System of Government
The United States is a federal union of 50 States. Its system of government is based on the principle that governing power is divided between state and central authority.
The Federal Government, that is the central authority, has the power to regulate the relations between the states and to engage in activities — such as declaring war: or conducting foreign policy — that are beyond the competency of any single state or group of states.
Each one of the 50 states, however, is fully independent within its boundaries and the Federal Government cannot interfere with a State’s decision in the conduct of its internal affairs.
Each state has its own constitution and makes its own laws. In each state the executive power is represented by a Governor, elected by popular vote.
The Constitution of the United States was signed in Philadelphia in 1787, shortly after the 13 original states had won their independence from Britain.
It is a document in which it is clearly stated what powers belong to the Federal Government and what powers belong to the States.
In 1791 the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution. All individual rights and freedom are assured in the Bill of Rights: the freedom of speech, of the press and of religion; the right of citizens to meet peacefully: right to be secure in one’s home against any form of violation of one’s privacy; the right to possess arms: the right of any person who is accused of breaking the law to have a speedy trial by a jury of fellow citizens.
The Constitution divides the power of the Government into three branches: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial.
The legislative branch, or Congress, consists of two Houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two Houses are made up of representatives elected by the people.
In the Senate each state has equal voice with two senators each. In the House of Representatives each state has a variable number of representatives which depends on how populous the state is.
Any member of the two Houses may propose a Bill. The Bill is discussed and, if it is approved by the majority, it goes to the other House for discussion and approval. If the majority of the members of this House is in favour of it, the Bill is brought to the President.
The President may accept the Bill, and in this case the Bill becomes law. But if the President does not approve of it, the Bill goes back to the House of origin with suggestions for amendments.
If the House decides to leave the Bill unchanged, a two-thirds majority in both Houses is needed to pass the Bill without the President’s approval.
The executive branch is headed by the President, who is chosen in a national election for a four-year term.
The U.S. President is the central figure of the American system of government: he has enormous powers and responsibilities, and can be considered the most powerful elected official in the world.
He is the Head of one of the two major political parties.
As Head of the executive branch, his duty is to carry out government programs and to put laws into effect. He presides over an enormous network of departments — among which the Treasury Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Labour, the Department of Justice.
Upon his shoulders rests the responsibility for conducting foreign affairs, and in this task he is advised by the Secretary of State, the Head of the Department of State. With the approval of the majority of the Senate, he appoints federal judges, ambassadors and hundreds of government officials.
He is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and he may, under certain circum-stances, open hostilities without a formal declaration of war by Congress.
He also has control on Congress and legislation: it is the President who must prepare the year's legislative program for the economic and social welfare of the country. The program is then submitted to the Houses for approval. He can also recommend laws to Congress, and he can put his veto on any law passed by Congress. The Presidential veto can be annulled only by a two-thirds vote of both Houses.
The judicial branch of the Government consists of the Federal Courts in the states and the Supreme Court in Washington.
The Federal Courts deal with all the cases for which the Federal Government is competent.
The Supreme Court has the power to test the constitutionality of all the laws passed by Congress as well as of those state laws which seem to be in conflict with the principles of the Constitution.
In case of conflict between state law and federal law, state law must yeld to federal law.
The Balance of Powers
The Constitution of 1787 also created a system of checks, that is of controls, so that none of the three branches of government could prevail upon the others.
The laws passes by Congress must be examined by the supreme Court, which decides whether or not they conform to the principles of the Constitution. Moreover, the President may put his veto on any Bill passed by Congress.
On the other hand, the President’s decrees can be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Under particular circumstances, the House of Representatives can incriminate the charge pf crimes committed against the State, and the Senate can suspend him from his office with a two-thirds majority.
As to the supreme Court, its composition can be modified by the President and by Congress.
There are two major political parties in the United States: the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The symbol of the former is the Elephant, the symbol of the latter is the Donkey. There are no substantial differences between the two parties. The Democrats are supposed to be a little more progressive than the Republicans.
Source: Colle – Meloni, News. For Juniors, Lattes, an old Italian book 1979.