The basis of all law in the United States is the Constitution. This Constitution is a document written by “outcasts” of England. The Constitution of the United States sets forth the nation’s fundamental laws. It establishes the form of the national government and defines the rights and liberties of the American people. It also lists the aims of the government and the methods of achieving them.
The Constitution was written to organize a strong national government for the American states. Previously, the nation’s leaders had established a national government under the Articles of Confederation. But the Articles granted independence to each state. They lacked the authority to make the states work together to solve national problems.
After the states won independence in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), they faced the problems of peacetime government. The states had to enforce law and order, collect taxes, pay a large public debt, and regulate trade among themselves. They also had to deal with Indian tribes and negotiate with other governments. Leading statesmen, such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, began to discuss the creation of a strong national government under a new constitution.
The United States is a republic that operates under a federalist system. The national government had specific enumerated powers, and the fifty states retain substantial endowment over their citizens and their residents. Both the national government and the state government are divided into three different branches, executive, legislative, and judicial. Written constitutions, both federal and state, form a system of separated powers.
Amendment, in legislation, is a change in a law, or in a bill before it becomes a law. Bills often have amendments attached before a legislature votes on them.
Amendments to the Constitution of the United States may be proposed in two ways:
(1) If two-thirds of both houses approve, Congress may propose an amendment. The amendment becomes a law when ratified either by legislatures or by conventions in three-fourths of the states. (2) If the legislatures of two-thirds of the states ask for an amendment, Congress must call a convention to propose it. The amendment becomes a law when ratified either by the legislatures or by conventions in three fourths of the states. This method has never been used.
The Federal Government is comprised of three branches: Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.
The executive branch includes the President the vice President, the cabinet and all federal departments, and most governmental agencies. All executive power is vested in the President [US Const. Art. II, sec 1, cl. 1], currently Bill Clinton, who serves a four-year term. The President is the commander in Chief of the military [US Const. Art. II, sec 2, cl. 1], and has primary authority over foreign affairs. The President has the power to make treaties, but only with two-thirds of the US senate [US Const. Art. II, sec 2, cl. 2]. The President of the US has the power to nominate all Supreme Court Justices, all other federal juries, ambassadors, and all other officers of the United States. The President had the jurisdiction to veto legislation. The vice President is the President of the Senate. The Vice President serves the same four year term as the President.
The President is the head of the thirteen government departments. These departments are not listed in the constitution and have varied in name and in number over the years. Currently they are the Departments Of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health And Human Services, Housing And Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, And Education. The heads of each department form the cabinet, which is the highest advisory group to the President. The executive branch also includes dozens of government agencies. There is a difference between departments and agencies. Agencies have a very specific purpose while the departments are more broad. Heads of any governmental agencies are not members of the cabinet.
All federal legislative powers are vested in the Congress of the United States, which contain two chambers, a Senate and a House of Representatives [US Const. Art. I, sec 1,]. There are one hundred Senators, two from each of the fifty states. Senators serve six-year terms [US Const. Art. I, sec 3, cl. 1]. The House of Representatives has 435 members, the population of each state determines this number. Each state is granted minimum of one representative. Each representative serves a two-year term.
The powers of Congress are specifically enumerated in the Constitution and include, among other things, the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, and tariffs. Congress also has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among several states, and with Indian tribes.
To pass a law, a bill must be passed by both the House and the Senate, and signed by the President. The President has the option of vetoing the legislation, but the Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds vote of both chambers.
The Congress also has substantial powers in overseeing the activities of the executive branch. The House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach the President and other officers, and the Senate the sole power to try impeachment. U.S. Congressional committees may demand disclosure of information and require agency officials to testify before them. The Congress has also established the General Accounting Office (GAO), which evaluates executive branch activities and reports back to the Congress. Most GAO reports are public documents, which can be viewed upon request.
Much of Congress’ work is done by Congressional committees. The number and scope of Congressional committees can change, particularly when political control of the chamber changes parties and when the jurisdiction of committees overlaps, as is often the case.
Practically all the elections in the United States are the same, except the presidential election, which happens every four years. All political elections are based on two major parties, the democrats, and the republicans. Both parties have different beliefs and usually stick to them.
For the majority the popular vote wins, and determines the victor. Two or more candidates for the office desired ,”run”, and try to convince the voters that they are the best person for the job. While at the same time try to ruin each others. It takes one more than half the votes, to declare a triumphant party.
Presidential elections however are quite different. Two candidates, or more, run for the office of president. Along with the presidential office is the vice presidential office. The Presidential candidates chooses a running mate (the vice president hopeful). All parties, weather an independent or a popular party, have what they call a “platform”. This “platform” is made up of many “planks”, which are what each party/person/group believes in and stands for.
When it comes time for the legal citizens to vote upon an official, they go into voting areas and vote for each president. However, the citizens do not vote for the president directly. They vote for his electors, which are regular people chosen by each candidate to vote fore the president. Then the electors vote for the president. Each state has a different number of electors equal to the number of representatives.