The Basics of Government
Governments set the rules for people’s everyday lives, protect citizens from outside interference and sometimes provide goods and services that improve the quality of people’s life. Examples include the military, mail service, schools, public transportation and food, housing and medical care for the poor. Governments also protect citizens’ rights, such as freedom of speech and the press.
Almost everyone agrees that the basic purpose of government is to protect people’s natural rights. Governments do this by making sure that people obey the laws that they make and protect them from those who might harm them or steal their property. People must give up some of their liberty to benefit from this protection. In return, they get a police force to enforce the law and a fire department to help them in an emergency. Governments have evolved through the centuries as people recognized the need for rules and protection.
Most people today live in a democracy, where governments are elected by the people to represent them. In a democracy, there are usually three levels of government: national, state and local. Each level of government has different responsibilities, but they all work together to make sure the country or state runs smoothly.
In a democracy, decisions are made by the majority vote and officials are held accountable for their actions. Governments also limit the power of their officials and guarantee citizens’ rights. This is called the system of checks and balances.
The first step in creating a democratic government was for the people to agree to give up some of their liberty in return for protection from those who might harm them or steal their belongings. This agreement is called the social contract. It was developed by Thomas Hobbes, an English political philosopher, in 1651.
After the people agreed to a social contract, they created a legislature, which is the group that sets the laws for the nation or state. They then created a judiciary, which is the group that judges whether those laws are fair and correct. Finally, they created an executive branch, which is the President and his or her Cabinet. The judicial and executive branches are the main parts of the government, but there are other important branches as well, such as the legislative, military and financial branches.
The founders of our country understood that making any one of these branches too powerful caused big problems. So they designed the Constitution to create a system that would prevent any one branch from getting too powerful. They did this by designing a structure for the government that included branches that were very different from each other. These branches are like the rungs of a ladder. The executive branch, with the President and his or her cabinet, is at the top of the ladder. The legislative and judicial branches are the next two rungs down, followed by the financial and military branches. This system is called the separation of powers.