Your Guide to the US Government

By: Chloe Tzau

Section 1: Welcome!

Welcome to America! We are both so fortunate to have this opportunity to live in the US and in the great state of Illinois! I have made this handbook to help you understand our government, as sometimes it can be confusing. Good Luck!

Section 2: Why Does America Have Individual States?

The United States uses a Federalist System, in which power is divided between a national government, and many regional governments. However, the Constitution states that federalism is a very vital part of our government, where our states are not only representatives of the national government, but are granted independent powers and responsibilities.

States have their own legislative (creates laws), executive (carries out laws), and judicial (interprets law) branches, which gives them the power to pass laws, so long as they do not violate the Constitution.

A main reason why it is important for the United States to actually have states is because of how big the country actually is. This is usually overlooked. but America is a very big country. It would not make sense for Alaskan people to share laws with Floridians, simply because of the difference of environments, cultures, and histories.

Another reason why states were created here is because our people did not want the government to have too much power, leaving them with no say in what they believed. So, states were created so both the national and state governments can share power, without one overpowering the other.

An example of different laws in different states. Oregon allows use of recreational marijuana, while Illinois does not because of different views.

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Section 3: What is a Constitution?

The Constitution is like a rulebook for our government. It tells the government what they can and cannot do. It protects our people from the government misusing its power for their own good. People have learned from experience that a government without limits leads to oppression and many other bad things. The Constitution organizes and restraints power by dividing power between many political organizations, for example: the 3 houses of the legislators. The Constitution is like the leash for an angry dog. We also have state constitutions because the 10th Amendment states that each state has sovereign rule over it's citizens on matters not enumerated or prohibited by the US Constitution.

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Section 4: What Are the Six Functions of Both the State and Federal Governments?

There are 6 basic functions of both the state and federal government that are stated in the Preamble. (the introduction to the Constitution) First being, to form a perfect union. This means the national government has to be fair across all state boundaries, keeping the union together. Second being, to establish justice. This means to establish laws. Next, would to be ensure domestic tranquility. In simpler words, that would be to keep peace over all people. Fourthly, to provide to the common defense. This means to have a national defense, a standing militia/army to protect us from national and domestic enemies. Next, to promote for the general Welfare. This means to govern for the common good. Lastly, to Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. This means to try and keep our country the same, if not better for those living after us.

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Section 5: What Do the Three Branches of Government Do?

There are 3 branches of the national government. They can all check and balance each other, so they all have an equal amount of power.

First, the Legislative branch. Also known as the Congress, the Legislative Branch is made up of two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together they can create laws, declare war, and they create the budget and approve Presidential nominations. This branch also has the power to accuse the President and judges of wrongful doings and remove him/her from the office. The Senate also confirms the President’s judicial nominations for the Supreme Court and the Federal Court of Appeals. Congress can also override a Presidential veto if they have a 2/3 vote. You can become involved with the Legislative Branch by voting for senators and House members.

The second branch of the government is the Executive Branch. This consists of the executive office, independent government agencies, cabinet departments, and of course, the President. The Executive Branch makes sure that laws are being enforced, appoints the heads of federal agencies, is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is able to nominate judges for the Federal Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and can veto laws passed in Congress. You can become involved with the Executive Branch by voting for the president.

The last branch of the government would be the Judicial Branch. As stated in Article III of the Constitution, every person accused of wrongdoing has the right to a fair trial before a competent judge and a jury of one’s peers. This is why the Judicial branch exists. This branch has the power to declare Presidential acts and laws unconstitutional. You can become involved with the Judicial Branch by attending jury duty.

The national government is like our state government because it also has 3 branches.

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Section 6: The Three Branches of the Illinois Government

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Section 7: Federalism

The Founding Fathers created a system of Federalism to limit the national government from having too much power. The Constitution states certain powers are given to the state government, and some to the national government. Local governments have many powers too, although they are not mentioned in the Constitution. But, some powers are shared between the national, state, and local governments. (as shown in This way no government gets too powerful, the point of Federalism.

Section 8: Are There Possible Problems With Federalism?

Most of the time, Federalism works fine because all power is balanced. But, sometimes it is unclear who does what, and then no one will take responsibility. For example, Hurricane Katrina, probably one of the country’s worst disasters. The government didn’t know what to do, or who was in charge of what, so everyone just sat around and pointed fingers at each other, and things got worse. We need to make sure our public officials understand how the federal government system works. Governments to to be prepared with emergency plans, communication, and help, and governments need to know how be held accountable.

Here is a brief article explaining what happened during this national emergency.

Section 9: What Does it Mean to be a Good US Citizen?

There are many responsibilities and obligations of that guide you to being a good US and state citizen. Responsibilities meaning things you are expected to do, and obligations meaning things you have to do. For example, some obligations are:

  1. Voting: citizens can choose who they want in the government, practicing their right of self-government.

  2. Respect Rights of Others: citizens should respect others, and expect others to do the same. For example, respecting other people’s property by not littering.

  3. Respect Diversity: citizens should respect and accept others, no matter their beliefs, race, practices, etc.

Some responsibilities are to:

  1. Obey Laws: this is one of the most important duties. Citizens have to obey laws so the government can maintain order, and keep other citizens healthy and safe. For example, you have to follow traffic lights, otherwise our roads will not be safe.

  2. Pay Taxes: Citizen’s taxes pay for government activities like the pay for employees, maintaining an army and navy. For example, if we didn’t pay taxes, our roads would never be paved, and we wouldn’t have policemen or firefighters.

  3. Serve In Court: Since the Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to a trial by jury, every citizen must serve jury duty, may it be asked upon them.

Section 10: Represenatation in Our Government

Why would I need to contact a senator a member of the House of Representatives you might wonder. Well, a senator writes and votes on new laws which might be important to you. House members can start laws that make people pay taxes, which will affect you. Here is where you can find your senators and representatives:

Using this number: 217-782-3944, you can contact the Illinois General Assembly. You may want to do this to change things like putting a stop sign up on your street.

Section 11: Frequently Asked Questions

Why do some states have more representatives than others?

There are 435 Representatives in all, however some states have more than others because of how large/small their population is.

What does the President's cabinet do?

The President’s cabinet advises him/her on certain things the president might not know a lot about

Where can I find information about taxes and tax law?

The IRS website provides a lot of information on this topic.

Why do Supreme Court judges serve for life?

Supreme Court judges serve for life so they don’t have to worry about losing their job based on their decision.

Why does the US flag have 13 stripes?

They are based on the original 13 colonies.


"The Executive Branch." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

"Find Your Senators and Representatives." - OpenCongress. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

"Forms and Pubs." Internal Revenue Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

"If America Is a Single Country, Why Do Different States Have Different Laws?Frequently Asked in." If America Is a Single Country, Why Do Different States Have Different Laws? N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

"If America Is a Single Country, Why Do Different States Have Different Laws?Frequently Asked in." If America Is a Single Country, Why Do Different States Have Different Laws? N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

"The Judicial Branch." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015."

The Legislative Branch." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

Longley, Robert. "Federalism: National vs. State Government." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

N.p., n.d. Web.

"The Purpose Of The Constitution." Purpose of the Constitution. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

"02.08 Federalism." 02.08 Federalism. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.