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Encyclopedia > American government
The U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1789 by a constitutional convention, sets down the basic framework of American government in its seven articles. The constitution replaced the confederate system of the Articles of Confederation (in force from 1781 to 1788). The Constitution is currently on display at the National Archives.
The U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1789 by a constitutional convention, sets down the basic framework of American government in its seven articles. The constitution replaced the confederate system of the Articles of Confederation (in force from 1781 to 1788). The Constitution is currently on display at the National Archives.

The government of the United States, established by the U.S. Constitution, is a federal republic of 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and many insular areas, the largest of which are Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam. The basic laws of the United States are set down in major federal legislation, such as the U.S. Code. The federal government consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The federal legal system is based on statutory law, while most state and territorial law is based on English common law, with the exception of Louisiana (based on the Napoleonic Code due to its time as a French colony) and Puerto Rico (based on Spanish law). The United States accepts compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction, with many reservations. Download high resolution version (600x724, 126 KB) File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Download high resolution version (600x724, 126 KB) File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Page I of the Constitution of the United States of America Page II of the United States Constitution Page III of the United States Constitution Page IV of the United States Constitution The Syng inkstand, with which the Constitution was signed The Constitution of the United States is the supreme... 1789 was a common year starting on Thursday (see link for calendar). ... A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. ... A confederacy can refer to: A form of government formed as a union of political organizations, though it differs from a republic in that the separate political units retain a greater degree of sovereignty over themselves. ... The Articles of Confederation The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, commonly known as the Articles of Confederation, formed the first governing document of the United States of America. ... 1781 was a common year starting on Monday (see link for calendar). ... 1788 was a leap year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar). ... The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an independent agency of the U.S. federal government charged with preserving and documenting government and historical records. ... Page I of the Constitution of the United States of America Page II of the United States Constitution Page III of the United States Constitution Page IV of the United States Constitution The Syng inkstand, with which the Constitution was signed The Constitution of the United States is the supreme... The Federal Republic of Germany and its sixteen Bundesländer A federal republic is a state which is both a federation and a republic. ... A U.S. state is any one of the 50 states which have membership of the federation known as the United States of America (USA or U.S.). The separate state governments and the U.S. federal government share sovereignty. ... ... An insular area of the United States is a jurisdiction that is neither a part of one of the fifty states nor a part of the District of Columbia, the nations federal district. ... The law of the United States is derived from the common law of England, which was in force at the time of the Revolutionary War. ... Federal law is the body of law created by the federal government of a nation. ... The United States Code (U.S.C.) is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal Law of the United States. ... Chamber of the Estates-General, the Dutch legislature. ... Statutory law is written law (as opposed to oral or customary law) set down by a legislature or other governing authority such as the executive branch of government in response to a perceived need to clarify the functioning of government, improve civil order, answer a public need, to codify existing... This article concerns the common-law legal system, as contrasted with the civil law legal system; for other meanings of the term, within the field of law, see common law (disambiguation). ... State nickname: Pelican State Other U.S. States Capital Baton Rouge Largest city New Orleans Governor Kathleen Blanco Official languages None; English and French de facto Area 134,382 km² (31st)  - Land 112,927 km²  - Water 21,455 km² (16%) Population (2000)  - Population 4,468,976 (22nd)  - Density 39. ... The original Napoleonic Code, or Code Napoléon (originally called the Code civil des francais, or civil code of the French), was the French civil code, established at the behest of Napoléon. ... North America The French established colonies across the New World in the 17th century. ... The International Court of Justice (known colloquially as the World Court or ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. ...


Due to its economic and military strength, the federal government of the United States, the world's sole remaining superpower, is generally considered among the most powerful in the world. As such its leader, the President of the United States, is frequently referred to as "the most powerful man in the world." A superpower is a state with the ability to influence events or project power on a global scale. ... Seal of the President of the United States The President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. ...

Contents


Legislative branch

Article I of the Constitution grants all legislative powers of the federal government to the Congress, which is divided into two chambers, a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate is composed of two members from each state as provided by the Constitution. Its current membership is 100. Membership in the House is based on each state's population, and its size is therefore not specified in the Constitution. Its current membership is fixed by statute at 435. Members of the House and Senate are elected by first-past-the-post voting in every state except Louisiana, which has runoffs. The Congress of the United States is the legislative branch of the federal government of the United States of America. ... Seal of the Senate The United States Senate is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the other being the House of Representatives. ... Seal of the House of Representatives The United States House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the other being the Senate. ... The first-past-the-post electoral system is a voting system for single-member districts, variously called first-past-the-post (FPTP or FPP), winner-take-all, plurality voting, or relative majority. ... State nickname: Pelican State Other U.S. States Capital Baton Rouge Largest city New Orleans Governor Kathleen Blanco Official languages None; English and French de facto Area 134,382 km² (31st)  - Land 112,927 km²  - Water 21,455 km² (16%) Population (2000)  - Population 4,468,976 (22nd)  - Density 39. ... Runoff voting is a voting system used in single-seat elections. ...


