The United States is a federal union which comprises 50 states, with the District of Columbia.

The Constitution outlines the structure of the national government and specifies its powers and activities. Other governmental activities are the responsibility of the individual states, which have their own constitutions and laws. Within each state are counties, townships, cities and villages, each of which has its own elective government.

The Constitution divides the power of the government into three branches — the Executive, headed by the President; the Legislative, which includes both houses of Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives); and the Judicial, which is headed by the Supreme Court. The Constitution limits the role of each branch to prevent any one branch from gaining undue power.

All government in the United States is “of, by and for the people”.Members of Congress, the President, state officials and those who govern counties and cities are elected by popular vote.

When the Constitution was written in 1787, there were only 13 states. Because the drafters of the Constitution saw that the future might bring a need for changes, they provided a method of adding amendments. Over the years 26, amendments have been added, but the basic document has not been changed. The pattern of government planned so long ago for 13 states today meets the needs of 50 states and more than 57 times as many people.

For example, the Constitution gives Congress authority to make laws necessary for the common defence and good of the nation. As the country has grown, laws have been adopted to provide for social welfare, public works, economic control and protection of the rights of labor. But if any law passed by the Congress and signed by the President is contested on grounds that it conflicts with the Constitution, it may — or may not — be held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and thus nullified.

The whole system of American government is based on the principles established in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The people believe that the government should provide a framework of law and order in which they are left free to run their own lives.

The state governments follow much the same pattern as the federal government. Each has a governor as the chief executive, with power divided among the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. State governments manage such affairs as maintaining order, educating children and young adults, and building highways. The federal government deals with national problems and international relations and with regional problems that involve more than one state. Laws affecting the daily lives of citizens are enforced by police in the cities and towns. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — the famous FBI — track down criminals who cross state borders or who break federal laws.