Description of the United States

The "united States of America" is the most interesting and important division of the western hemisphere.  Comprising a territory equal in extent to that of half of the kingdoms and principalities of Europe combined, with a population exceeded by but three or perhaps four of the European states, and numbering scarce three fourths of a century since it broke loose from the leading strings of the mother-country, the American republic stands unparalleled in the history of the rise and growth of nations.  The territory of the United States lies between the meridians of 67 and 125 longitude west from Greenwich, and the parallels 24 and 49 of north latitude.  It is bounded by the Atlantic ocean on the east, and the Pacific on the west; by the British possessions on the north, and the republic of Mexico and the great gulf of that name on the south.  It Comprises an area of over 3,200,000 square miles.  The frontier line has a length of about 10,000 miles, about 5,000 miles of sea and lake coast.

Physical Aspects

A Territory of such vast extent must of course comprise a great variety of surface, soil and climate.  A large proportion of it is not only susceptible of cultivation, but has a fertile soil capable of supporting a dense population.  There are but few barrens, and no great deserts, except one in the territory of Utah.  It is numerously threaded by navigable streams, besides immense lakes, which not only give fertility to their borders, but are available in bearing the gifts of the soil to domestic and foreign markets, and in bringing back to the inhabitants the products and luxuries of other climes.


The territory of the United States is traversed by several chains of mountains.  The Allegany or Appalachian range, on the Atlantic side, runs in a northeasterly direction, from the northern part of Georgia to the gulf and river of St Lawrence, stretching along in uniform ridges, at the distance of from 250 to 80 miles from the seacoast, and following its general directions.  It occupies in breath a space of from 60 to 120 miles, and separates the water which run into the Atlantic ocean, from those which flow into the Mississippi and its tributaries.  The highest elevation in this range, and the most prominent at the Atlantic states, is Black Mountain, in the western part of North Carolina; it is 6,476 feet in height.  The general elevation is from 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the level of the sea.  The Rocky mountains, situated about 800 miles from the Pacific coast, are on a much grander scale than the Alleganies.  Their base is about 300 miles in breath, and their loftiest summits, covered with everlasting snow, rise to the height of from 12,000 to 18,000 feet above the level of the sea.  These vast chains may be considered as a continuation of the Cordilleras in Mexico.  The Sierra Nevada is a range of mountains extending through California, and from these branch off to the northwest the Cascade range, which traverses Oregon into the British territories.  Both these ranges become more elevated as they extend farther north, where some of their peaks enter the regions of perpetual snow.  Still farther west is the Coast range, running almost parallel to, and at a short distance from the Pacific coast.  Other minor ranges will be found described in the states in which they are situated.


The Principal bays and sounds on the Atlantic border are--Passamaquoddy bay, which lies between the state of Maine and the British province of New Brunswick; Massachusetts bay, between Capes Ann and Cod: Long Island sound, between Long Island and the coast of Connecticut: Delaware bay, which sets up between Cape May and Cape Henlopen, separating the states of New Jersey and Delaware; Chesapeake bay, which communicates with the ocean between Cape Charles and Cape Henry, extending in a northern direction for 200 miles, through the states of Virginia and Maryland; Albemarle sound and Pamlico sound, on the coast of North Carolina.  There are no large bays or sounds on the coast of the gulf of Mexico.  On the Pacific coast, however, there are several excellent bays, but the principal and only one necessary to mention, is the bay of San Francisco, in the newly-acquired domain of California.


The chain of inland seas, on the northern boundary, are unsurpassed in any country for size and utility.  Their dimensions are as follows:-

Name Length in miles Breadth in miles Circumference in miles Average depth in feet Elevation above sea level
Superior 420 140 1,500 1,000 627
Huron 250 220 1,200 860 594
Michigan 30 80 800 780 blank
Erie 265 63 700 250 565
Ontario 180 60 500 500 234
Champlain 105 12 235 blank blank

Lakes Michigan and Champlain are the only two of these lying wholly within the United States.  Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and Ontario, have boundary between the United States and the British provinces, running directly through their centre.  The other lakes of any magnitude in the United States are Lakes George, Oneida, Otego, Skaneateles, Owasso, Cayuga, Seneca, Crooked, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Chautauqua and Canesis; all in New York.  Moosehead, Chesuncook, Pemadumcook, Moosetogmaguntie, Sebago and Schoodie in Maine.  Winnipiseogee in New Hampshire and Memphremagog between Canada and Vermont.  In Louisiana, are the great lakes of Pontchartrain, Borgne, Ouacha, Grand and others formed by the waters of the Mississippi; Bedeau, Cadoe (Caddo), Bistinoe (Bistineau), Caunisnia, Bayou-Pierre, Spanish, Black and others formed by the Red rivers and it branches.  In Wisconsin is Lake Winnebago, formed by the Fox river.  There are several extensive lakes and everglades also in Florida of which Okeechobee is the principal.  In California are the Tulare lies, and the Pyramid lake, in the centre of which stands a natural granite pyramid.  There is also the Great Salt Lake in the territory of Utah.


