When it was first created, in extremis - with British bombs literally a few miles from Washington -  the law-making, government of the United States was an extraordinary experiment.

The original creators, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc. al., knew the last thing they wanted was a monarchy.  That British model was an aberration of democracy:  The birthright was more important than the individual rights (or promise). 

Aside from the Declaration of Independence which declared the new state's own freedom, the human creators of these "United States of America" declared themselves equal — well, all white People equal as the legislature did not abolish slavery until the 13th Amendment in 1865.

The drafters sought a central yet representational government — that is a government for the people by the people.  They also sought regular elections to protect their democratic core.

Exactly how to preserve the core principles was — and is — an ongoing challenge.  The work continues: in 1951 the country passed an amendment that limited US Presidents to two four year terms in office. 

The model of government maintained by the United States of America has been extremely successful in providing both economic well-being and peace and security for its citizens.  It is a model now copied in whole or in part by virtually all emerging democracies.


"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.”

That, from Article I, Section 1, of the United States Constitution.

Intro to US GovernmentThe 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. In the aggregate, Congress is the legislative branch of government.  This is no different from 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).

The US Senate adopts a peculiar rotating election system: the Constitution requires the Senate to be divided into three classes for purposes of elections. Every two years, there is an election held for a class (one-third of the Senate), on a rotating basis.

The President

In the US political system the President is a powerful political office.  This is particularly so when compared against the Queen of England in the British parliamentary system, or the governor general in other similar systems of government  based on the British model.

The US President is the Commander-in-chief, that is, the ultimate authority over the US military.  Moreover, the President nominates individuals to run all important government departments (the Cabinet) and also nominates all federal judges, including judges of the US Supreme Court. 

When the Congress passes a bill, it is presented to the President for his signature.  With the president’s signature, the bill becomes law.  A law may be passed without the president’s signature, but it is much more difficult:  The House and Senate must pass the bill with a 2/3rds majority (known as overriding the veto). 

This apparent right of veto the president often uses to influence initiatives of the Congress to suit his political agenda.  While the president is not a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives — the Vice President is the president of the Senate — and when there’s a tie in the Senate the Vice President’s vote breaks the tie.  While the Prime Minister in the British model who is a member of the House of Commons.

Determining who the president will be for a four-year term is a primary component of the American federal election. They do not directly elect the president by sheer number of votes. Rather, a complicated electoral college system prevails.  Essentially, each state has a number of electoral college votes largely based upon their population.  When a candidate wins a state’s general election, he takes all of the electrical college votes (known as winner take all).  Under this system it’s possible to lose the general election, but still win the presidency based upon the vote count in the electoral college (e.g., George Bush in 2000, lost the general election, but captured the presidency via the electoral college). 

This one element of the United States government remains controversial.  It was created in 1787 presumably to avoid the election of a popular but potentially incompetent president, or give  too much weight too heavily-populated regions of the country.


The  United States Senate is composed of a small number of men and women to represent each of the states of the union.  Each state — no matter the state’s population — has two senators that represent the state’s interest in the Senate.  The Senate has specific powers such as reviewing some actions proposed by the president and ratifying treaties. The Senate has a website: senate.gov.

The House of Representatives

The House of Representatives is the core elected body, based on proportionate representation from all states, and with each state guaranteed at least one seat. As of 2013, there were 435 members of the House of Representatives.

Representatives must be 25 years old and citizens for at least 7 years. Representatives serve 2-year terms.

The House of Representatives has a website (house.gov).

How They Work Together

"Laws begin as ideas. First, a representative sponsors a bill. The bill is then assigned to a committee for study. If released by the committee, the bill is put on a calendar to be voted on, debated or amended. If the bill passes by simple majority (218 of 435), the bill moves to the Senate. In the Senate, the bill is assigned to another committee and, if released, debated and voted on. Again, a simple majority (51 of 100) passes the bill. Finally, a conference committee made of House and Senate members works out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The resulting bill returns to the House and Senate for final approval. The Government Printing Office prints the revised bill in a process called enrolling. The President has 10 days to sign or veto the enrolled bill."1

This is the typical process. Once a bill is passed by the House of Representatives, it goes to the Senate for consideration and if it is passed by the Senate, it is then presented to the president who needs to sign it for it to become law.

Often, the Senate will return a proposed bill to the House of Representatives with suggested changes.  Usually this will lead to a committee comprised of members of both legislative bodies which will then try to hammer out a compromise.

But new proposals for changes to existing laws or even to create a new one cannot always come forward in the American system of government by way of a bill in the House of Representatives. Sometimes, the proposal comes in the form of a joint resolution or a concurrent resolution by both bodies.

A proposal that requires an amendment to the Constitution needs the approval of two thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  But, the amendment must also be ratified.  Technically, the amendment may be ratified by either a state convention or state legislature.  Each require a three-fourths majority of either state convention or legislature in order for the Amendment to be ratified (effective).  Constitutional amendment are exceedingly rare:  There are 27 fully ratified amendments, even though the republic has existed for more than 200 years.  In fact, the 27th Amendment (elected officials salary increases must await the next term of elective office) took more than 200 years to ratify.