A government is an institution that has the power to make and enforce laws. A government is also a group of people who work together to provide leadership, maintain order, and protect national security. In addition, governments help people with their basic needs and offer economic assistance. Governments are found throughout the world and come in many shapes and sizes.
Some of the most important functions of government are setting the rules that limit how people behave, protecting national security, and providing social programs. However, some of these functions are controversial, and the debate about what is the proper role of government continues to rage.
The word “government” is derived from the Latin noun gubernator, meaning “ruler.” In general, humans have an instinctive need to form and govern themselves in ways that promote safety, order, and prosperity. The word state is used to refer to a sizable, organized group of people who share common bonds such as race, language, custom, or religion and who form a political community with a defined territory and a recognized leader called a sovereign. A country is a collection of states.
A government has three main branches: the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. The legislative branch sets the laws. The executive branch carries out those laws, and the judicial branch interprets laws to see if they are constitutional. Each of these three branches has a role to play in keeping our system of checks and balances working properly.
Traditionally, the United States has been a democratic republic, a form of government that allows citizens to elect their own representatives and senators to set policy. This type of government is also popular in the rest of the world. However, some countries have very different forms of democracy and other types of governance.
The most fundamental principle of democracy is that each citizen has the right to participate in a public forum, or open discussion, where they can freely express their opinions and debate issues. The goal is to create an environment where all people have the opportunity to be heard, regardless of their political views or social status.
In a democracy, all people are equal under the law. This includes those with little or no wealth, as well as those who are disabled. This is the essence of democracy and freedom.
Many historical events, documents, and philosophers helped shape the ideas about what a good government should look like in America. John Locke believed that people have “natural rights” that they are born with. Thomas Hobbes introduced the concept of a social contract. Jean Jacques-Rousseau and Charles-Louis de Montesquieu wrote about the importance of separating powers in government. These ideas influenced the colonists who created their first government, the Articles of Confederation, in 1781. The weakness of this first government—including difficulty getting laws passed, no national court system, and the inability to regulate commerce or wage war—prompted Shay’s Rebellion, which led to a Constitutional Convention and the formation of a federal government.