government but not part of any state) that were organized (given a measure of self-rule by the Congress subject to the Congress’ plenary powers under the territorial clause of Article IV, sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution).[25]

Generally speaking, the organized government of a territory made known the sentiment of its population in favor of statehood. Congress then directed that government to organize a constitutional convention to write a State Constitution. Upon acceptance of that Constitution, Congress has always admitted that territory as a state. The broad outlines in this process were established by the Northwest Ordinance (1787), which predated the ratification of the Constitution.

However, Congress has ultimate authority over the admission of new states, and is not bound to follow this procedure. A few U.S. states (outside of the original 13) that were never organized territories of the federal government have been admitted:

Congress is also under no obligation to admit states even in those areas whose population expresses a desire for statehood. For instance, the Republic of Texas requested annexation to the United States in 1837, but fears about the conflict with Mexico that would result delayed admission for nine years.[26] Once established, state borders have been largely stable. There have been exceptions, such as the cession by Maryland and Virginia of land to create the District of Columbia (Virginia's portion was later returned) and the creation of states from other states, including the creation of Kentucky and West Virginia from Virginia, Maine from Massachusetts, and Tennessee from North Carolina.

Possible new states

Today, there are several U.S. territories left that might potentially become new states.

Puerto Rico

The most likely candidate for statehood might be Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico called itself the "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" in the English version of its constitution, and as "Estado Libre Asociado" in the Spanish version. The island’s ultimate status has not been determined as of 2011.

As with any non-state territory of the United States, its residents do not have voting representation in the United States government. Puerto Rico has limited representation in the U.S. Congress in the form of a Resident Commissioner, a nonvoting delegate.[27]


Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century. Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.

The U.S. Congress directed the Puerto Rican government to organize a constitutional convention to write the Puerto Rico Constitution in 1951. Like the U.S. States, Puerto Rico has a republican form of government organized pursuant to a constitution adopted by its people and a bill of rights. The Approval of that constitution by Puerto Rico's electorate, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. President occurred in 1952. The rights, privileges and immunities attendant to the United States Citizens are "respected in Puerto Rico to the same extent as though Puerto Rico were a state of the union" through the express extension by the U.S. Congress in 1948 of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[28]

President George H. W. Bush issued a memorandum on November 30, 1992 to heads of executive departments and agencies establishing the current administrative relationship between the federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. This memorandum directs all federal departments, agencies, and officials to treat Puerto Rico administratively as if it were a state, insofar as doing so would not disrupt federal programs or operations.[29]

The commonwealth's government has organized several referenda on the question of status over the past several decades, though Congress has not recognized these as binding; all shown resulted in narrow victories for the status quo over statehood. On December 23, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed executive Order 13183, which established the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status and the rules for its membership. Section 4 of executive Order 13183 (as amended by executive Order 13319) directs the task force to "report on its actions to the President ... on progress made in the determination of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status".[30]

President George W. Bush signed an additional amendment to Executive Order 13183 on December 3, 2003, which established the current co-chairs and instructed the task force to issue reports as needed, but no less than once every two years. In December 2005, the presidential task force proposed a new set of referendums on the issue; if Congress votes in line with the task force's recommendation, it would pave the way for the first congressionally mandated votes on status in the island, and (potentially) statehood by 2012. The task force's December 2007 status report reiterated and confirmed the proposals made in 2005.[30][31][32]

President Barack Obama appointed a new Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status.[33] In March 2011, it recommended that all relevant parties—the President, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico—work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.[34] The report further recommends, "... if efforts on the Island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options, including the Statehood, that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling. This legislation should commit the United States to honor the choice of the people of Puerto Rico (provided it is one of the status options specified in the legislation) and should specify the means by which such a choice would be made. The Task Force recommends that, by the end of 2012, the Administration develop, draft, and work with Congress to enact the proposed legislation."[34]

Washington D.C.

The intention of the Founding Fathers was that the United States capital should be at a neutral site, not giving favor to any existing state; as a result, the District of Columbia was created in 1800 to serve as the seat of government. The inhabitants of the District do not have full representation in Congress or a sovereign elected government (they were allotted presidential electors by the 23rd amendment, and have a non-voting delegate in Congress). Some residents of the District support statehood of some form for that jurisdiction—either statehood for the whole district or for the inhabited part, with the remainder remaining under federal jurisdiction. While statehood is always a live political question in the District, the prospects for any movement in that direction in the immediate future seem dim.

