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The United States of America (also referred to as the United States, the U.S., the U.S.A., or America) is a sovereign state located in North America. The United States shares borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south.
The United States was originally a collection of British colonies on the Atlantic coast until they proclaimed independence on July 4, 1776, leading to the American Revolutionary War which would rage on until the British surrender in 1781 following the American-French victory at the Siege of Yorktown. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783. The treaty forced Britain to recognize the independence of the United States and to cede all land east of the Mississippi River to the new nation.
Driven by Manifest Destiny, the US expanded to purchase Louisiana from France, and was ceded land from Mexico after the Mexican-American War, and expanded across the North American continent. However, expansion of slavery into these territories caused some debate within the Union until it erupted into a civil war that lasted from 1861 to 1865 between the North (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy), ultimately ending with the North's victory and the abolition of slavery in 1865.
The era from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to 1877 is commonly referred to as Reconstruction. President Lincoln attempted to put the war in the nation's past, but this only brought about increased tensions between him and the Radical Republicans in Congress. After Lincoln left office, General Ulysses S. Grant, the Commanding General of the Union Army during the Civil War, was sworn in. Grant was a member of the Radical Republicans and believed that government force should be used to protect and enforce the rights of freedmen. This resulted in Radical Reconstruction and set the stage for tense race relations in the southern states. Radical Reconstruction eventually ended with the election of Samuel J. Tilden to the presidency in 1876.
By the late 1890's and early 1900's, the United States had emerged as a great power on the world stage. During the early 1900's, the United States started a policy of non-interventionism and isolationism and attempted to remain neutral during World War I and World War II. The US eventually got involved in World War I after tensions with Germany boiled over in 1917, and in World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
After World War II, the United States emerged as one of the two superpowers of the world (the other being the Soviet Union, which fostered some mistrust between the Americans and the Russians resulting in a period known as the Cold War a time of proxy wars and the constant threat of nuclear war. The Cold War officially ended in 1992 following the reformation of the USSR into a democratic federation of republics. Although nuclear war is no longer seen as a threat, the United States and the Soviet Union continue to compete for influence around the world. On September 11, 2001, a terrorist organization known as al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. In response to these attacks, the United States launched the "War on Terror" and invaded Sudan (which had been harboring Al Qaeda since the 1980's) on October 7, 2001.
The United States is a federation comprised of 51 states and one federal district. Its most recent state, Puerto Rico, was admitted in 2002. The District of Columbia is a territory owned by the federal government and includes the capital city of Washington.