The United States of America
The United States of America
is a federal democratic republic composed of 50
semiautonomous states located in North America (except for the State of Hawaii, which is a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean), a federal
district that serves as the seat of the U.S. government, and several protectorate islands in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. The State of Alaska
is separated from the rest of the U.S. mainland by Canada
The Federal government of the United States was created by the adoption of the U.S. Constitution
in 1789, which laid out a blueprint for the government’s structure. It is composed of three separate branches: Executive, Legislative, and
The Executive Branch
[size=-3]The White House, Washington, D.C.
The executive branch of the United States is led by the President and conducts the day-to-day administrative duties of the government, as well as all
law enforcement and military operations.
The President of the United States is the nation’s head-of-state, chief law enforcement officer, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and
appoints all members of his staff, cabinet and nominees to the judiciary. The President sets the general political tone and agenda of the nation by
submitting legislation to the Congress to implement the ideas he campaigned on and by his power to veto legislation he disagrees with.
The current President of the United States is George W. Bush (R) from Texas:
The Vice President
The Vice President is the President of the U.S. Senate and becomes President if the President dies or is incapacitated, but has no other official
role. However, in recent years Presidents have been delegating more powers and responsibilities to their Vice Presidents as the size and complexity of
the federal government has increased.
The current Vice President is Richard B. Cheney (R) from Wyoming:
The President and Vice President of the United States are elected to four-year terms by an electoral college composed of representatives elected by
each State and the District of Columbia for the sole purpose of electing the President and Vice President. Term limits imposed by the 22nd Amendment
of the U.S. Constitution prevent anyone from being elected President more than twice, or more than once if they served as President during more than
half of another President’s term. The Constitution also requires that the President be at least 35 years of age and a natural born citizen of the
The President has the plenary power to pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime.
The President appoints secretaries to head the various federal government departments. These appointees must be confirmed by the Senate before taking
office, unless the Congress is not in session, in which case the appointment is temporary. Here are some of the most important positions:
The Legislative Branch
- Secretary of State – Handles foreign relations, runs diplomatic missions. Currently held by Dr.
- Attorney General – Runs the Justice Department, handling all federal criminal prosecution and domestic federal law enforcement agencies.
Currently held by Alberto Gonzales
- Secretary of Defense – Handles the nation’s armed forces. Currently held by Dr. Robert
- Secretary of Homeland Security – New agency formed after 9/11…now handles immigration, customs, secret service, coast guard, and general
national security issues. Currently held by Michael Chertoff
- Secretary of the Treasury – Deals with economic issues. Currently held by John
- Secretary of Energy – Handles energy issues, provides nuclear material for civilian and military use. Currently held by
[size=-3]The United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.
The Legislative Branch of the United States is known as the Congress and creates all U.S federal laws, as well as proposes Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution, has the power to impeach and try members of both other branches of government for crimes, and confirms executive appointments. It is
composed of two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate:
House of Representatives
The House of Representatives is composed of 435 voting members directly elected to two-year terms. Each representative represents a single defined
district of a State, determined by population so all districts throughout the country contain roughly the same number of people (although all States
must have at least one representative, regardless of their population). Several non-state areas such as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have
one delegate each who may participate in House discussion, but has no vote. The House has the sole power of impeachment of government officials.
Representatives must be at least 25 years of age, a resident of the United States for seven years, and be a resident of the State they represent.
The members of the House elect a Speaker, and each political party elects their own leader.
The Speaker of the House is currently Nancy Pelosi (D) of California:
The current majority party leader is Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland:
The current minority party leader is John Boehner (R) of Ohio:
The Senate is composed of 100 Senators – two from each State. Senators are directly elected to six-year terms by all voters in their home State and
are divided into three classes, so roughly 1/3 of the Senate is up for election every two years. The Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments
and also to confirm all Presidential nominees (except in the rare case when the office of Vice President is vacated, in which case the House must
confirm as well). Senators must be at least 30 years of age, a resident of the United States for nine years, and be a resident of the State they
The President of the Senate is the U.S. Vice President, but he has no vote unless the Senate is equally divided and rarely is present, therefore the
members elect a President Pro Tempore, traditionally the most senior member from the majority party, who presides while the Vice President is absent.
The current President Pro Tempore is Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia:
As in the House, each political party also elects its own leader to speak for them.
The current Senate majority leader is Harry Reid (D) of Nevada:
The current Senate minority leader is Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky:
In order for a bill to become a law, it must be passed by each house of Congress and submitted to the President for his signature. If he refuses to
sign it (vetoes it), the bill is returned to the Congress with his objections for their review. The Congress may override his veto if 2/3 of the
members of each house vote to pass the law over the President’s objections.
The Congress may propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution by passing the proposed Amendment with 2/3 support from each house. The Amendment must
then be ratified by 3/4 of the State legislatures or 3/4 of State representatives to a Constitutional Convention in order to take effect.
The House of Representatives may, by a majority vote, call for the impeachment of a federal official or judge for a suspected crime committed while in
office. The impeached person is then tried by the Senate and removed from office if at least 2/3 of the Senate agree to convict. Only two Presidents
in U.S. history, Andrew Johnson
, have ever been impeached and neither was convicted.
Both houses of Congress have standing committees that generally reflect the structure of the Executive branch for oversight. Newly proposed bills are
assigned to the appropriate committee depending on which part of the government the bill pertains to for hearings before moving to the floor.
Likewise, Presidential nominees are referred to the committee that oversees the department to which the person was nominated. Other committees such as
the ethics committee have also been set up to police congressional members. Judiciary committees have also been set up to oversee the Judicial branch,
with that of the Senate handling initial hearings on judicial nominees.
The Judicial Branch
[size=-3]The Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C.
The judicial branch of the U.S. government is composed of the Supreme Court
and several lower courts set up
by the Congress. Federal judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to life terms. The court system is obviously responsible
for handling federal criminal cases and civil disputes, but they also have an important political role in enforcing the Constitution’s limits on the
other branches of government. If the Court finds a law passed by Congress or an action by the federal or any state government contradicts the
Constitution, they can issue a ruling that overturns laws and/or changes policy nationwide. Due to some controversial rulings concerning hot-button
social issues over the past few decades, the composition of the courts has become much more politicized and has caused several bitter battles over
Presidential judicial nominations in the Senate.
The Supreme Court is composed of a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices and, except in a very few rare cases, is an appellate court. The present
Chief Justice of the United States is John Roberts:
Other U.S. courts include District Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, and Circuit Courts of Appeals.
For more information see the official U.S. government website
[edit on 3/13/2007 by djohnsto77]
[edit on 3/13/2007 by Majic]