The United States is a federal union of fifty states. The original thirteen states were the successors of the thirteen colonies that rebelled against British rule. Early in the country's history, three new states were organized on territory separated from the claims of the existing states: Kentucky from Virginia; Tennessee from North Carolina; and Maine from Massachusetts. Most of the other states have been carved from territories obtained through war or purchase by the U.S. government. One set of exceptions comprises Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii: each was an independent republic before joining the union. During the American Civil War, West Virginia broke away from Virginia. The most recent state—Hawaii—achieved statehood on August 21, 1959. The states do not have the right to secede from the union.
The states compose the vast bulk of the U.S. land mass; the two other areas considered integral parts of the country are the District of Columbia, the federal district where the capital, Washington, is located; and Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited but incorporated territory in the Pacific Ocean. The United States also possesses five major overseas territories: Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in the Caribbean; and American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific. Those born in the territories (except for American Samoa) possess U.S. citizenship. American citizens residing in the territories have many of the same rights and responsibilities as citizens residing in the states; however, they are generally exempt from federal income tax, may not vote for president, and have only nonvoting representation in the U.S. Congress.
The 50 states are divided into distinct sections: • the "continental United States", also known as "the Lower 48" and more accurately termed the conterminous, coterminous, or contiguous United States • Alaska, an exclave, which is physically connected only to Canada • the archipelago of Hawaii, in the central Pacific Ocean.
There are approximately 30,000 incorporated cities in the United States, with varying degrees of self-rule.