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Political System of the USA … in a nutshell

USA Government Structure
USA Government Structure

Topmost anchor point for the entire structure is the Constitution of the United States of America.

It was the 4th of July of the year 1776 when the colonies declared their independence from England. In the following years the political system was based on the “Articles of Confederation”, which were a non-binding ‘contract’ for the member states. Seeing that this system didn’t work out, the Continental Congress introduced the draft of a ‘binding contract’, later called the Constitution.

This draft of the Constitution was formally accepted in 1787 and needed 9 state votes to be ratified. That was in the following year and started with the State of Delaware, today nicknamed “the First State”. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina and New Hampshire followed. The official date for the American Constitution to become effective was March 4th, 1789.

The Constitution

The Constitution sets up a federal system of government by dividing powers between the national, state and local governments.
Two characteristics of this three-tier system of American government are fundamental.
First, citizens elect officials to serve in the national, state and local governments. The authority of each level rests with the people.
Second, each level of government raises money through taxation from the citizens living in the area it serves. Unless each level of government can raise its own fiscal resources, it cannot act independently.
The idea of separating powers among the various elements of government was designed to restrict governmental power and prevent its abuse. Wherever possible, the Founding Fathers built a system of “checks and balances” into the Constitution so that no one part of the government could supplant the other.

The Branches

At the national level, the federal government is further divided into three autonomous branches.

The executive branch, symbolized by the office of the president of the United States, enforces the law.
The legislative branch, symbolized by the U.S. Congress, makes the laws.
And the judicial branch, symbolized by the Supreme Court, interprets these laws and decides whether they are compatible with the Constitution.

The Executive Branch – Political System USA

The president has come to symbolize the nation’s executive branch of government because the Constitution states very clearly that it is the president’s duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
To implement the policies and laws of the nation, the president presides over a vast organization of departments and agencies which were never enumerated in the Constitution, but developed over the course of American history.

Although the United States is often cited as an example of a democratic system where the president has a very powerful rule, the formal powers of the office are few and structure of the American government prevents the president from acting directly, without the advice and consent of the other branches of government.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Since Donald Trump took office as 45th president of the United States it became clear that a president can widely act alone through Executive Orders which not require Congress.

The Legislative Branch – Political System USA

The Constitution sets up a bi-cameral body known as the U.S. Congress to raise and to spend national revenue and to draft laws. It is commonly said that Congress influences American policy by exercising the “power of the purse strings.”

The two chambers are

  • The U.S. Senate
  • The U.S. House of Representatives

The broad powers of the whole Congress are spelled out in Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, which not only outlines what Congress can do, but also specifically forbids Congress from certain acts. The 10th Amendment of the Constitution further limits the domain of the nation’s lawmakers by stating that all powers not delegated to the national government are reserved to the states or the people

The Judicial Branch – Political System USA

The federal court system plays a critical role in protecting the rights and liberties guaranteed to the American people. Federal courts can strike down any legislation, at any level of government, if the courts determine that the legislation violates the nation’s fundamental, democratic principles outlined in the Constitution.

To safeguard the authority and independence of the judiciary against the interests of the executive or legislative branches, the Constitution protects judges from political reprisal. The judicial branch consists of a system of courts spread throughout the country, with jurisdiction in both civil actions and to criminal cases arising under federal law.

The various types of federal courts are

  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • U.S. Courts of Appeal
  • U.S. District Courts
  • Special Courts

Elections in the USA

More information on the U.S. Election Process

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