A government is the group of people that rules a nation, state or organization. The word government comes from the Latin gubernare, meaning to steer or govern a ship. There are many different types of governments, including monarchy, oligarchy, democracy (direct and representative), autocracy, and communism. Governments create laws and provide services to their citizens, and they also enforce the rights and responsibilities of those individuals.
Those responsibilities include protecting the common goods that all people may use, but which are in limited supply, such as public lands and wildlife or clean air and water. Governments regulate these common goods so that a few people do not take all the available resources and leave others with nothing. Governments may also raise funds by imposing taxes, such as sales or income tax, and draft budgets that determine how much money will be spent on services, such as education, police and fire departments, and parks.
Another duty of government is providing social programs for its citizens, such as welfare and health care. This is the most controversial of all government duties, as many Americans believe that these programs are costly and destroy a person’s sense of responsibility for his or her own well being.
Other duties of the government include promoting and maintaining national security, conducting diplomacy with foreign nations, and regulating trade. These duties are often carried out by the executive branch, which is commanded by the President of the United States. The President can influence the country’s laws by signing (or vetoing) legislation and by declaring Executive Orders or presidential memoranda. The legislative branch is responsible for passing laws and drafting the budget, and Congress approves or rejects the President’s nominees to the Supreme Court and federal courts of appeals.
It is important for government officials to be accountable, and this is often accomplished through a system of checks and balances. The most popular check and balance is a separation of powers, wherein the functions and duties of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches are separate from one another. The Constitution of each State defines the number and structure of these distinct institutions, and their distribution of powers.
Most States have a bicameral legislature, with two chambers, the smaller upper house and the larger lower house. The members of the upper chamber, which is often referred to as the Senate, serve four-year terms and make State laws and fulfill other governing responsibilities. The members of the lower chamber, which is sometimes called the House of Representatives, serve shorter terms, generally two years. Both chambers are made up of elected representatives.