The Constitution calls for a system of separation of powers in which three branches of government can check and balance each other. Those three branches are the executive branch which includes the president, the legislative branch which includes Congress, and the judicial branch which includes the Supreme Court. The men who wrote the Constitution spread the powers of government among these three branches to keep any one branch of government from becoming too powerful. Each branch performs separate functions and checks the other branch's functions in different ways.
The legislative branch is made up of the Congress which is the House of Representatives and the Senate. Its job is to make the laws. Congress also decides on who and what to tax and how to use tax money. Each house of Congress meets separately. However, they can come together for joint sessions.
The executive branch includes the president of the United States, the vice president, and the major departments of the government such as the Labor Department, Department of Defense, State Department, Treasury Department, etc. Each department has a leader, appointed by the president. Together, all the leaders, along with the president, vice president, and a few other people, make up the cabinet. The job of the executive branch is to enforce the laws.
The judicial branch branch is made up of the Supreme Court and other courts, and its job is to interpret the laws.
By triple-checking everything, government is more likely to represent the needs of more people. The public also is part of the system of checks and balances. If citizens aren't satisfied with an official, they can choose to not reelect him or her.
Sample some of the following activities to learn more about the three branches of the United States government.
Places To Go People To See Things To Do Teacher Resources Bibliography
The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out the three branches of government.
Visit United States courts. They form the judiciary branch of the government.
The Supreme Court is the highest level of the judiciary branch of the government. From this site, you can read through current and past Supreme Court decisions.
Visit Congress. The Congress of the United States is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is the legislative branch of the government, and its responsibility is to make the laws of the United States.
Connect with Senators, and learn about Senate committees, legislation, records, art, and history.
Spend time at the White House. It is headquarters for the executive branch of the U.S. government.
George W. Bush was the 43rd President of the United States. He was sworn into office on January 20, 2001, re-elected on November 2, 2004, and sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2005. Before his Presidency, he served for 6 years as Governor of the State of Texas.
Meet Mike Lee. He is also a senator for Utah. Elected in 2010 as Utah's 16th Senator, Mike Lee has spent his career defending the basic liberties of Americans and Utahns as a tireless advocate for our founding constitutional principles.
Meet Orrin Hatch. He was a senator for Utah. The term of office for a senator is 6 years.
Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed the first female member of the Supreme Court in 1981.
The official site of the current Speaker of the House, Speaker.gov provides the latest news and information from the Speaker of the House.
Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids on GPO Access provides a basic introduction to the Federal Government.
Learn about the process by which laws are made.
Track current legislation.
Remember School House Rock from Saturday morning television? This particular installment lets you learn about the three branches of our government.
Find email and snail mail address for all members of Congress. Read about current legislation and about House and Senate rules. Learn about the legislative process.
- Aria, Barbara. The Supreme Court. New York: F. Watts, c1994.
- Balcavage, Dynise. The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Philadelphia : Chelsea House Publishers, c2000.
- Bonner, Mike. How a Bill Is Passed. Philadelphia,: Chelsea House Publisers, c2000.
- Heath, David. The Congress of the United States. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone High/Low Books, c1999.
- Johnson, Mary Oates. The President: America's Leader. Austin, Tex. : Raintree/Steck-Vaughn Library, c1993.
- Kronenwetter, Michael. The Congress of the United States. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, c1996.
- Nardo, Don. The U.S. Congress. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1994.
- Partner, Daniel. The House of Representatives. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, c2000.
- Rierden, Anne B. Reshaping the Supreme Court: New Justices, New Directions. New York: F. Watts, 1988.
- Stein, R. Conrad. The Story of the Powers of the Supreme Court. Chicago : Childrens Press, 1989.
- Stein, R. Conrad. The Powers of the Supreme Court. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1995.
- Stern, Gary M. The Congress: America's Lawmakers. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, c1993.
- Summer, Lila E. The Judiciary: Laws We Live By. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, c1993.