The United States of America government's performs many services for citizens of the nation and its territories. The United States consists of 50 states and five territories, each of which has some say in the government, mostly through electing representatives. In exchange for services like defense, help for the elderly and underpriviledged, and enforcement of law, the people of the United States pay taxes to support the government. They don't always do it with a smile, but they do it.
The government of the U.S. is made up of three branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Each of these branches runs a part of the government and are explained more in thier own section. Just click on the branch you want to see more in-depth (after you've read this, of course!).
In addition, each branch is involved in a series of checks and balances, in which, basically, they all keep an eye on each other to make sure all branches are working like they're suppose to. Click here for a quick outline of this important part of the government.
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First came the American War of Independence or Revolutionary War. Thirteen North American colonies had rebelled against the tyranny that had held them. The war official started in 1776 when the colonies declared thier independence from Great Britian (see the Declaration of Independence). The colonies were tired of British oppression and "taxation without representation". I mean, they had to pay taxes on all sorts of stuff - tea, glass, lead, paint, paper, plus they had to buy special stamped paper for official documents like deeds, newspapers, and pamphlets. That's a lot of taxes to be paying to a king over 3,000 miles away.
So after much heating of tempers, the situation finally boiled over. Early in the morning on April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Massachusetts, the first clash between American and British soldiers took place. It soon escalated into a war that wouldn't end until 1783.
Leading the new nation through the war was the "Continental Congress", which included such household names as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. It was soon realized that there would need to be some sort of central government. Since the United States had just come through a war against an oppresive system of government, they wanted most of the power to be left with state and local government, with the power being in the people.
The first idea adopted in 1781 was the Articles of Confederation. This document outlined the first powers of the central government. The central government was actually subject to the will of the states (remember there were only 13 at this time). The powers held by the central government were...
That's it. They couldn't even charge taxes. And without taxes, your army and navy probably aren't going to be very...shall we say astute?
Fortunatly, the nation's leaders got smart and held the Constitutional Convention, starting on May 25, 1787. With George Washington heading the convention, there were the people mentioned above as well as many other leaders from around the nation.
The convention lasted 16 weeks, and at times was the site of fierce debates. With so many people and so many different ideas, it was often hard to find common ground. Many of these disputes revolved around the legislative branch, and are explained in its section.
Finally, the Constitution of the United States of America was drafted. Now it had to be ratified (approved) by the states. It needed unanimous approval, which was not accomplished until 1790, when Rhode Island was threatened to be considered and treated as a foriegn nation if it didn't ratify it (ah...the feeling of unity that must have generated).
After the Constitution was agreed upon by all, Congress then went on to add amendments, at the suggestion of the people. They started out with 103 suggested amendments, but got it worked down to twelve. Two of the amendments were not ratified by the states, but the first ten went on to become what is called the Bill of Rights.
Since then there have been seventeen more amendments to the Constitution. To see all the amendments of the Constitution, simply click on this sentence.
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Checks and balances? Isn't that what you have to keep track of after opening an account at the bank? Not in this case, my friend. Checks and Balances is the system the government uses to check itself, explained below.
This way, no part of the government has power over another part. Each branch is checked by the others in order to keep balance in the government!
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