The rivers of the United States are numerous and some of them among the most important, and affording facilities for inland navigation and trade unparalleled in any section of the globe.  They may be divided into four great classes: 1st. The streams which rise on the east side of the Allegany mountains, and flow into the Atlantic ocean; 2nd. Those south of the Allegany range, which discharge themselves into the gulf of Mexico; 3rd. The Mississippi and its wide tributaries, which drain the waters of the vast valley included between the Rocky and Allegany ranges; and 4th. The rivers which, rising on the western declivity of the Rocky mountains, direct their course to the Pacific ocean.  The Mississippi is the largest river in the United States, and one of the noblest in the world.  Its course, in conjunction with its great auxiliary, the Missouri, is about 4,200 miles.  The Mississippi rises west of Lake Superior, in latitude 47 47' north, amid lakes and swamps, in a dreary and desolate region, and after a course southeast for about 500 miles, reaches the falls of the St Anthony.  Thence it flows in a southeasterly and then a southerly direction, and discharges its waters in to the gulf of Mexico.  The principal tributaries of the Mississippi from the east are the Wisconsin, the Illinois and the Ohio, which is itself formed by the junction of the Allegany and Monongahela, at Pittsburgh.  The chief tributaries of the Ohio are the Wabash, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee.  The principle tributaries of tee Mississippi from the west, are the St Peter's, the Des Moines, the Missouri, the Arkansas, and the Red rivers.  The Missouri enters the Mississippi river about eighteen miles above St, Louis, after a course of 3,217 miles, and being much longer and larger stream of the two, should properly carry its name to the gulf of Mexico, but the Mississippi, having been first discovered and explored, has retained it name through the whole length.  The Missouri is formed of numerous branches, which rise among the Rocky mountains, between the parallels of 42 and 48 north latitude, the principal of which are the Yellow Stone, The Nebraska or Platte and the Kansas.  The most remote are the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin rivers.  The only obstruction that occurs to its navigation is at the Great Falls, a distance of 2,000 miles from the Mississippi.  The principal rivers east of the Alleganies, emptying into the Atlantic, are the Penobscot, Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, James, Roanoke, Great Pedee, Santee, Savannah and Altamaha.  The principle rivers which rise south of the Alleganies, and fall into the gulf of Mexico, are the Apalachicola, which is formed by the junctions of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers; the Mobile, which is formed of the Alabama and Tombigbee, which unite near latitude 31, after a separate course of several hundred miles, and the Colorado, Brazos and Rio Grande del Norte, in Texas.  The latter stream, and the Gila, which empties into the gulf of California, nearly form the boundary line between the United States and Mexico. The rivers flowing from the Rocky mountains to the Pacific are, the Columbia, in Oregon, which rises near latitude 55 north, and falls into the Pacific ocean, after a course of 1,500 miles,  Its principal tributaries are Clarke, Lewis, Colville, and Willamette rivers.  The Colorado, in California, after a course of 1,000 miles, empties in the gulf of California.  The other rivers in California are the Sacramento and San Joaquin, which empty into the bay of San Francisco, and the Buena-Ventura, which empties into the bay of Monterey.


The United States, though lying within the temperate zone, embraces almost every variety of climate.  In the northern parts, the winters are long and severe; snow often falls to the depth of three or four feet, and the cold is so piercing as to oblige the inhabitants to make very diligent provision against it.  Spring returns here is April, and the heat's great in summer.  In the southern parts of the country, snow is seldom seen, ice is rarely formed in the rivers, and those fruits which shrink from a northern climate, and flourish only in warm regions, are scattered over the soil.  In Georgia, the inhabitants may load their tables with oranges, lemons and other exquisite fruits that grow in their gardens and graves, while in parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, even peaches will not flourish.  Between theses extremities, as in Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois and California, there is a region adapted to the wine-grape, which thrives best in places removed from both the torrid and frigid zones.

Public Lands

The public lands form a important feature of the national wealth.  The property of the soil within the limits of the United States, not owned by the several states, or by individuals, is vested in the general government.  They are principally located in the western and southwestern states and territories, and in California and Oregon.  The following table exhibits the number of acres of public domain that have been sold, and remaining unsold and unappropriate, to the first of July 1852.

  Acres Sold Acres unsold
Ohio 12,646,858 385,264
Indiana 15,960,902 503,417
Illinois 16,008,331 7,271,975
Missouri 10,866,723 24,309,606
Alabama 11,662,608 15,069,977
Mississippi 8,869,714 8,807,112
Louisiana 3,523,656 9,931,070
Michigan 9,372,907 19,679,811
Arkansas 3,328,986 22,069,493
Florida 1,035,416 30,454,518
Iowa 2,810,044 24,065,513
Wisconsin 4,995,023 24,190,106
California   120,447,840
Minnesota Territory 19,695 87,365,474
Oregon Territory   206,349,333
New Mexico Territory   127,383,040
Utah Territory   113,589,013
Northwest Territory   338,384,000
Nebraska Territory   87,488,000
Indian Territory   119,789,440
Total 102,113,864 1,387, 534, 002

Congress has granted during the same period, for (in acres):

Schools and universities--40,588,978; Deaf and dumb asylums--44,791; Internal improvements--10,007,677; Individuals and companies--279,792;  Military service--18,709,220;  Swamp lands to states--28,156,671