Government is the system by which an organized group of people determines policy. Governments at all levels make decisions for their citizens, and they use resources to provide things like education, police, public transportation, health care, and social services. Governments also decide how to spend money, and they can either limit freedoms or encourage them. The main function of all governments is to protect the people they serve, and they use rules to do that. Governments may be democratic, authoritarian, or a combination of both.

People created governments to protect their communities from wars and to maintain law and order. Over time, people figured out that it was easier to protect themselves if they stayed together in groups and shared power. Governments evolved from that concept, and today, most countries have some form of democracy or a mix of democratic and authoritarian elements.

In the United States, we have a Federal government with three parts: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. Each part has different responsibilities, but they all work together to ensure that laws are followed. The executive branch includes the President and about 5,000,000 employees, the legislative branch is the Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives), and the judicial branch is the Supreme Court and lower courts.

The Executive branch makes the laws. Its responsibilities include national security, foreign policy, and the military, as well as executing those laws through the Federal agencies that carry out day-to-day operations, including the Postal Service, NASA, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The President can overturn the laws that are passed by the legislative branch through a Presidential veto, but Congress can override the President’s veto with enough votes. The judicial branch interprets the laws and decides whether or not they are constitutional.

At each level of government, representatives elected by citizens try to get the funds needed to provide things for their community. For example, at the state level, money goes toward the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges, education, and wildlife management. At the Federal level, money is used for national defense, Medicare, and Social Security.

Each branch of the Federal government has some special powers that are only in its hands. For example, the Senate in the legislative branch must approve (or give “advice and consent”) to the President’s nominations for judicial positions, including judges on the Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals, and for department secretaries. Congress can impeach a President and remove him or her from office.

The legislative and judicial branches of the Federal government are balanced by checks and balances. For example, the President can veto laws passed by Congress, but if a majority of the Supreme Court justices declare those laws unconstitutional, the legislature can override the veto with a vote. At the same time, the judicial branch can review and overturn executive orders. However, Congress can limit how much the judicial branch is allowed to do that. This is known as the separation of powers.