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American Goverment: How it Works

Our American government was created 227 years ago and is still working today. How is it possible that our founding fathers created a government that was able to last so long? Well let’s find out.


The Constitution, although it is the document that embodies American government today, was not the first government Americans created. That first government is known as the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles were created November 15, 1777; however, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. Since America had just earned its freedom from Britain they were very fearful of overpowering governments, which explains the lack of power that the Articles were granted as our first national government.

The Articles created a simple one branch government which was composed of 1 to 7 representatives from each of the 13 states. However, each state only got one vote when making important decisions. In order for the government to pass any decisions, 9 of the 13 states had to agree. This made it nearly impossible for any decisions to be made.


The Articles granted the national government these very limited powers:

  1. Make war and peace

  2. Send and receive ambassadors

  3. Make treaties

  4. Borrow money

  5. Set up monetary system (coin money)

  6. Establish post offices

  7. Establish a navy

  8. Raise and army by asking states for troops

  9. Fix uniform standards weights and measures

  10. Settle disputes among states


As you may have noticed the Articles did not allow the national government to tax Americans. This caused the Articles to be very ineffective because the country was in debt from the war and could not collect taxes or raise an army on its own, it had to ask states to provide that.


Now we are going to explore the government created by the Constitution and what made it so much more successful than the Articles.

The powerless and ineffective government formed by the Articles did not last long. On September 17, 1787 the Constitution was created. On June 21, 1788 the Constitution was ratified by the last of the 13 states and put into effect. Little did the creators of the Constitution know that this document would create a government that would last over 227 years with only 27 amendments.

To start, the Constitution created a government composed of 3 branches instead of one. This created checks and balances between the three branches, meaning that not one branch could become all powering because each branch has its own abilities that must be checked by the other two.


One of these branches is the executive branch. This branch includes the United States President, vice president, and the President’s cabinet members. The president is elected by the people every 4 years. They can serve either one or two 4-year terms. The president's job is to carry out the laws. He also has the power to veto laws created by Congress. Here are some of the powers granted to the President:

  • Act as the Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy and National Guard

  • Can forgive crimes and excuse punishment except in the case of impeachment

  • Make treaties with other nations with the approval  of two thirds of the Senate

  • Appoint Ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices and all other officers of the United States with the support of a majority in the Senate

The next branch the Constitution made was the legislative branch. The purpose of the legislatures is to make laws.This branch is made up of Congress, and Congress is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives.


In the Senate each state gets an equal number of senators which is 2. Senators are elected by the states. Each senator serves 6 year terms. In order for a bill to pass in the Senate it must get 51 out of 100 votes.


In the House of Representatives each state is represented based on the state’s population, so bigger states have more representatives and smaller states have less representatives. Representatives in the house serve 2 year terms. They must have 218 out of 435 votes to pass a bill.

The last branch in the government created by the Constitution is the judicial branch. The function of the judicial branch is to interpret the laws. They decide what is Constitutional and what is not. The judicial branch is the Supreme Court which is composed of 9 justices. These nine justices serve lifetime terms.


Through the Constitution the national government was given a lot more powers. Including:


  1. Lay and collect taxes

  2. Borrow money on the credit of the United States

  3. Regulate trade with foreign Nations, and among the States

  4. Establish Post Offices and post Roads

  5. Issue patents and copyrights

  6. Establish federal courts 

  7. Declare War

  8. Raise and support Armies and provide and maintain a Navy

  9. Nationalize the state militias (National Guard) to enforce the law, stop rebellions or repel invasions

  10. Exercise exclusive Legislation over the District of Columbia and federally owned land

  11. Impeach the president

Now that we have looked at both governments, here is a quick overview of the similarities and differences between the Articles and the Constitution



Now you have learned about our American government and how it works! 

Works Cited:

Updates, T. D. (2009, May 7). Thirty enumerated powers. Retrieved October 18, 2016, from Tenth Amendment Center,


US House of Representatives. The legislative process · house.Gov. Retrieved October 18, 2016, from United States House of Representatives,


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