to the National Atlas Home page
About | Fact Sheets | Contact Us | Partners | Products | Site Map | FAQ | Help | Follow us on Twitter 
to the Interactive Map MakerMap LayersPrintable MapsWall MapsDynamic MapsArticlesMapping Professionals
  US FlagGovernment      

The United States of America is a democracy, which means it is governed by the will of its people. Its government provides a system of management for American citizens. Established in 1789, the United States is a federal republic, with a strong democratic tradition. Its legal system is based on English common law. The government is divided into separate governing units. At the top level is the Federal Government, which provides functions that are best managed by a centralized government, such as defense, currency regulation, and foreign relations. Its capital city is Washington, D.C.

Federal Government
At the Federal level, there are three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. These branches work in concert under a set of checks and balances that ensure a relatively even distribution of authority and power.

The executive branch is in charge of executing Federal The West Wing of the White House laws and is led by the head of state, President Barack Obama (since January 20, 2009). The president is both the head of state and the head of government. The President appoints a Cabinet whose members are approved by the Senate in the legislative branch. The President is elected, along with a Vice President, to a 4-year term by the electoral college whose members are elected directly from each State. The State popular votes determine how the electoral college members vote. The next presidential election will be held in November 2012.

The Capitol Rotunda

The legislative branch is responsible for the creation of Federal laws.  Its members of Congress are directly elected representatives of the people. The Congress consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has 100 seats, and one-third of these are contested in elections every 2 years. There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and each Representative is elected to a 2-year term.

The Supreme Court

The judicial branch interprets Federal laws. The highest court in the United States, the Supreme Court, is part of this branch. The President appoints its nine justices for life, with confirmation by the Senate. The Supreme Court's judicial power extends to all cases related to the American Constitution, the laws of the United States, disputes between States, and treaties. It is also the final appellate court. The judicial branch also includes the U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and State and county courts.

State and Local Governments
The next level of government in the United States includes each of the 50 States plus the government of the District of Columbia. The States have a good deal of autonomy and authority over issues that are within State borders, including internal communications; regulations relating to property, industry, business, and public utilities; the State criminal code; and working conditions. In alphabetical order, the States are:





























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia




Within the States, smaller local units govern counties, cities, towns, and villages. These local governments directly serve the needs of residents by providing everything from police and fire protection to sanitary codes, health regulations, education, public transportation, and housing.

Dependent Areas
Finally, the United States includes a number of dependent areas. Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island are unincorporated territories, administered by the Federal Government. Three unincorporated territories, American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are governed locally on the basis of U.S. laws. Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth that has authority over its internal affairs but relies on the Federal Government for issues that cross its borders. From 1947 until 1994, the United States administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, but it recently entered into a new political relationship with all four political units. The Northern Mariana Islands is a Commonwealth in political union with the United States. Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands signed Compacts of Free Association with the United States. For more information about U.S. dependent areas please go to the CIA World Factbook.

Federal Government and the National Atlas
More than 20 agencies of the Federal Government bring the National Atlas of the United States® to you. We use this forum not only to deliver maps and services, but also to acquaint you with the work of these agencies. The Atlas typically includes data for all 50 States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It does not include data for the dependent areas at this time. There are also some maps and datasets in™ that only include the conterminous States.


Map Maker Samples
Federal Lands
Indian Lands
112th Congressional Districts
112th Congressional Districts by Party
Map Layers
Wilderness Areas of the United States
Printable Maps
Congressional Districts - 112th Congress
Federal Lands and Indian Reservations
Presidential Elections 1789-2008
Reference and Outline Maps of the United States
Wall Maps
Federal and Indian Lands
General Reference Maps
National Wildlife Refuge System
Presidential Elections 1789 - 2008
How the Electoral College Works
court gavel