The American form of government was written down in a Constitution adopted in 1787, after the colonies gained independence from Great Britain. They were wager to make sure that no one got to much power.
First they decided to have a representative democracy. This is a system of elected representatives who could be shifted out. Power rested with the people, not a king or a tyrant. Second, they decided to have e federal system. This is made up of individual states which give only a certain specific powers to a central government. This is known as federalism. Finally, they decided to divide the powers of the federal government into three. Each of these three branches keeps track of each other, so no one becomes too powerful. This is called the separation of powers.
The federal government can only do what it has specifically been given the power to do in the Constitution by the states. These are its delegated powers. All other powers are reserved for the states and the people and therefore called reserved powers. The states gave the federal government power of the following areas:
Separation of the powers
There are three branches;
1. The Executive, headed by the President
2. The Legislative, made up of Congress
3. The Judicial, headed by the Supreme Court
To assure that the all of the power wouldn’t go to one person or a group, the founding fathers then created a system by which each of the branches could limit the power of the other two, keeping an even balance between them. This is known as the system of checks and balances. The President – Executive powers.
The President has great – but not limited – powers. The President is:
Head of State – represents the people of The United States at home and abroad. Chief Executive – heads all federal organizations.
Commander in Chief – head of the armed forces of the only superpower in the world. But only Congress can declare war.
Chief Diplomat – decides foreign and defense policy.
Checks on the President:
The Supreme Court can declare presidential actions unconstitutional and therefore not valid. Congress can change or refuse to pass the legislation suggested by the President. Congress can override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Congress and the Supreme Court acting together can “impeach” the President.
The Congress – legislative powers
The American Congress consists of two “chambers” – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The number of representatives each state got in the House of Representatives was based on the population of the state, a democratic solution.
In the Senate each state was given two representatives no matter how small or large it was. That way, the smaller states could defend their interests. ¨
Congress has the power to:
Pass laws (known as legislation – rules which regulate society) Levy taxes
Decide how federal money is to be used
Members of the House of Representatives are called Congressmen. All its members are elected every two years. That way it reflects the popular opinion of the day. There are 435 members. Members of the Senate are called Senators. There are 100 members, two from each of the fifty states. They are elected for six years. This is designed to distance them from everyday politics. All legislation has to be approved by both houses of Congress before it is sent on to the President to be signed into law.
Checks on Congress:
The President can veto a bill by refusing to sign it.
The Supreme Court can declare laws “unconstitutional” and therefore not valid.
The Supreme Court – judicial powers
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. That means that all other courts must accept its interpretation of the law. The Supreme Court also decides what laws are in agreement with the Constitution and what laws are “unconstitutional”. This is...
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