U.S. Government

White House Front Lawn (Photo: The White House)

While often categorized as a democracy, the United States is more accurately defined as a constitutional federal republic. What does this mean? “Constitutional” refers to the fact that government in the United States is based on a Constitution which is the supreme law of the United States. The Constitution not only provides the framework for how the federal and state governments are structured, but also places significant limits on their powers. “Federal” means that there is both a national government and governments of the 50 states. A “republic” is a form of government in which the people hold power, but elect representatives to exercise that power.

What makes U.S. government uniquely American…its Constitution, the separation of powers, the concept of “checks and balances,” the decentralized roles of state and local governments, and a citizenry with wide opportunity to be part of it all…

Complete version (pdf)

The American system of government, begun as an experiment in liberty and democracy in 1776, has proven to be remarkably resilient and adaptable.

Complete version (pdf)

Why do elections matter? Elections help ensure that power passes in a peaceful, orderly manner from citizens to their elected representatives—and from one elected official to his or her successor… Full Text (pdf)

The White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States, located in Washington, D.C. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800.

The Cabinet
The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.

The Department of State
The United States Department of State (DoS), often referred to as the State Department, is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministry of other countries. The Department was created in 1789 and was the first executive department established.

The House of The Representative
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the United States Congress (a bicameral legislature). It is frequently referred to as The House. The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the United States Constitution. The major power of the House is to pass federal legislation that affects the entire country, although its bills must also be passed by the Senate and further agreed to by the U.S. President before becoming law.

U.S. Senate
The United States Senate is a legislative chamber in the bicameral legislature of the United States of America, and together with the U.S. House of Representatives makes up the U.S. Congress. First convened in 1789, the composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each U.S. state is represented by two senators, regardless of population, who serve staggered six-year terms.

The U.S. Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of the United States (first abbreviated as SCOTUS in 1879) was established pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution in 1789 as the highest federal court in the United States. It has ultimate (and largely discretionary) appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, plus original jurisdiction over a small range of cases.

Understanding the Federal Courts
The federal court system deals with legal issues expressly or implicitly granted to it by the U.S. Constitution. The state court systems deal with their respective state constitutions and the legal issues that the U.S. Constitution did not give to the federal government or explicitly deny to the states.  Locate a Federal Court »

The U.S. Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under the Law (pdf – 1.2Mb)
This revision of “The U.S. Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under the Law” is a collection of essays that explains how the highest court in the United States functions. It has been updated to reflect the appointments of new justices and key officers, and recent, significant decisions of the court.

State Government Information
Compilation of State governments information from the Library of Congress.

Council of State Governments
Founded in 1933, The Council of State Governments is our nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government. CSG is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. This offers unparalleled regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships.

National Conference of State Legislatures
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1975 to serve the members and staff of state legislatures of the United States (states, commonwealths, and territories). NCSL has three objectives: to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures; to promote policy innovation and communication among state legislatures; and to ensure state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system.

The National Association of Counties
The National Association of Counties (NACo) is the only national organization that represents county governments in the United States. Founded in 1935, NACo assists America’s 3,069 counties in pursuing excellence in public service to produce healthy, vibrant, safe and resilient counties. NACo promotes sound public policies, fosters county solutions and innovation, promotes intergovernmental and public-private collaboration and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money.

National League of Cities
The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. Working in partnership with the 49 state municipal leagues, NLC serves as a resource to and an advocate for the more than 19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents.