US Government: An Introduction

If I were to ask you to tell me what type of government the United States has most of you would probably tell me that United States is a democracy.  And you would be only partially correct in that answer.  And that is because in a true democracy the power or control rests with the will of the majority.  And more specifically than that the power lies with the people.  And not with elected representatives.  So then what is the correct answer as to what type of government the United States has.  The correct answer is that the United States is a constitutional republic.

            But begs the question of what is a constitutional republic.  A constitutional republic is a form of government in which a representative is elected by the people to govern over them, according to the rules established in the law of the land.  There can be several types of constitutional republics depending on the amount of power that is given to the central government.  In the middle sits the federal system of government.  In this form of a constitutional republic government splits its powers between independent states and central government.  The power rests in both places, and each gets its authority from a governing document.  And the independent branches inside the central government may also share power.  The United States is the best know example of this system of government

            The next two systems of government are on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum from the federal system.  The system where the central government has no power is called the confederal system.  This system of government is really nothing more than an association of independent states.  With the central government getting its authority from the independent states.  Power rests in each individual state, whose representatives meet to address the needs of the group.  This is the system of government that America tried immediately after the Revolution.  But it ultimately failed to work because the states did not give the central government enough power to do its job.

            On the opposite end from confederal is the unitary system of government.  In this system of government all the power rests in a central government.  The country may be divided into states or other sub-units, but they have no power of their own.  The prime example of this system of government is the United Kingdom.  Where all the power rests with Parliament and not with any local governments.

            Now for the key question of all this.  Why did the framers of the US Constitution choose to create a federal constitutional republic?  The answer to that question is far from simple.  The framers had seen the failures and flaws of a confederal and a unitary system, and in their minds the best way to fix these flaws was to take the middle road.  They chose a system of government that contained the best aspects of a confederal and unitary system.  In essence what the framers did was they comprised.  They took the best of both systems that they had seen in action and put them together to form a system of government that had never been tried before and that we will be exploring more in depth over the next weeks.


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