The United States Government

The United States of America is a constitution-based federal republic, with a strong democratic tradition.

The Founding Fathers, the framers of the Constitution, wanted to form a government that did not allow one person to have too much authority or control. While under the rule of the British king they learned that this could be a bad system. Yet government under the Articles of Confederation taught them that there was a need for a strong centralized government.

With this in mind the framers wrote the Constitution to provide for a separation of powers, or three separate branches of government. Each has its own responsibilities and at the same time they work together to make the country run smoothly and to assure that the rights of citizens are not ignored or disallowed. This is done through checks and balances. A branch may use its powers to check the powers of the other two in order to maintain a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Articles of Confederation -- The first constitution of the 13 American states, adopted in 1781.
It was later replaced in 1789 by the Constitution of the United States.

checks and balances -- Limits imposed on all branches of government by giving each the right to amend acts of the other branches.

constitution - The system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribes the nature, functions, and limits of a government or another institution.

Constitution - The document in which such a system is recorded. The fundamental law of the United States, framed in 1787, ratified in 1789, and variously amended since then.

democratic - Of, characterized by, or advocating democracy: democratic government; a democratic union.

democracy - Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives. The common people, considered as the primary source of political power. Majority rule.The principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.

Founding Fathers -- The delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.

separation of powers -- The system of dividing the powers and duties of a government into different branches.


Three Branches of Federal Government

The three Branches of the U.S. Government are the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.

Executive Branch

The executive branch of Government makes sure that the laws of the United States are obeyed. The President of the United States is the head of the executive branch of government. This branch is very large, so the President gets help from the Vice President, department heads (Cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies.

President is the Leader of the country and commands the military. He is both the chief of state and head of government.

Vice President is President of the Senate and becomes President if the President can no longer do the job.

Cabinet Members are Department heads who advise the President on issues and help carry out policies. The Cabinet Members are appointed by the president with Senate approval.

Independent Agencies help carry out policy or provide special services.

Elections for president and vice president
The president and vice president are elected on the same ticket by a college of representatives who are elected directly from each state. The president and vice president serve four-year terms.


Legislative Branch

The legislative branch of government is made up of the Congress and government agencies, such as the Government Printing Office and Library of Congress, that provide assistance to and support services for the Congress. Article I of the Constitution established this branch and gave Congress the power to make laws. Congress has two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Bicameral Congress consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives
The way that states are represented in the House and the Senate is different. When the Founding Fathers were drafting the Constitution, there were debates over how states would be represented. States with larger populations wanted more representation than states with smaller populations. Meanwhile, states with smaller populations favored equal representation. So, a compromise was made -- Representation in the Senate would be equal, while representation in the House would be based on population. The Senate has 100 seats, and the House of Representatives has 435 seats.

bicameral - Composed of or based on two legislative chambers or branches: a bicameral legislature.

Congress meets once every year at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The session is usually from January 3rd to July 31st, but in special cases, can last longer. Each Congress lasts for two years, so every two years new Members of Congress are elected.

Its primary duty is to write, debate, and pass bills, which are then passed on to the President for approval.

Other Powers of Congress
Makes laws controlling trade between states and
Makes laws controlling trade between the United States and other countries
Makes laws about taxes and borrowing money
Approves the making of money
Can declare war on other countries


Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of government is made up of the court system. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Article III of the Constitution established this Court, and all other Federal courts were created by Congress. Courts decide arguments about the meaning of laws, how they are applied, and whether the laws break the rules of the Constitution.

Supreme Court - 9 justices, appointed for life by the president with confirmation by the Senate

United States Courts of Appeal

United States District Courts

State and County Courts


The United States is comprised of 50 States, Territories, and Possessions