The Constitution does not specifically call for the establishment of U.S. Congressional committees. As the nation grew, however, so did the need for investigating pending legislation more thoroughly. The 108th Congress (2003-2004) had 19 standing committees in the House and 17 in the Senate, plus four joint permanent committees with members from both houses overseeing the Library of Congress, printing, taxation, and the economy. In addition, each house can name special, or select, committees to study specific problems. Because of an increase in workload, the standing committees have also spawned some 150 subcommittees. A Congressional committee in the parlance of the United States Congress and politics of the United States is a legislative sub-organization that handles a specific duty (rather than the general duties of Congress, making necessary and proper laws). ... 2003 is a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... 2004 is a leap year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar. ...


The Congress has the responsibility to monitor and influence aspects of the executive branch. Congressional oversight prevents waste and fraud, protects civil liberties and individual rights, ensures executive compliance with the law, gathers information for making laws and educating the public, and evaluates executive performance. It applies to cabinet departments, executive agencies, regulatory commissions, and the presidency. Congress's oversight function takes many forms: Civil liberties are protections from the power of governments. ...

  • Committee inquiries and hearings;
  • Formal consultations with and reports from the president;
  • Senate advice and consent for presidential nominations and for treaties;
  • House impeachment proceedings and subsequent Senate trials;
  • House and Senate proceedings under the 25th Amendment in the event that the president becomes disabled, or the office of the vice president falls vacant;
  • Informal meetings between legislators and executive officials;
  • Congressional membership on governmental commissions;
  • Studies by congressional committees and support agencies such as the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office, and the Office of Technology Assessment, all of which are arms of Congress.

Amendment XXV (the Twenty-fifth Amendment) of the United States Constitution clarifies an ambiguous provision of the Constitution regarding succession to the Presidency, and established procedures both for filling a vacancy in the office of the Vice President as well as responding to Presidential disabilities. ... The Congressional Budget Office is a federal agency within the legislative branch of the United States government. ... The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the audit, evaluation, and investigative agency of the United States Congress. ...

Executive branch

Article II of the Constitution establishes the Executive branch of Government. The President is the chief of state and commander-in-chief of the military. The current President and Vice President are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, since January 20, 2001. Seal of the President of the United States The President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. ... A head of state or chief of state is the chief public representative of a nation-state, federation or commonwealth, whose role generally includes personifying the continuity and legitimacy of the state and exercising the political powers, functions and duties granted to the head of state in the countrys... Commander-in-Chief (in NATO-lingo often C-in-C or CINC pronounced sink) is the commander of all the military forces within a particular region or of all the military forces of a state. ... Seal of the President of the United States The President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. ... The Vice President of the United States is the second-highest executive official of the United States government, the person who is a heartbeat from the presidency. As first in the presidential line of succession, the Vice President becomes the new President of the United States upon the death, resignation... George Walker Bush (born July 6, 1946) is a politician and currently the 43rd President of the United States. ... Richard Bruce Cheney (born January 30, 1941), widely known as Dick Cheney, is an American politician and businessman affiliated with the U.S. Republican Party. ... January 20 is the 20th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. ... 2001 is a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar. ...


The office of president of the United States is one of the most powerful offices of its kind in the world. The president, the Constitution says, must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." To carry out this responsibility, he presides over the executive branch of the federal government, a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. In addition, the president has important legislative and judicial powers. Within the executive branch itself, the president has broad powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the federal government. A legislature is a governmental deliberative body with the power to adopt laws. ... The judiciary, also referred to as the judicature, consists of justices, judges and magistrates among other types of adjudicators. ...


