In its current version, Wikipedia's article titled "Quebec" tells us that

Quebec is Canada's largest province by area and its second-largest administrative division; only the territory of Nunavut is larger.

Thus the ten provinces and three territories are here being considered "adminstrative divisions".

Maybe a year or so ago I was appalled to see this Wikipedia article telling us that states in the United States are administrative divisions of the country, and I changed it.

In the U.S. there were formerly "organized incorporated territories" (and maybe the District of Columbia could still be considered one of those?). These I take to have been administrative divisions of the country. Congress passed an "organic act" for each such territory that said the government in this territory shall be organized in thus-and-such manner. During the existence of such a territory, if it was decided to change the term served by the governor from two years to fours year, or make some other change, the change was enacted by Congress, not by the voters in the territory. The constitution of a state, by contrast, is drafted by politicians in that state and submitted for the approval of the voters, and any changes are made by popular vote; there is no involvement of Congress or anything at the federal level. Thus states are not administrative divisions of the federal government. Counties, in those states where they exist (or parishes in Louisiana or boroughs in Alaska), are administrative divisions of the state.

Thus it seems appropriate that in the U.S., states get "admitted" by Congress whereas territories get "organized" by Congress. However, in Canada, if I'm not mistaken, both provinces and territories get "admitted".


  • Is this understanding of the concept of "administrative division" right?
  • Is the article about Quebec right?
  • 2
    An administrative division is just a subdivision of an area were each division has some sort of government/administration.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 19:00
  • @mkennedy : So maybe I should have phrased the question thus: What is an administrative division OF some larger entity? My idea was that organized incorporated territories within the U.S. were divisions OF the federal government, having been organized by Congress, whereas states were not organized by Congress but by persons within the state. Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 19:14
  • Well, yes, a territory had to meet certain requirements set by the federal government to become a state including an act by congress and once it achieves statehood, a state has certain rights and privileges deriving from the federal government as well as rights and privileges deriving from itself.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 19:44
  • @mkennedy : Perhaps we should note that the idea of a territory becoming a state oversimplifies things. In many cases a part of a territory became a state, and no consent of the territorial legislature was needed for that. In three or four cases a part of a state became a state, and I say "three or four" because of disputes about one of them. Kentucky was a part of Virginia and became a separate state. Maine was a part of Massachusetts and became a separate state. There are disputes about whether West Virginia's admission as a separate state from Virginia was.... Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 3:40
  • ....constitutional, but no one (?) disputes that it was made a separate state. The fourth case was Vermont. New York's claim to Vermont was disputed, and there never was a time when New York generally governed Vermont, but Vermont was not admitted until the consent of New York's legislature removed an impediment. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 3:42

1 Answer 1


"Administrative division" is a sub-national area that exists for the purpose of administration - it is context dependent and is independent of the area having self-governance or legal certainty or continuity. That is, they may be large or small, geographically contiguous or not, permanent or temporary, democratic or non-democratic, self-governing or externally administered etc.

The states and territories of the US can be considered administrative divisions. Counties and their equivalents are administrative divisions. Cites, towns, villages and other types of municipalities are also administrative divisions.

Australia has states and territories. Some states have counties. Some states have counties divided into parishes. All states have local governments (cities, municipalities and shires) whose boundaries do not relate to counties or parishes. Some governments form larger administrative divisions for certain purposes (e.g. WSROC - Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority). All of these are administrative divisions.

  • Can states in the U.S. be considered to have been defined for the purpose of administration? Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 23:25
  • 4
    @MichaelHardy Regardless of the reason for their formation, they are nevertheless also divisions that are used for administration (thus "administrative divisions"). The term is descriptive and doesn't imply anything about formation, or specific powers, or sovereignty.
    – owjburnham
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 7:13

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