Social Sciences Education

Civics: U. S. Government

English Education Mathematics Education
Social Studies Education Science Education
Propel Home Page

U.S. Government

U. S. Government consist of national, state, and local government.

It is important to remember that the 13 original colonies, while founded primarily by the English, were thought of as individual colonies. Each had its own history, settlement patters and laws and it was their common defiance of british rule, that led them to unite in the American Revolution. One of the obstacle that a united colonies faced was that the leaders had a deep sense of loyalty to their colony. As an example, Jefferson thought of himself more as a "Virginian" than an "American." Thus with the declaration of independence from Britain, they thought initially in terms a loose confederation and finally adopted a government that was more centralized, but still, was just the "united states" of America, not "America." This is known as Federalism a system in which the power to govern is shared between the national and state governments. The basic philosophy at the timeof the founding of the county was that the U.S. Government ought to be limited to its enumerated powers and that all others belonged to the states. Through varous court cases, legislation, and the sixteenth and the seventeenth amendments the power of the national government has increased. Our national government today is very different from the "states rights" form of government envisioned by the founders who largely feared the "tyranny of the masses" that was thought to be more easily possible under poweful central governments.

The United States established a representative, democratic, republic form of government and limited the powers by a Constitution. We tend to forget that the kind of primaries and elections of representatives and senators we have to today, stray far from the original intent of the founders and constitution. They felt the masses were not sufficiently educated and too subject to persuasion and the fervor of the times, to make wise decisions and thus needed leaders selected by other leaders. This is why we still have the electoral college and why senators were elected by state legislators, initally. The basic principle of the founders was that states would hold the supreme power, and thus in the constitution the founders limited the power of the federal government to those delegated to it by the states.

United States Constitution

The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. It provides the framework for the organization of the United States Government. The document outlines the three main branches of the government. The legislative branch is embodied in the bicameral Congress. The executive branch is headed by the President. The judicial branch is headed by the Supreme Court. Besides providing for the organization of these branches, the Constitution carefully outlines which powers each branch may exercise. It also reserves numerous rights for the individual states, and, thus, establishes the United States' federal system of government.

First 10 Amendments - The Bill of Rights (1–10)

It is commonly understood that the Bill of Rights was not originally intended to apply to the states, though except where amendments refer specifically to the Federal Government or a branch thereof (as in the First Amendment, under which some states in the early years of the nation officially established a religion), there is no such delineation in the text itself. Nevertheless, a general interpretation of inapplicability to the states remained until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, which stated, in part, that: The Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to extend most, but not all, parts of the Bill of Rights to the states. Nevertheless, the balance of state and federal power has remained a battle in the Supreme Court.

  • Second Amendment: declares "a well regulated militia" as "necessary to the security of a free State", and as explanation for prohibiting infringement of "the right of the People to keep and bear arms."
  • Third Amendment: prohibits the government from using private homes as quarters for soldiers without the consent of the owners.
  • Sixth Amendment: guarantees a speedy public trial for criminal offenses. It requires trial by a jury, guarantees the right to legal counsel for the accused, and guarantees that the accused may require witnesses to attend the trial and testify in the presence of the accused. It also guarantees the accused a right to know the charges against him.
  • Seventh Amendment: assures trial by jury in civil cases.
  • Eighth Amendment: forbids excessive bail or fines, and cruel and unusual punishment.
  • Ninth Amendment: declares that the listing of individual rights in the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not meant to be comprehensive; and that the other rights not specifically mentioned are retained elsewhere by the people.
  • Tenth Amendment: provides that powers that the Constitution does not delegate to the United States and does not prohibit the States from exercising, are "reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Subsequent amendments (11–27)

Amendments to the Constitution subsequent to the Bill of Rights cover many subjects. The majority of the seventeen later amendments stem from continued efforts to expand individual civil or political liberties, while a few are concerned with modifying the basic governmental structure drafted in Philadelphia in 1787. Although the United States Constitution has been amended a total of 27 times, only 26 of the amendments are currently used because the twenty-first amendment supersedes the eighteenth.

Political Parties

Political parties arose during the presidency of George Washington, but are not mentioned in the Constriction. Unlike many European countries which have multiple parties, the United States has been dominated through most of its history by the Democratic and Republican parties. The following are links to the major U.S. political parities:


At CivicEd, you can find multiple resources that will help you conceptualize the key concepts that students should acquire about government.

CivicEd Middle Scholl Lesson plans

The Avalon Project at the Yale Law School
Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy Basic Readings in US Democracy
Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky; originally published by USIA. Presents court decisions, legislative acts, and presidential decrees that form the bedrock of American democracy, as well as letters

A Chronology of US Historical Documents
University of Oklahoma Law Center. National Government

Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Middle School is an excellent place for a teacher to refresh his/her memory on the U.S. national Government

The White House

United States Senate

United States House of Representatives

Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court Decisions

Library of Congress World Wide Web


Go to World Government


History Home Page

Geography Home Page

Civics Home Page



Civics Videos

Civics Webquests


The NCSS Themes of Social Studies

The NCSS Democratic Beliefs and Values

The NCSS Essentials of Social Studies Education

Sunshine State Standards