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The basic structure and functions of the United States Federal Government


So, you want to create a government from scratch? You want it to be a new kind of government in which the people, rather than the "subjects," choose their leaders and determine the course of the new nation. Such was the dilemma faced by our Founding Fathers. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison summed it up, "In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." Government 101 presents the basic structure the Founders gave us in 1787.
  1. The Executive Branch
  2. The Legislative Branch
  3. The Judicial Branch
  4. Federalism
  5. Historic U.S. Documents

The Executive Branch

The Executive Branch of government is headed by the President of the United States, who also acts as the head of state in diplomatic relations and as Commander-in-Chief of all U.S. branches of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress and, to that end, appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet. The Vice President is also part of the Executive Branch, and must remain ready to assume the presidency should the need arise.

The Legislative Branch

Every society needs laws. In the United States, the power to make laws is given to Congress, which represents the legislative branch of government.

The Judicial Branch

The laws of the United States are a complex tapestry weaving through history, sometimes vague, sometimes specific and often confusing. It's up to the federal judicial system to sort through this web of legislation and decide what is constitutional and what is not.


The U.S. Constitution establishes a government based on "federalism," or the sharing of power between the national, and state (and local) governments. Our power-sharing form of government is the opposite of "centralized" governments, such as those in England and France, under which national government maintains total power.

Historic U.S. Documents

Read the words of our heritage in the documents that founded our nation, defined its philosophy and set up an organization of representative government that endures today.

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