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This past Friday, the United States of America celebrated its 238th birthday.  Across the fifty states, Americans celebrated with parties and parades, waving flags with pride and reflecting on how much we’ve grown from just thirteen original colonies.  We often forget, though, that the United States is more than just fifty states.  The US possesses a great deal of territory which is not considered part of any state, and some of these areas have their own unique legal classifications.  We have the District of Columbia, numerous Native American reservations, organized territories like Puerto Rico, and several more unorganized territories scattered throughout the ocean.  As this concise but highly informative video from CGP Grey illustrates, the collection of parts that make up the country we call America is much more complex than we usually realize:


The legal distinctions between some of these territories can be confusing, but the video does its best to explain.  Certain islands, including Puerto Rico and Guam, are considered unincorporated organized territories.  In these places, some parts of the US Constitution do not apply, and the residents do not have the right to vote for President. (They can, however, elect a representative to Congress, but the representative cannot vote on any legislation).  The unorganized territories, composed of various islands mostly in the Pacific Ocean, have it even worse, though.  They have no local government, but also no one living there.  Many of these are just tiny stretches of sand that were used for nuclear bomb testing.  But the strangest arrangement of all is that of Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited island which is incorporated, meaning that the entire US Constitution applies there even though the whole island is just a nature preserve.  If a non-American citizen gave birth there, for example, the baby would be an American citizen.

Here is a map of all the US outlying islands in the Pacific Ocean, with Palmyra Atoll in the lower middle:

US Minor Outlying Islands in the Pacific Ocean (via Wikipedia)

So the next time you salute the American flag, remember all these other territories that are part of our country, even if they don’t have their own star.

For more from CGP Grey, check out his YouTube page here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2C_jShtL725hvbm1arSV9w

Happy Mapping!