There’s no escaping it – every aspect of our lives is in some way affected by legislation and politics. Even though it’s everywhere, there is still confusion about how our government functions. From the three branches of government to understanding our Constitution it can all be a little confusing, so we’re here to help.
The United States is Not a Democracy
Before you get confused or angry (no this is not a political jab at anyone or any party), this statement is in response to the fact that the United States is actually a democratic republic. A pure democracy would mean each and every one of the roughly 328.2 million people living in the United States has an equal say in what goes on in our governing bodies. In a republic, the people elect representatives and everyone’s rights are protected by a constitution or equivalent, cue the electoral college (one way to remember is that republic is about representation).
While we function more as a republic when compared to a democracy, our Constitution calls us a republic, our government is set up in a way that incorporates both elements of a democracy and republic. It’s even in the political parties’ names democratic republic or representative democracy for our model.
The First Amendment Wasn’t Originally First
We all know what the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights are; however, what most people don’t know is that the Bill of Rights came to be after states and political leaders proposed approximately 200 amendments. James Madison then trimmed the list down to 17 and submitted. The House approved all 17. However, not all of them passed in the Senate. What we’ve come to know now as the First Amendment was originally the third amendment, so no, it was not listed first because the Framers saw it as the most important amendment. Another plot twist is that the original second amendment which addressed congressional salaries is actually now the 27th Amendment.
The Powers of the President
This topic could go on for an entire novel so we’re just going to review a few that might need some clarification. For starters, the president cannot appoint Supreme Court justices. The president can only nominate candidates. The candidate will be examined by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then to the full Senate. Another thing the president cannot do is change anything about the constitutional amendments, whether that be abolishing or overturning and amendment. Constitutional amendments only involve Congress and require the states to ratify the amendment for it to actually come into effect.
You’ve probably heard the president called “Commander in Chief”, this is another job title the President has. While this doesn’t mean the president can declare war (the Constitution only gives the power to declare war to Congress), the President/Commander in Chief has the ability to enter a war considering the position’s control over troops. Another power the president has in the toolbox of the executive branch is executive orders. The Constitution actually doesn’t address much about executive orders, just that they exist. They have roughly equal power as a federal law and should be used to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” as written in the Constitution.
Congress and its Powers
Congress is the only branch directly elected by the people and Article I, which delineates Congress’ powers, is the longest article of the Constitution. Congress is the main lawmaker on the federal level. Congress can declare war. In terms of checks and balances, Congress can also impeach and try federal officers, including the president.
Of course, there’s more to the government than just these few brief paragraphs, but hopefully this has piqued your interest to read up a bit more about our governing bodies.