SEPARAT ION OF POWERS
Three Branches of Government
T he separation of powers the founders built into the Constitution was purely an American invention. It was even achieved symbolically in the Constitution by describing each branch in a separate article of the document. THE CONSTITUTION’S FIRST THREE articles divide the federal government into three branches — legislative, executive and judicial — giving specific powers to each branch. This separation of powers ensures that no one branch gains too much power. All the branches must work together to share power and create a central government. Each branch can check the powers of the other branches; thus, the government’s power is balanced. This system is called “checks and balances.” Although power is balanced within the government, it does not originate there. The most important provision the Constitution makes is that the government must derive its power from the people. This is why the very first words of the Constitution are “We the People of the United States.”
It is the people who give the power to our country’s government and limit what it can do. The people elect officials to direct the government’s activities. And the people can elect new officials to replace those whose policies have become unpopular. The American system of government is thus divided, limited and democratically controlled. THE CONSTITUTION’S FIRST THREE ARTICLES divide the federal government into three branches — legislative (Congress), executive (president) and judicial (courts). This separation of powers ensures no one branch has too much power. Visit youtu.be/cClen3fI6uo to watch the video.
Under the Articles of Confederation , which was the precursor to the Constitution, Congress was a unicameral legislature where each state had
one vote. Also, the government’s power was exclusively centered in Congress rather than spread among three branches.
Our Government of ‘We the People’ by the Numbers
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS (Legislative Branch)
PRESIDENT (Executive Branch)
SUPREME COURT JUSTICES (Judicial Branch)
100 serve in the U.S. Senate and 435 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives
The Cabinet includes the vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments
The Supreme Court comprises 9 judges called justices; this branch also includes the lower court federal judges
12 | THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT
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