The executive branch

The head of the executive branch is the U.S. President, who is both the head of state and head of government. Under him or her is the Vice President and the Cabinet, whose 15 members are appointed and confirmed with the "advice and consent" of the U.S. Senate and lead the federal executive departments. The president is the executive and Commander-in-Chief, responsible for controlling the U.S. armed forces and nuclear arsenal. The president may veto legislation passed by Congress; he or she may be impeached by a majority in the House and removed from office by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The president may not dissolve Congress or call special elections, but does have the power to pardon convicted criminals, give executive orders, and (with the consent of the Senate) appoint Supreme Court justices and federal judges. Seal of the President of the United States The President of the United States is the head of state of the United States. ... Though a term originally coined for Republican presidents, a head of state or chief of state is now universally known as the chief public representative of a nation-state, federation or commonwealth, whose role generally includes personifying the continuity and legitimacy of the state and exercising the political powers, functions... The head of government is the leader of the government or cabinet. ... The Vice President of the United States is the second-highest executive official of the United States government, the person who is a heartbeat from the presidency. As first in the presidential line of succession, the Vice President becomes the new President of the United States upon the death, resignation... Cabinet meeting on May 16, 2001. ... Seal of the Senate The United States Senate is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the other being the House of Representatives. ... The United States Federal Executive Departments are among the oldest primary units of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States—the Departments of State, War, and the Treasury all being established within a few weeks of each other in 1789. ... Commander-in-Chief (in NATO-lingo often C-in-C or CINC pronounced sink) is the commander of all the military forces within a particular region or of all the military forces of a state. ... The armed forces of the United States of America consist of the United States Army United States Navy United States Air Force United States Marine Corps United States Coast Guard Note: The United States Coast Guard has both military and law enforcement functions. ... The Federal Government of the United States is known to possess three types of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons. ... Legislation refers 1. ... Depiction of the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, then President of the United States, in 1868. ... A supermajority or a qualified majority is a requirement for a proposal to gain a specified level or type of support which exceeds a simple majority in order to have effect. ... In law, treason is the crime of disloyalty to ones nation. ... Bribery is the practice of offering a professional or an authority person money or other favours in order to circumvent ethics or other rules in a variety of situations. ... High crimes and misdemeanors is a phrase from the United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4: The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. ... Dissolution can have the following meanings: In music dissolution is the separation of an inter-parametric unit into its component parts, where usually each part is developed independently. ... A by-election or bye-election is a special election held to fill a political office when the incumbent has died or resigned. ... A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime and the penalty associated with it. ... An executive order is a legally binding edict issued by a member of the executive branch of a government, usually the head of that branch. ... Seal of the Senate The United States Senate is one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States, the other being the House of Representatives. ... Seal of the Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States, located in Washington, D.C., is the highest federal court (see supreme court) in the United States; that is, it has ultimate judicial authority within the United States to interpret and decide questions of federal law, including the... In order to become a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, an individual must be nominated by the President of the United States and approved by the U.S. Senate, with at least half of that body approving in the affirmative. ... The United States federal courts are the system of courts organized under the Constitution and laws of the federal government of the United States. ...


The executive departments

The day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the hands of the various executive departments, created by Congress to deal with specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the 15 departments, chosen by the president and approved by the Senate, form a council of advisers generally known as the president's "Cabinet." In addition to departments, there is a number of staff organizations grouped into the Executive Office of the President. These include the White House staff, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. There is also a number of independent agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. The United States Federal Executive Departments are among the oldest primary units of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States—the Departments of State, War, and the Treasury all being established within a few weeks of each other in 1789. ... Cabinet meeting on May 16, 2001. ... The southern side of the White House The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States. ... The National Security Council (NSC) is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and cabinet officials. ... The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is a body within the Executive Office of the President of the United States which is tasked with coordinating United States Federal agencies. ... The Council of Economic Advisers is a group of economists set up to advise the President of the United States. ... The Office of the United States Trade Representative, or USTR, is an arm of the executive branch of the United States government. ... The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), a component of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, was established in 1988 by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. ... Federal independent agencies were established through separate statutes passed by Congress. ... The CIA Seal The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is one of the American foreign intelligence agencies, responsible for obtaining and analyzing information about foreign governments, corporations, and individuals, and reporting such information to the various branches of the U.S. Government. ... FDA logo The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government agency responsible for regulating food (human and animal), dietary supplements, drugs (human and animal), cosmetics, medical devices (human and animal), biologics and blood products in the United States. ... EPA redirects here. ...



