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A U.S. state is any one of 50 federated states of the United States of Americamarker that share sovereignty with the federal government (four states use the official title of commonwealth rather than state). Because of this shared sovereignty, an Americanmarker is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. However, state citizenship is very 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 the two levels of government. By ratifying the Constitution, each state transferred certain, but limited, sovereign powers to the federal government. 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 in general have been considered primarily state responsibilities, although all of these now have significant federal funding and regulation as well.

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 that of the federal government and their power over individuals.

List of states

The following sortable table lists each of the 50 states of the United Statesmarker 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 for a key)
  3. The United States Postal Service (USPS) two-character state abbreviation

    (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 Unionmarker
  6. The United States Census Bureau estimate of state population as of
  7. The state capital
  8. The most populous incorporated place or Census Designated Place within the state as of , as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau

The 50 United States of America
Name IPA USPS Flag Date 2008 Pop Capital Most Populous City
Alabamamarker AL 4,661,900 Montgomerymarker Birminghammarker
Alaskamarker AK 686,293 Juneaumarker Anchoragemarker
Arizonamarker AZ 6,500,180 Phoenixmarker Phoenixmarker
Arkansasmarker AR 2,855,390 Little Rockmarker Little Rockmarker
Californiamarker CA 36,756,666 Sacramentomarker Los Angelesmarker
Coloradomarker CO 4,939,456 Denvermarker Denvermarker
Connecticutmarker CT 3,501,252 Hartfordmarker Bridgeportmarker
Delawaremarker DE 873,092 Dovermarker Wilmingtonmarker
Floridamarker FL 18,328,340 Tallahasseemarker Jacksonvillemarker
Georgiamarker GA 9,685,744 Atlantamarker Atlantamarker
Hawaiimarker , Hw: HI 1,288,198 Honolulumarker Honolulumarker
Idahomarker ID 1,523,816 Boisemarker Boisemarker
Illinoismarker IL 12,901,563 Springfieldmarker Chicagomarker
Indianamarker IN 6,376,792 Indianapolismarker Indianapolismarker
Iowamarker IA 3,002,555 Des Moinesmarker Des Moinesmarker
Kansasmarker KS 2,802,134 Topekamarker Wichitamarker
Kentuckymarker KY 4,269,245 Frankfortmarker Louisvillemarker
Louisianamarker , Fr: LA 4,410,796 Baton Rougemarker New Orleansmarker
Mainemarker , Fr: ME 1,316,456 Augustamarker Portlandmarker
Marylandmarker MD 5,633,597 Annapolismarker Baltimoremarker
Massachusettsmarker MA 6,497,967 Bostonmarker Bostonmarker
Michiganmarker MI 10,003,422 Lansingmarker Detroitmarker
Minnesotamarker MN 5,220,393 Saint Paulmarker Minneapolismarker
Mississippimarker MS 2,938,618 Jacksonmarker Jacksonmarker
Missourimarker MO 5,911,605 Jefferson Citymarker Kansas CitymarkerThe City of Saint Louismarker and the 8 Missourimarker counties of the St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in Missouri.
Montanamarker MT 967,440 Helenamarker Billingsmarker
Nebraskamarker NE 1,783,432 Lincolnmarker Omahamarker
Nevadamarker NV 2,600,167 Carson Citymarker Las Vegasmarker
New Hampshiremarker NH 1,315,809 Concordmarker Manchestermarker
New Jerseymarker NJ 8,682,661 Trentonmarker NewarkmarkerThe 13 northern New Jerseymarker counties of the New York-Newark-Bridgeport Combined Statistical Areamarker form the most populous metropolitan region in New Jersey.
New Mexicomarker , Sp: NM 1,984,356 Santa Femarker Albuquerquemarker
New Yorkmarker NY 19,490,297 Albanymarker New Yorkmarker
North Carolinamarker NC 9,222,414 Raleighmarker Charlottemarker
North Dakotamarker ND 641,481 Bismarckmarker Fargomarker
Ohiomarker OH 11,485,910 Columbusmarker Columbusmarker
Oklahomamarker OK 3,642,361 Oklahoma Citymarker Oklahoma Citymarker
Oregonmarker OR 3,790,060 Salemmarker Portlandmarker
Pennsylvaniamarker PA 12,448,279 Harrisburgmarker Philadelphiamarker
Rhode Islandmarker RI 1,050,788 Providencemarker Providencemarker
South Carolinamarker SC 4,479,800 Columbiamarker Columbiamarker
South Dakotamarker SD 804,194 Pierremarker Sioux Fallsmarker
Tennesseemarker TN 6,214,888 Nashvillemarker Memphismarker
Texasmarker TX 24,326,974 Austinmarker Houstonmarker
Utahmarker UT 2,736,424 Salt Lake Citymarker Salt Lake Citymarker
Vermontmarker VT 621,270 Montpeliermarker Burlingtonmarker
Virginiamarker VA 7,769,089 Richmondmarker Virginia Beachmarker
Washingtonmarker WA 6,549,224 Olympiamarker Seattlemarker
West Virginiamarker WV 1,814,468 Charlestonmarker Charlestonmarker
Wisconsinmarker WI 5,627,967 Madisonmarker Milwaukeemarker
Wyomingmarker WY 532,668 Cheyennemarker Cheyennemarker

United States Census Bureau estimates of state population for 2009 will be available about December 31, 2009.
Census Bureau estimates of city population for 2009 will be available about July 31, 2010.

Federal power

Since the 1930s, the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker has interpreted the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States in an expansive way that has dramatically expanded the scope of federal power. 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.

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, 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 Courtmarker has upheld the practice as a permissible use of the Constitution's Spending Clause.

