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The United States of America consists of fifty separate states that are governed by a central government. It has more than 300 million residents, and is currently the world's only superpower, with the largest economy on the planet.
Though the land that would become known as the United States had long been the home of Native American Indians, the territory was first found by European explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, while he was attempting to find a new route to India. The region was then colonized by settlers from various parts of Europe, including France, Spain, the Netherlands, and England.
By 1776, about three million people, primarily of British ancestry, had settled in the original 13 colonies. Though this was half as many people as the population of Britain itself, the colonists were not given any representation in Great Britain, and were expected to pay taxes on various services. Tension between Britain and the colonial states brewed, and resulted in the Revolutionary War, in which the colonists declared their independence from Britain and established a new country: the United States of America. In 1789, many of the region's most powerful men, including George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, banded together to create the United States Constitution, which established a set of laws and restrictions that is still in use today.
The United States government consists of three separate branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. The legislative branch is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, in which each state has their own representatives who vote on issues of national importance. They are responsible for introducing potential laws, called "bills," which are then passed on to the executive branch, the president, for approval or veto. The judicial branch, which consists of the Supreme Court and the state supreme courts, exists to regulate and interpret laws. The country has a number of different political parties, but the two major parties are the Democrats and the Republicans.
In 1861, controversy over whether slavery should be legal led to the Civil War between the North and South. Ultimately, the North won the war and slavery was abolished. Over the next centuries, the United States expanded rapidly, moving westward to what is now California, which the US gained control of during the Mexican-American War. The United States did not expand to its current 50 states until the Alaskan territory was made a state in 1959.
Today, the United States is one of the most developed countries in the world, and one of the most culturally diverse. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most economically diverse: though it has a large population of extremely wealthy people, it also has a high percentage of people living in poverty.
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