According to Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, "New states may be admitted by the Congress into this union; but no new states shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other state; nor any state be formed by the junction of two or more states, or parts of states, without the consent of the legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the Congress."[35] This was the case when Maine was split off from Massachusetts; and when West Virginia was split from Virginia during the Civil War. When Texas was admitted to the union in 1845, it was much larger than any other state and was specifically granted the right to divide itself into as many as five separate states.[36]

Unrecognized entities

See also: Historical regions of the United States
  • The State of Franklin existed for four years not long after the end of the American Revolution, but was never recognized by the union, which ultimately recognized North Carolina's claim of sovereignty over the area. A majority of the states were willing to recognize Franklin, but the number of states in favor fell short of the two-thirds majority required to admit a territory to statehood under the Articles of Confederation. The territory comprising Franklin later became part of the state of Tennessee.
  • State of Jefferson
  • State of Lincoln
    • Lincoln is another state that has been proposed multiple times. It generally consists of the eastern portion of Washington state and the panhandle or northern portion of Idaho. It was originally proposed by Idaho in 1864 to include just the panhandle of Idaho, and again in 1901 to include eastern Washington. Proposals have come up in 1996, 1999, and 2005.
    • Lincoln is also the name of a failed state proposal after the U.S. Civil War in 1869. It consisted of the area south and west of Texas' Colorado River.
  • State of Superior
    • A proposed state formed out of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Several prominent legislators including local politician Dominic Jacobetti formally attempted this legislation in the 1970s, with no success. As a state, it would have had, by far, the smallest population, and remaining so through the present day. Its 320,000 residents would equal only 60% of Wyoming's population, and less than 50% of Alaska's population.


The Constitution is silent on the issue of the secession of a state from the union. However, its predecessor document, the Articles of Confederation, stated that the United States of America "shall be perpetual." The question of whether or not individual states held the right to unilateral secession remained a difficult and divisive one until the American Civil War. In 1860 and 1861, eleven southern states seceded, but following their defeat in the American Civil War were brought back into the Union during the Reconstruction Era. The federal government never recognized the secession of any of the rebellious states. Following the Civil War, the United States Supreme Court, in Texas v. White, held that states did not have the right to secede and that any act of secession was legally void. Drawing on the Preamble to the Constitution, which states that the Constitution was intended to "form a more perfect union" and speaks of the people of the United States of America in effect as a single body politic, as well as the language of the Articles of Confederation, the Supreme Court maintained that states did not have a right to secede. However, the court's reference in the same decision to the possibility of such changes occurring "through revolution, or through consent of the States," essentially means that this decision holds that no state has a right to unilaterally decide to leave the Union.[2][3]


Four of the states bear the formal title of commonwealth: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In these cases, this is merely a historically-based name and it has no legal effect. Somewhat confusingly, the U.S. territories of the Northern Marianas and Puerto Rico are also referred to as commonwealths, and that designation does have a legal status different from that of the 50 states. Both of these commonwealths are unincorporated territories of the United States.

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.

Regional grouping

U.S. Census Bureau regions:
The West, The Midwest, The South and The Northeast.

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.


The northern and southern borders of the Thirteen Colonies on the East Coast were largely determined by colonial charters and anchoring coastal settlements. The western boundaries were determined by the limits of transportation, the infeasibility of settling areas dominated by Native Americans and foreign powers, and the decision to create new states out of western territories.

River borders between states are common. At various times, national borders with territories formerly controlled by other countries (namely the British colonies of Canada, New France, New Spain including Spanish Florida, and Russian North America) became institutionalized as the borders of U.S. states. Alaska was formerly the colony of Russian America.

Most borders beyond the Thirteen Colonies were created by Congress as it created territories, divided them, and turned them into states as they became more populated. Territorial and new state lines followed various geographic features, economic units, and the pattern of settlement. In the West, relatively arbitrary straight lines following latitude and longitude often prevail, due to the sparseness of settlement west of the Mississippi River. Faster transportation also meant that larger states were more feasible to govern from a single capital. Vermont, California, and Texas were each briefly independent nations, as was Hawaii. Some states were previously part of other states, including Maine, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Occasionally the United States Congress or the United States Supreme Court have settled state border disputes.


