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Outline of the U.S. Government—Outline Series
September 28, 2018

image of US Capitol at night

What makes the U.S. government uniquely American? Learn about the separation of powers, the institutions and the practices that constitute U.S. democracy. The American Constitution defines the government structure. But the ways in which institutions and officials meet the requirements of the Constitution are open to interpretation. A long-standing issue in U.S. democracy involves the interplay between the powers accorded to states and the powers and prerogatives of the national government.

The federal entity created by the U.S. Constitution is the dominant feature of the American governmental system. In reality thousands of smaller units compose a mosaic of building blocks that together make up the whole. Prior to the Constitution, there were the governments of the separate colonies (later states) and, prior to those, the governments of counties and smaller units. Today, there are 50 state governments plus the government of the District of Columbia, and other still smaller government entities that govern counties, cities, towns, and villages.

The drafters of the U.S. Constitution left the multilayered governmental system untouched. While they made the national structure supreme, they wisely recognized the need for a series of governments more directly in contact with the people and more keenly attuned to their needs. Therefore, certain functions—such as defense, currency regulation, and foreign relations—are best managed by a strong centralized government. But other functions—such as sanitation, education, and local transportation—are better served by the many local jurisdictions.

Book, 132 pgs.

PDF – web English (22 MB) Français (10 MB)
PDF – print English (47 MB) Français (33 MB)