The United States is a federal union of 50 states, with the District of Columbia as the seat of the federal government. The Constitution outlines the structure of the national government and specifies its powers and activities, and defines the relationship between the national government and individual state governments. Power is shared between the national and state (local) governments. Within each state are counties, townships, cities and villages, each of which has its own elective government.

Governmental power and functions in the United States rest in three branches of government: the legislative, judicial, and executive. Article 1 of the Constitution defines the legislative branch and vests power to legislate in the Congress of the United States. The executive powers of the President are defined in Article 2. Article 3 places judicial power in the hands of one Supreme Court and inferior courts as Congress sees necessary to establish. In this system of a “separation of powers” each branch operates independently of the others, however, there are built in “checks and balances” to prevent a concentration of power in any one branch and to protect the rights and liberties of citizens. For example, the President can veto bills approved by Congress and the President nominates individuals to serve in the Federal judiciary; the Supreme Court can declare a law enacted by Congress or an action by the President unconstitutional; and Congress can impeach the President and Federal court justices and judges.

Abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.


Abbreviations and Acronyms of the U.S. Government (Purdue University, Indiana)

Frequently Asked Questions of the U.S. Government (FirstGov)

A Guide to the U.S. Federal System (LLRX- Legal Web Journal)

Das politische System der USA ( Deutsch

Die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika (Bundeszentrale fur politische Bildung) Deutsch,0,0,Vereinigte_Staaten_von_Amerika_(USA).html

We, the People – the Structure of the U.S. Government (U.S. Department of State)


Federal, State, and Local Governments (U.S. Census Bureau)


For High School Students

Ben’s Guide to U.S. Government for Kids (U.S. Government Printing Office)

Firstgov. for Kids

Teacher Resources

Balancing Three Branches at Once: Our System of Checks and Balances
(National Endowment of Humanities)

Constitutional Issues: Separation of Powers (Teaching with Documents – National Archives) separation_of_powers.html

Link Lists

AboutGovernment Homepage (U.S. Congress)

Browse Government Resources (Library of Congress)

Federal Government Resources on the Web (University of Michigan Documents Center )

FirstGov (U.S. Government’s Official Web Portal)

Frequently Used Sites Related to U. S. Federal Government Information (Vanderbilt University)

GovSpot (StartSpot Mediaworks)

This Nation (Jonathan Mott, University of Oklahoma)

U.S. Government (Dmoz Open Directory Project)

U.S. Government Manual 2003/2004