See also

United States Administrative Divisions unnumbered.png

U.S. Census Bureau statistical areas by state, district, or territory



  1. ^ See the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  2. ^ a b Aleksandar Pavković, Peter Radan, Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession, p. 222, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
  3. ^ a b Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1868) at Cornell University Law School Supreme Court collection.
  4. ^ "Official USPS Abbreviations". United States Postal Service. 1998. http://www.usps.com/ncsc/lookups/abbreviations.html. Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  5. ^ "POPULATION CHANGE DATA PROVIDED BY U.S. CENSUS 2010". United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 02010-12-21December 21, 2010. http://2010.census.gov/2010census/data/pop_change.csv. Retrieved 02010-12-21December 21, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Resident Population Estimates of Incorporated Places Only: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008" (CSV). 2008 Population Estimates. United States Census Bureau, Population Division. 02009-07-01July 1, 2009. http://www.census.gov/popest/cities/files/SUB-EST2008-IP.csv. Retrieved 02009-10-01October 1, 2009. 
  7. ^ The Hartford-West Hartford-Willimantic Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Connecticut.
  8. ^ The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Florida.
  9. ^ a b c d Officially called a 'Commonwealth'.
  10. ^ Baltimore City and the 12 Maryland counties of the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in Maryland.
  11. ^ The City of Saint Louis and the 8 Missouri counties of the St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in Missouri.
  12. ^ The 5 southeastern New Hampshire counties of the Boston-Worcester-Manchester Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in New Hampshire.
  13. ^ The 13 northern New Jersey counties of the New York-Newark-Bridgeport Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in New Jersey.
  14. ^ New York City is the most populous city in the United States.
  15. ^ The Cleveland-Akron-Elyria Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Ohio.
  16. ^ Full name is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
  17. ^ The Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in South Carolina.
  18. ^ The Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Columbia Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Tennessee.
  19. ^ The Dallas-Fort Worth Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Texas.
  20. ^ The 10 Virginia counties and 6 Virginia cities of the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in Virginia.
  21. ^ Stanley Lewis Engerman (2000). The Cambridge economic history of the United States: the colonial era. Cambridge University Press. p. 464. ISBN 9780521553070. http://books.google.com/books?id=6sDXBGMbrWkC. 
  22. ^ David Shultz (2005). Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court. Infobase Publishing. p. 522. ISBN 9780816050864. http://books.google.com/books?id=I_f6Oo9H3YsC. 
  23. ^ [1]
  24. ^ a. Third Constitution of Kentucky (1850), Article 2, Section 1 ff. Other portions of the same Constitution refer to the "State of Kentucky".
    b. Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Preamble.
    c. Constitution of Pennsylvania, Preamble.
    d. Constitution of Virginia (1971), Article IV, Section 1.
  25. ^ U.S. Const. art. IV, § 3, cl. 2 ("The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States...").
  26. ^ Richard Bruce Winders (2002). Crisis in the Southwest: the United States, Mexico, and the struggle over Texas. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 82, 92. ISBN 9780842028011. http://books.google.com/books?id=mcc9EciebFYC. 
  27. ^ "Rules of the House of Representatives" (PDF). http://www.rules.house.gov/ruleprec/110th.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  28. ^ 48 U.S.C. § 737, Privileges and immunities.
  29. ^ "Political Status of Puerto Rico: Options for Congress". Congressional Research Service. http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL32933_20090804.pdf. Retrieved 2009-12-19. 
  30. ^ a b "''Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2007)''" (PDF). http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/documents/2007-report-by-the-president-task-force-on-puerto-rico-status.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  31. ^ "Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2005)" (PDF). http://charma.uprm.edu/~angel/Puerto_Rico/reporte_status.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  32. ^ H.R. 2499 – Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 H.R. 2499
  34. ^ a b REPORT BY THE PRESIDENT’S TASK FORCE ON PUERTO RICO’S STATUS March 2011, Page 23, Recommendation No. 1
  35. ^ "Article IV | LII / Legal Information Institute". Law.cornell.edu. http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.articleiv.html#section3. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 
  36. ^ "Texas Dividing into Five States". snopes.com. http://www.snopes.com/history/american/texas.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-25. 

Further reading

  • Stein, Mark, How the States Got Their Shapes, New York : Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2008. ISBN 9780061431388

External links

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