State governments

States are free to organize their state governments any way they like, as long as they conform to the sole requirement of the U.S. Constitution that they have "a Republican Form of Government". In practice, each state has adopted a three branch system of government generally along the same lines as that of the federal government—though this is not a requirement.

Despite the fact that each state has chosen to follow the federal model, there are significant differences in some states. One of the most notable is that of the unicameral Nebraska Legislature, which, unlike the legislatures of the other 49 states, has only one house. While there is only one federal president, who then selects a Cabinet responsible to him, most states have a plural executive, with members of the executive branch elected directly by the people and serving as equal members of the state cabinet alongside the governor. And only a few states choose to have their judicial branch leaders—their judges on the state's courts—serve for life terms.

A key difference between states is that many rural states have part-time legislatures, while the states with the highest populations tend to have full-time legislatures. Texas, the second largest state in population, is a notable exception to this: excepting special sessions, the Texas Legislature is limited by law to 140 calendar days out of every two years. In Baker v. Carr, the U.S. Supreme Court held that all states are required to have legislative districts which are proportional in terms of population.

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. See state court and state supreme court for more information. 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.

Relationships among the states

Under Article IV of the 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—at the time—slave 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.

Admission of states into the union

[[Image:US states by date of statehood RWB dates.svg|thumb|220px|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.

Since the establishment of the United States, the number of states has expanded from 13 to 50. The Constitution is rather laconic on the process by which new states can 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 as one without the consent of both Congress and all the state legislatures involved.

In practice, nearly all states admitted to the union after the original thirteen have been formed from U.S. territories (that is, land under the sovereignty of the United States federal government but not part of any state) that were organized (given a measure of self-rule by Congress). 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 then admitted that territory as a state. The broad outlines in this process were established by the Northwest Ordinance, 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 1836, but fears about the conflict with Mexico that would result delayed admission for nine years. The Utah Territory was denied admission to the union as a state for decades because of discomfort with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' dominance in the territory, its desire to name the region Deseret due to its ties to Mormonism, and particularly with the Mormons' then-practice of polygamy. 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 Columbiamarker (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 very few U.S. territories left that might potentially become new states. The most likely candidate may be Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has been under U.S. sovereignty for over a century, and Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Puerto Rico currently has limited representation in the U.S. Congress in the form of a Resident Commissioner, a nonvoting delegate. 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.

The commonwealth's government has organized several referendums 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, with independence supported by only a small number of voters. 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".

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 2010. The task force's December 2007 status report reiterated and confirmed the proposals made in 2005.

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 Columbiamarker 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. Instead, an emphasis on continuing home rule in the District while also giving the District a vote in Congress is gaining support.

Constitutionally, a state may only be divided into more states with the approval of both Congress and of the state's legislature, as was the case when Maine was split off from Massachusetts. When Texasmarker 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. However, 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."

Unrecognized states

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 Carolinamarker'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
    • On July 24, 1859, voters defeated the formation of the proposed State of Jefferson in the Southern Rocky Mountains. On October 24, 1859, voters instead approved the formation of the Territory of Jefferson, which was superseded by the Territory of Colorado on February 28, 1861.
    • In 1915, a second State of Jefferson was proposed for northern third of Texasmarker but failed to obtain majority approval by Congress.
    • In 1941, a third State of Jefferson was proposed in the mostly rural area of southern Oregonmarker and northern Californiamarker, but was cancelled as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbormarker. This proposal has been raised several times since.
  • State of Lincoln
    • State of Lincoln is another state that has been proposed multiple times. It generally consists of the eastern portion of Washingtonmarker state and the panhandle or northern portion of Idahomarker. 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. The southwestern section of Texas was proposed to Congress during the Reconstruction period of the federal government after the Civil War.
  • State of Muskogee (in Floridamarker, 1800), an unrecognized state with large Native American populations.
  • State of Superior
    • Several prominent legislators including local politician Dominic Jacobetti formally attempted this legislation in the 1970s, with no success. As a state, it would have, by far, the smallest population; its 320,000 residents would represent only 60% of Wyoming's population, and less than 50% of Alaska's. It would rank 40th in land area, larger than Maryland.


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". In 1860 and 1861, eleven southern states seceded, but eventually came back into the Union during the Reconstruction era. Following the War, the federal judicial system, in the case of Texas v. White, held that the preamble to the Constitution, which states that the Constitution was intended to "form a more perfect union," meant states did not have a right to secede. The court did allow some possibility of the divisibility "through revolution, or through consent of the States."

States called commonwealths

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 has no legal effect. Somewhat confusingly, two U.S. territories — Puerto Rico and the Northern Marianasmarker — are also referred to as commonwealths, and do have a legal status different from the states (both are unincorporated territories).

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.

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.

State lists

See also


  1. See the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  2. The Hartford-West Hartford-Willimantic Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Connecticut.
  3. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Florida.
  4. Official name calls it a commonwealth
  5. Baltimore City and the 12 Maryland counties of the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in Maryland.
  6. The 5 southeastern New Hampshire counties of the Boston-Worcester-Manchester Combined Statistical Area form the most populous metropolitan region in New Hampshire.
  7. New York City is the most populous city in the United States.
  8. The Cleveland-Akron-Elyria Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Ohio.
  9. Full name is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
  10. The Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in South Carolina.
  11. The Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Columbia Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Tennessee.
  12. The Dallas-Fort Worth Combined Statistical Area is the most populous metropolitan area in Texas.
  13. 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.
  14. Rules of the House of Representatives
  15. By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2007)
  16. Report By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2005)
  17. By the President's Task Force On Puerto Rico's Status (December 2007)
  18. [1] -Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 H.R. 900
  21. Aleksandar Pavković, Peter Radan, Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession, p. 222, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.
  22. Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1868) at Cornell University Law School Supreme Court collection.

Further reading

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

External links

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