A Kid’s Guide to the Business of the US Government
The Federal Government of the United States is the nation’s form of government, which is a large organization that establishes and enforces the rules and rights of Americas citizens. Its purpose is primarily to improve and protect the lives of American citizens. Because the government is responsible for so many different parts of the country, it must operate on several different and complex levels.
A democracy is a form of government that is run by the people, which means that each citizen has a say in how the government operates. There are two main types of democracy: direct and representative. The United States has followed a representative democracy (or democratic republic) for over 200 years, meaning that the citizens elect representatives to run the government, like the president, members of congress, and senators.
United States Constitution
The Constitution was written in 1787 by a group of men which included Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and James Madison among many others. After long periods of debate and a lot of hard work, the group eventually agreed to the words of the constitution in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Constitution is also what divides the United States government into three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) and gives them the power to govern, by describing the different powers given to each, as well as their limits (known as a system of checks and balances). The constitution also protects American citizens and their basic civil rights through the first ten amendments, called the Bill of Rights.
Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, which guarantee citizens of the United States protected rights and include: freedom of religion, press and speech (Amendment 1), right to bear arms (Amendment 2), quartering of soldier (Amendment 3), search and seizure (Amendment 4), trial and punishment, compensation for taking (Amendment 5), right to speedy trial, confrontation of witnesses (Amendment 6), trial by jury in civil case (Amendment 7), cruel and unusual punishment (Amendment 8), construction of constitution (Amendment 9), and powers of the states and people (Amendment 10). The Bill of Rights was actually based upon several previous documents which include the Magna Carta, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and the English Bill of Rights.
Checks and Balances
The constitution created three separate branches of the government: the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. However, in order to make sure that one branch did not become too powerful, the Constitution set a system of “checks and balances” into place, which enables each branch to keep the others on track. This system also created a balance and separation of powers between the three branches by giving each branch individual powers. For instance, the president can check the Congress by vetoing a bill. When the president does this, the bill has to go back to Congress and then it must be passed by a two-thirds majority in order to become a law. In return, the Congress can check the power of the president by impeachment (where the Congress votes to have the president removed from power), “advice and consent” (which declares that the Congress must approve of the presidents appointed judges and officials), and the Supreme Court can check the president by declaring executive orders as unconstitutional. The Congress can also check the power of the courts through impeachment, as they can vote to remove judges from office. The president checks the power of the courts by appointing new judges, which the Congress much approve of.
The leader of the Executive Branch is the President of the United States. The President holds all the power in this branch of government, and every other member of the branch, including the Vice President, the Executive Office of the President, and the Cabinet, must report to the President. As President, the main powers that comes with this responsibility are being the leader of the US Government, the head of state, and the Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces. The President is also able to sign legislation from Congress into law or choose to veto it.
The Legislative Branch is also called the Congress, and is made up of two parts: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Legislative Branch is responsible for writing up and voting on laws (also called legislation), declaring war, confirming Presidential appointments for groups including the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, and investigating power.
House of Representatives
There are 435 total members in the House of Representatives. Each state has a different amount of representatives, which depends on their total population. This means that larger states, with more people, also get more representatives. These members are elected every two years, and must live in the state they represent. The speaker of the House is also considered the leader of the House of Representatives, whom the House elects. The Speaker is third in line in succession to the President of the United States.
The Senate has 100 members, with each state only having two Senators. Their main role is to approve of legislation suggested by the lower chamber of US Congress, the House of Representatives. Senators are elected every six years, and must also live in the state they represent.
The Judicial Branch of the United States Government is made up entirely of judges and courts, however federal judges are not elected by the people, but by the President of the United States and then they must also be confirmed by the Senate. There is also a hierarchy of federal courts in the United States, with the lowest being the 94 U.S. District Courts, which cover various regions of the country and are involved with most federal cases. Next, are the District Courts, which are the 13 Courts of Appeals. Lastly, at the head of the Judicial Branch, is the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the United States and has the final say within the branch. The President nominates all of the Supreme Court members, which the Senate must confirm. Once confirmed, the Supreme court members keep their positions in the court for life. The Supreme Court primarily reviews cases that have been appealed from the lower courts.