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Florida is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States, bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico; Alabama to the northwest; Georgia to the north; the Bahamas and Atlantic Ocean to the east; and the Straits of Florida and Cuba to the south. It is the only state that borders both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. With a population exceeding 21 million, it is the third-most populous state in the nation as of 2020. It spans 65,758 square miles (170,310 km2), ranking 22nd in area among the 50 states. The Miami metropolitan area, anchored by the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, is the state's largest metropolitan area with a population of 6.138 million, and the state's most-populous city is Jacksonville with a population of 949,611. Florida's other major population centers include Tampa Bay, Orlando, Cape Coral, and the state capital of Tallahassee.
Florida was the first region of what is now the contiguous United States to be visited and settled by Europeans. The earliest known European explorers came with the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. Ponce de León spotted and landed on the peninsula on April 2, 1513. He named it La Florida in recognition of the verdant landscape and because it was the Easter season, which the Spaniards called Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers). The following day they came ashore to seek information and take possession of this new land. The story that he was searching for the Fountain of Youth is mythical and appeared only long after his death.
In 1565, the settlement of St. Augustine (San Agustín) was established under the leadership of admiral and governor Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, creating what would become one of the oldest, continuously occupied European settlements in the continental U.S. and establishing the first generation of Floridanos and the Government of Florida. Spain maintained strategic control over the region by converting the local tribes to Christianity. The marriage between Luisa de Abrego, a free black domestic servant from Seville, and Miguel Rodríguez, a white Segovian, occurred in 1565 in St. Augustine. It is the first recorded Christian marriage in the continental United States.
Some Spanish married or had unions with Pensacola, Creek, or African women, both slave and free, and their descendants created a mixed-race population of mestizos and mulattoes. The Spanish encouraged slaves from the Thirteen Colonies to come to Florida as a refuge, promising freedom in exchange for conversion to Catholicism. King Charles II of Spain issued a royal proclamation freeing all slaves who fled to Spanish Florida and accepted conversion and baptism. Most went to the area around St. Augustine, but escaped slaves also reached Pensacola. St. Augustine had mustered an all-black militia unit defending Spanish Florida as early as 1683.
In 1738, the Spanish governor of Florida Manuel de Montiano established Fort Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose near St. Augustine, a fortified town for escaped slaves to whom Montiano granted citizenship and freedom in return for their service in the Florida militia, and which became the first free black settlement legally sanctioned in North America.
Defense of Florida's northern border with the United States was minor during the second Spanish period. The region became a haven for escaped slaves and a base for Indian attacks against U.S. territories, and the U.S. pressed Spain for reform.
Americans of English and Scots-Irish descent began moving into northern Florida from the backwoods of Georgia and South Carolina. Though technically not allowed by the Spanish authorities and the Floridan government, they were never able to effectively police the border region and the backwoods settlers from the United States would continue to immigrate into Florida unchecked. These migrants, mixing with the already present British settlers who had remained in Florida since the British period, would be the progenitors of the population known as Florida Crackers.
In 1810, parts of West Florida were annexed by the proclamation of President James Madison, who claimed the region as part of the Louisiana Purchase. These parts were incorporated into the newly formed Territory of Orleans. The U.S. annexed the Mobile District of West Florida to the Mississippi Territory in 1812. Spain continued to dispute the area, though the United States gradually increased the area it occupied. In 1812, a group of settlers from Georgia, with de facto support from the U.S. federal government, attempted to overthrow the Floridan government in the province of East Florida. The settlers hoped to convince Floridians to join their cause and proclaim independence from Spain, but the settlers lost their tenuous support from the federal government and abandoned their cause by 1813.
American settlers began to establish cotton plantations in north Florida, which required numerous laborers, which they supplied by buying slaves in the domestic market. By 1860, Florida had only 140,424 people, of whom 44% were enslaved. There were fewer than 1,000 free African Americans before the American Civil War.
The basic structure, duties, function, and operations of the government of the State of Florida are defined by the Florida Constitution, which establishes the basic law of the state and guarantees various rights and freedoms of the people. As with the American federal government and all other state governments, Florida's government consists of three separate branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The legislature enacts bills, which, if signed by the governor, become law.
Being of early importance as a regional center of banking and finance, the architecture of Jacksonville displays a wide variety of styles and design principles. Many of the state's earliest skyscrapers were constructed in Jacksonville, dating as far back as 1902, and last holding a state height record from 1974 to 1981. The city is endowed with one of the largest collections of Prairie School buildings outside of the Midwest. Jacksonville is also noteworthy for its collection of Mid-Century modern architecture.
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