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Our American Government


Section 1: The Foundation of Our Government

The Constitution

The Constitution is the highest law in the United States. All other laws come from the Constitution. It says how the government works. It creates the Presidency. It creates the Congress. It creates the Supreme Court. Each state also has a constitution. The constitutions of the states are their highest law for that state but the United States Constitution still holds superior. 

The Constitution sets up the United States with a federal (national) government plus state governments. It also specifies that the USA will be a republic, with an elected President, a bicameral congress (consisting of two legislative branches, a House of Representatives and a Senate), and a system of courts headed by a Supreme Court.

Bill of Rights

 The Bill of Rights are the protections for the people which include ten amendments in the Constitution. These ten amendments list our basic rights and place limits on the federal government. They include the freedoms of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and an assurance that the powers not delegated to the federal government in the Constitution are reserved to the states and the people. Many of these provisions were based upon similar protections provided by state constitutions that limited the power of state and local government authorities.

"[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse." 

       - Thomas Jefferson, December 20, 1787

Voting Rights

You are eligible to vote in federal elections if:

  • You are a U.S. citizen (either by birth or naturalization)

  • You meet your state's residency requirements

  • You are 18 year old. (Some states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries or register to vote if they will be 18 before the general election).

Section 2: The Federal System

The Legislative Branch: The legislative branch is made up of the two houses of Congress—the Senate and the House of Representatives. The most important duty of the legislative branch is to make laws. Laws are written, discussed and voted on in Congress.

The Senate: There are 100 senators in the Senate, two from each state. Senators are elected by their states and serve six-year terms. The Vice President of the U.S. is considered the head of the Senate, but does not vote in the Senate unless there is a tie. The Senate approves nominations made by the President to the Cabinet, the Supreme Court, federal courts and other posts. The Senate must ratify all treaties by a two-thirds vote.

The House of Representatives: There are 435 representatives in the House of Representatives. The number of representatives each state gets is based on its population. For example, California has many more representatives than Rhode Island. When Census figures determine that the population of a state has changed significantly, the number of representatives in that state may shift proportionately. Representatives are elected by their states and serve two-year terms. The Speaker of the House, elected by the representatives, is considered the head of the House.

President and Executive Branch: The President is the head of the executive branch, which makes laws official. The President is elected by the entire country and serves a four-year term. The President approves and carries out laws passed by the legislative branch. He appoints or removes cabinet members and officials. He negotiates treaties, and acts as head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces.

The executive branch also includes the Vice President and other officials, such as members of the cabinet. The cabinet is made up of the heads of the 15 major departments of the government. The cabinet gives advice to the President about important matters.

Judicial Branch: The judicial branch oversees the court system of the U.S. Through court cases, the judicial branch explains the meaning of the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch. Unlike a criminal court, the Supreme Court rules whether something is constitutional or unconstitutional—whether or not it is permitted under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court: On the Supreme Court there are nine justices, or judges: eight associate justices and one chief justice. The judges are nominated by the President and approved by the Senate. They have no term limits. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Its decisions are final, and no other court can overrule those decisions. Decisions of the Supreme Court set precedents—new ways of interpreting the law.

Checks and Balances: The three branches of government are supposed to interact with one another through checks and balances.  The three branches each have their own distinct powers through the idea of separation of powers.  However, they also share in one another’s powers so that it will be possible for them to check and balance one another.

Section 3: Our NY State Government

Governor-The Governor of the State of New York is the chief executive of the U.S. state of New York. The governor is the head of the executive branch of New York's state government and the commander-in-chief of the state's military and naval forces.

Legislature-The New York Legislature is the state legislature of New York. It is a bicameral legislature, consisting of the lower New York State Assembly and the upper New York State Senate.

State Court of Appeals- Similar to the Supreme Court of the United States and other state courts of last resort, the primary role of the Court of Appeals is to unify, clarify, and pronounce the law of New York for the benefit of the community at large. 

Attorney General- As head of the Department of Law, the Attorney General is both the "People's Lawyer" and the State's chief legal officer. As the "People's Lawyer," the Attorney General serves as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens of New York, its organizations and its natural resources. In his role as the State's chief legal counsel, the Attorney General not only advises the Executive branch of State government, but also defends actions and proceedings on behalf of the State.

Comptroller- Comptroller Scott M. Stringer is New York City’s Chief Financial Officer. An independently elected official, he safeguards the City’s fiscal health, roots out waste, fraud and abuse in local government, and ensures that municipal agencies serve the needs of all New Yorkers.

- You can contact the Governor by phone (1-518-474-8390) or mail (The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo,  Governor of New York State, NYS State Capitol Building, Albany, NY 12224)

- You can contact the Lieutenant Governor by mail (New York Lieutenant Governor, State Capitol, Albany, NY 12224 -0341)

- The Senate's 63 members represent districts from across New York State. Senators belong to a single conference and one or more political parties.

- The New York State Assembly is the lower house of the New York State Legislature. It meets at the State Capitol in Albany. The Assembly is composed of 150 members

- In the Assembly, the member presiding over the legislative session is known as the Speaker. The Speaker is elected for a two-year term by his colleagues.

- The Senate majority leader is a partisan leadership position in a state Senate chamber. The majority leader is the floor leader of the majority caucus. In this role, the majority leader is the principal speaker during debates on the Senate

- Our current senator is Charles E. Schumer (D) United States Senate 322 Hart Senate Building Washington, D.C. 20510 202-224-6542

- Our current senator is James Tedisco, Contact info:

- Our current Assembly person is Amedore, George (105th District) Contact Info: Legislative Office Building, Room 802, Albany , NY 12247, Phone: (518) 455-2350, Fax: (518) 426-6751

Section 4: Our Local Government

Town clerk- Keeps minutes of all Town Board meetings and public hearings.Acts as custodian of all permanent records of the Town and must provide for the storage and disposition of inactive records for all departments. Issues Town licenses/permits. You can contact the Town Clerk at ( 

Town Supervisor- As Chief Executive Officer of the Town, directs the day-to-day activities of Town affairs and coordinates the activities of Town Department heads. Establishes the standing committees of the Town Board and names their chairpersons and membership. You can contact the Town Supervisor at (

Town Council- The Town Board is the legislative, appropriating, governing, and policy-determining body of the Town. You can contact all the members at (

Ways a Citizen can play a role:

-Looking for information in newspapers, magazines, and reference materials and judging its accuracy

-Voting in local, state, and national elections

-Participating in a political discussion

-Trying to persuade someone to vote a certain way

-Signing a petition

Section 5: The Role of Political Parties and an Informed Citizenry

Democratic Party: One of the political parties that emerged from the demise of the Democratic-Republican Party. Members of the Democratic Party adopted the belief that a strong federal government would weaken and not respect the rights of the states and the people. Andrew Jackson was the first Democratic president. the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world's oldest political party. They get out the vote through commercials advertising their candidates, gatherings around the country, and other forms of advertisements


Republican Party: The Republican Party is one of the two major political parties in the United States of America, the second group being the Democratic Party. There have been 18 Republican presidents. The Republican Party, originally called the National Union Party, was formed in 1854 to oppose the extension of slavery. They help get the vote out through the use of rallies and advertisements (commercials, billboards, etc.) 

The Green Party- The informal US affiliate of the European Greens, ideologically on the left of US politics. 

The Libertarian party- Stands for total individual liberty and is pro-drug legalisation, 'pro-choice', pro-gay marriage, pro-home schooling and anti-gun control. It also stands for total economic freedom.