The Basics of Government

Government is a group of people who have power and authority to manage a region or organization. The word government comes from the Latin word gubernare, which means “to steer.” The idea behind a government is that it is a governing body — people who have the power and responsibility to make laws and enforce them. Governments have many responsibilities, such as providing security, funding education, developing infrastructure, and protecting citizens from natural disasters. Governments are organized in different ways, but they all create rules to make sure that things run smoothly and fairly.

A government may be made up of one person (an autocracy), a small group of people (an oligarchy or aristocracy), the whole population of a nation or state (a democracy), or a combination of people (a republic). The founders of the United States established a system of federalism, which includes a balance between the three branches of the government.

The legislative branch, which makes the laws of a country, is called Congress. It consists of two chambers, the smaller upper house and the larger lower house. The members of the upper house, known as senators, serve four-year terms. The members of the lower house, known as representatives, serve two-year terms. The Senate is composed of 100 senators, and the House has 435 elected members — two per state plus six from Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A bill must pass both chambers in order to become law. The president signs bills into law, or he can reject them by using his veto power. Congress can override the president’s veto with a two-thirds majority in each house.

While the legislative and executive branches of government make laws and raise money, the judicial branch interprets those laws and makes sure that the laws are being followed. The president appoints Supreme Court justices and judges in the lower courts. Congress approves the president’s nominees for these jobs. The judicial branch also hears and decides legal cases, and the Supreme Court can overturn unconstitutional laws.

In addition to these three branches of government, most countries have an executive branch, which is responsible for making decisions and running the day-to-day operations of a country. The executive branch is headed by a president, who represents the nation at diplomatic events and makes treaties with other nations. The executive branch also has agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Agriculture, which implement legislation and perform a specific function for the country.

Another important role of the executive branch is to negotiate with other governments, which can be helpful for avoiding war and promoting economic development. The executive branch sends diplomats to other countries, and those diplomats talk with leaders of other countries about trade issues, cultural exchanges and other topics of mutual interest. Governments also have military forces that protect the nation from terrorists and other major threats to national security.