In 1787, the founding fathers of the United States gathered together to write one of the greatest documents in history: the U.S. Constitution. It’s purpose? The creation of a strong and fair government–one that would protect the rights of its citizens, without abusing power.
To accomplish this, they established three separate branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial.
The legislative branch is made up of the Senate and House of Representatives (collectively called “Congress”)– and they’re the ones that create and enact new laws.
- Senate: Made up of 100 individuals (two from each state). Each Senator is elected by their state and serves a six-year term. The Vice President is technically considered the head dude in charge–but he doesn’t get to vote unless there’s a tie.
- House of Representatives: Made up of 435 representatives–but the breakdown is a little bit tricky. The number of reps from each state is based on how large the state is–so that means someplace like California has way more sway than a place like Delaware (which is cool if you’re from CA, probably). Like Senators, the Representatives are voted in by their state, but they only serve a two-year term.
The executive branch is made up of the President and about 5,000,000 workers. You might think being president is a cushy job, but it’s really not. He answers to a lot of people–which is good because do you really want one random guy to be able to decide what all of us have to do?
Those 5,000,000 other employees are made up of the Vice President, the State Department, the Defense Department, and a whole bunch of other people that you’ve likely never heard of. Their job is to carry out the laws of the nation.
What many people don’t realize is that unlike Congress, the president and vice president are not elected directly by the people, but through the electoral college. It’s a weird system that used to make sense back in the day and it doesn’t necessarily work anymore–but that’s a story for another article.
Made up of the Supreme Court and lower courts, the judicial branch oversees the U.S. court system. Through court cases, the judicial branch interprets the meaning of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and the final stop for some unlucky individuals. Unlike the other lower courts, they don’t decide if a criminal broke a law, but whether or not that law itself is constitutional or unconstitutional.
Ideally, all three branches keep each other in check, and no one ever has too much power. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t–but that’s just the nature of democracy.