The United States has a DEMOCRATIC government, based on the CONSTITUTION and its AMENDMENTS. The Constitution and the BILL of RIGHTS (the first 10 amendments) were created in 1787. Since then, there have been 27 amendments, including Prohibition (18th Amendment), Women's vote (19th Amendment) and repeal of Prohibition (21st Amendment).

There are two guidng principles of US government: SEPARATION OF POWERS, and CHECKS AND BALANCES. The power to control the government is divided between its thre branches: (1) the LEGISLATIVE BRANCH, (2) the EXECUTIVE BRANCH, and (3) the JUDICIAL BRANCH. These three branches "check up" on each other's power to balance them.

The legislative branch, or CONGRESS, includes the SENATE and the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. The SENATE, or upper house, has 100 members. Two SENATORS are elected from each state for 6 years A senator must be 30 or older, a US Citizen for 9 years, and a current resident of the state. The HOUSE SPEAKER is the leader of the Senate.

In the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, a number of representatives from each state are elected for 2 years. The number depends on the population of the state. There are currently 435 members. They must be 25 or older, a US citizen for 7 years, and a current resident of the state. The vice president is the leader.

The executive branch is formed of the PRESIDENT and his cabinet, the VICE PRESIDENT, and 15 EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS. They are each headed by a Secretary: Secretary of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General. The current Secretary of State is Hillary Clinton.

THE PRESIDENT and Vice President are elected by the people (via the Electoral College) for 4 years. The president must be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen, and a resident of the US for 14 years. The President can serve only 8 years in total (2 terms of 4 years). The Vice President is chosen by the President before they are elected, and they run as a team. The current President is Barack Obama, and the Vice President is Joe Biden.

If something happens to the president, who is next? The order of succession is determined as follows: Vice President Speaker of the House President of the Senate Secretary of State Secretary of the Treasury Secretary of Defense Attorney General Secretary of the Interior, etc.

The Judicial Branch is the SUPREME COURT. There are 9 SUPREME COURT JUSTICES, or judges. One of these is the Chief Justice. The Justices are appointed by the president then in power, and can serve until they retire. The SUPREME COURT tries about 100 cases a year from STATE and FEDERAL COURTS.

The President is elected in a direct election every 4 years (00, 04, 08, 12, 16, 20…) in November. The voting system is complicated. Each state votes separately, and the states each have a number of Electoral College "points" depending on their population. This year is an election year--so watch the system this November!

There are two major politicial parties in the US: REPUBLICAN and DEMOCRAT. George W. Bush was a Republican, Barack Obama is a Democrat. There are many other small parties too, such as Socialist Party, Green Party, Etc. Some politicians also run as independent candidates.

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