Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Congress Definition:

Collectively, the Senate and the House of Representatives of the government of the United States of America.

Related Terms: United States, Republic

The American Constitution gives all federal legislative powers in the "Congress of the United States", which it defines as the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"All Legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”1

The government of the United States is sometimes described as “Congress.”  But, “Congress” is actually two separate bodies:  A 100 member Senate, and a much larger House of Representatives.

This is similar to the British parliamentary system where the word Parliament is in fact two separate bodies (in Canada, that is the House of Commons and the Senate and in England, the House of Commons and the House of Lords).

Congress is the legislative branch of government collectively as the senate and the House of Representatives. But there is no separate and distinct office known as Congress. Although elected representatives or senators are often called congresswomen or congressmen. Similarly, an official document from either office, or a joint document or record is called a congressional document or congressional record.

Still, some law books, such as West's encyclopedia of American law suggests that it is a distinct office:

"The Congress of the United States is the highest lawmaking body and one of the oldest legislatures in the world. Established in 1789, the House of Representatives and the Senate have for over 200 years created federal laws governing the United States....

"In addition to its legislative functions, the U.S.. Congress is empowered by the Constitution to ensure that the administration of government is carried out according to its laws....


  • Allison v. State, 78 SW 1065 (Texas, 1904)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Introductory Guide to the American Federal Government
  • NOTE 1: Article I, Section 1, of the United States Constitution.
  • West's Encyclopedia of American Law, 2d ed. (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2004).

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!