The United States government is made up of three separate branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches. The judicial branch of the government includes the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. The legislative branch of the government includes Congress, which is divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives. The executive branch of the government is led by the president of the United States, and it also includes the vice president and the Cabinet, who are staff members who serve the president.
The Three Branches of Government
The three branches of government work together. The Constitution of the United States clearly defines the jobs of each branch, and each branch has some amount of power over the others, which keeps one of them from being too powerful and having too much control of the government. The legislative branch has the job of making laws. The Senate has 100 senators, two from each state. The House of Representatives has 435 representatives, with the number from each state based on the state’s population. The executive branch includes the president and the vice president plus a Cabinet of leaders who are chosen by the president and must be approved by the Senate. The 15 Cabinet members oversee 15 departments that are in charge of different things, like the military, schools, and banks. The judicial branch has the job of making sure that laws don’t violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court is at the top of the judicial branch, and nine justices serve on the Supreme Court. The president nominates people for the Supreme Court, and the senators must approve a nomination for a person to become a Supreme Court justice. Lower federal courts are also a part of the judicial branch.
Duties of the President
The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United State and is in charge of managing matters of national defense to keep the country safe. The president is also the head of state, in charge of enforcing the laws that the Congress writes and passes. The president can also recommend new laws. Foreign policy defines how the United States works with other countries, and the president is in charge of these policies. When special events and ceremonies happen, the president is often there and has special duties. The president reviews legislation that the Congress writes, deciding whether to sign these bills into laws or to veto them, which means rejecting them. If the president vetoes a bill, Congress can try to override the president’s decision, but they need two-thirds of the members of both the House and the Senate to vote for it to override a veto. The vice president is also part of the executive branch and is the person who becomes president if the president can’t do their job anymore.
The president can also issue executive orders. An executive order is a written and signed order that comes directly from the president and changes something about how the federal government works. Every executive order is numbered in order, so these orders may just be referred to by their number. The federal government has numbered each executive order that has been issued since George Washington issued the first one in 1789. Over the entire history of the United States, more than 13,000 executive orders have been issued by presidents. Executive orders have freed slaves, built bridges, and allowed people of all races to serve together in the military. Presidents may also issue proclamations, which are also numbered in order. Proclamations are often used to take note of holidays or honor people. Presidents can also issue administrative orders, which are letters or notices about situations that need managing. Administrative orders are not numbered. Executive orders, proclamations, and administrative orders are documented in the Federal Register.
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- Presidential Powers
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- Rules and Laws (PDF)
- State and Local Government
- Presidential Pop Quiz
- We the People (PDF)
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- Branches of the Government Jigsaw Activity
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- The Executive Branch: Overview
- Functions of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Federal Government (PDF)
- Separation of Powers
- The Presidency: The Leadership Branch?
- Duties of the President
- Checks and Balances Game