Ever since the intention was first declared to form a more perfect union, America has been a work in progress. The march toward prosperity, ever greater legal equality and more freedom has been an unsteady and erratic one that has sometimes wound backward before going forward again.
One of the great mechanisms by which forward progress is achieved - or, depending on the issue, thwarted - is the federal model of American government, whereby the country is formed of autonomous states that write their own laws internally while also agreeing to the primacy of the federal government's law. This is what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the "laboratories of democracy," in which states may try "novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."
As it is with the law, so it is with economics, infrastructure, architecture, art, literature, science and more. While from outside the U.S. the states seem pretty interchangeable, with only a few having distinct characteristics, from the inside it's very clear that each state has its own approach to all of these things.
States are even generally topographically different, at least on a regional level - you'd never mistake a Great Plains state for New England or the Deep South at a glance. That means there's a huge amount to know about the states in order to really know the U.S. - and it starts with knowing roughly which state is where, who lives there, what it looks like, and a few key facts about its geography, history, and culture.
Let's see how well you can distinguish these frustrating, fabulous and forever-changing laboratories of democracy.
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