The United States Federal Executive Departments are among the oldest primary units of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States—the Departments of State, War, and the Treasury all being established within a few weeks of each other in 1789. ... Download high resolution version (1520x800, 18 KB) Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... The United States Department of State, often referred to as the State Department, is the Cabinet-level foreign affairs agency of the United States government, equivalent to foreign ministries in other countries. ... The United States Department of the Treasury is a Cabinet department, a treasury, of the United States government established by an Act of U.S. Congress in 1789 to manage the revenue of the United States government. ... The United States Department of Defense, abbreviated as DoD or DOD and sometimes called the Defense Department, is a civilian Cabinet organization of the United States government. ... The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is a Cabinet department in the United States government designed to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans. ... The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) is a Cabinet department of the United States government that manages and conserves most federally-owned land. ... The United States Department of Commerce is a Cabinet department of the United States government concerned with promoting economic growth. ... The United States Department of Health and Human Services, often abbreviated HHS, is a Cabinet department of the United States government with the goal of protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services. ... The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, often abbreviated HUD, is a Cabinet department of the United States government. ... The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a Cabinet department of the United States government responsible for administering programs of veterans benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors. ... The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a Cabinet department of the federal government of the United States that is concerned with protecting Americas people from harm and its property from damage. ...

Judicial branch

Article III of the Constitution states the basis for the federal court system: "The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." The federal judiciary consists of the Supreme Court of the United States, whose nine justices are appointed for life by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and various "lower" or "inferior courts," among which are the United States courts of appeals and the United States district courts. Article Three of the United States Constitution establishes the judicial branch of the federal (national) government. ... The United States federal courts are the system of courts organized under the Constitution and laws of the federal government of the United States. ... Seal of the Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States, located in Washington, D.C., is the highest federal court (see supreme court) in the United States; that is, it has ultimate judicial authority within the United States to interpret and decide questions of federal law, including the... The United States Courts of Appeals (or circuit courts) are the mid-level appellate courts of the United States federal court system. ... The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. ...


The federal court system

With this guide, the first Congress divided the nation into districts and created federal courts for each district. From that beginning has evolved the present structure: the Supreme Court, 13 courts of appeals, 94 district courts, and two courts of special jurisdiction. Congress today retains the power to create and abolish federal courts, as well as to determine the number of judges in the federal judiciary system. It cannot, however, abolish the Supreme Court. For purposes of the federal judicial system, Congress has divided the United States into judicial districts. ...


There are three levels of federal courts with general jurisdiction, meaning that these courts handle criminal cases and civil law suits between individuals. The other courts, such as the bankruptcy courts and the tax court, are specialized courts handling only certain kinds of cases. The bankruptcy courts are branches of the district courts, but technically are not considered part of the "Article III" judiciary because their judges are not appointed to serve during good behavior. Similarly, the tax court is not an Article III court. Bankruptcy is a legally declared inability or impairment of ability of an individual or organization to pay their creditors. ...


The United States district courts are the "trial courts" where cases are filed and decided. The United States courts of appeals are "appellate courts" that hear appeals of cases decided by the district courts, and some direct appeals from administrative agencies. The Supreme Court of the United States hears appeals from the decisions of the courts of appeals or state supreme courts (on constitutional matters), as well as having original jurisdiction over a very small number of cases. The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. ... The United States Courts of Appeals (or circuit courts) are the mid-level appellate courts of the United States federal court system. ... Federal independent agencies were established through separate statutes passed by Congress. ... Seal of the Supreme Court The Supreme Court of the United States, located in Washington, D.C., is the highest federal court (see supreme court) in the United States; that is, it has ultimate judicial authority within the United States to interpret and decide questions of federal law, including the... The original jurisdiction of a court refers to matters on which the court rules directly, rather than on matters which are referred to it after being heard by another court. ...


The judicial power extends to cases arising under the Constitution, an act of Congress, or a treaty of the United States; cases affecting ambassadors, ministers, and consuls of foreign countries in the United States; controversies in which the U.S. government is a party; controversies between states (or their citizens) and foreign nations (or their citizens or subjects); and bankruptcy cases. The Eleventh Amendment removed from federal jurisdiction cases in which citizens of one state were the plaintiffs and the government of another state was the defendant. It did not disturb federal jurisdiction in cases in which a state government is a plaintiff and a citizen of another state the defendant.


The power of the federal courts extends both to civil actions for damages and other redress, and to criminal cases arising under federal law. Article III has resulted in a complex set of relationships between state and federal courts. Ordinarily, federal courts do not hear cases arising under the laws of individual states. However, some cases over which federal courts have jurisdiction may also be heard and decided by state courts. Both court systems thus have exclusive jurisdiction in some areas and concurrent jurisdiction in others.


The Constitution safeguards judicial independence by providing that federal judges shall hold office "during good behavior". Usually they serve until they die, retire, or resign. A judge who commits an offense while in office may be impeached in the same way as the president or other officials of the federal government. U.S. judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Another Constitutional provision prohibits Congress from reducing the pay of any judge (but Congress could enact a new, lower, salary applying to future judges but not to those already serving). A federal judge is a judge appointed in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution. ...


See also


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