An Introduction to the American Political System and its history

Understanding the federal system, the states, and key responsibilities

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Washington DC
Draft a constitution
Constitutional monarchy
John Locke
The legislative branch
Democratic Party

US: Federal Republic, Economy, and Influence

The United States of America, commonly known as the United States or simply the US, is a federal republic made up of 50 states, a federal district (Washington, D.C.), five major territories, and various minor islands. The US is the world’s third-largest country by land area and the third most populous country, with a population of over 330 million people.

The US was founded in 1776 as a group of colonies declaring independence from Great Britain. It is characterized by its diverse and multicultural society, with a long history of immigration and a commitment to individual freedoms and democracy. The US is also the world’s largest economy (accounting for nearly 25% of global GDP) and a global superpower, with significant influence in international politics and diplomacy.

Federal System: National and State Powers

The US government is a “federal” system, meaning power is divided between the national government and the states that comprise it.


The national government is headed by the President, who is both the head of state and the head of government, and includes the legislative branch (Congress, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives) and the judicial branch (the Supreme Court and other federal courts).

These federal branches of government are located in Washington DC, a district which lies along the east coast of the United States and serves as the capital of the country.

The city is home to many iconic government buildings, including the White House (the official residence of the President), the Capitol Building (where Congress meets), and the Supreme Court Building (where the highest court in the land holds its sessions).

Federal vs. State Responsibilities


In the United States, the federal government’s role is to address issues that affect the entire country, while states have greater autonomy over issues that are more localized.

The federal government is therefore responsible for a range of issues related to national defense, foreign policy, immigration, interstate commerce, and currency regulation.

The federal government also plays a key role in administering programs that provide social welfare and support, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Additionally, the federal government is responsible for enforcing laws related to civil rights, environmental protection, and consumer protection, among other areas.

The 50 States

The 50 states of America are political subdivisions of the country, each with their own government and constitution. Each state has its own executive branch (governor and other officials), legislative branch (state senate and state house of representatives), and judicial branch (state courts).

States in the US have a significant amount of autonomy and are responsible for many areas of governance, including education, transportation, public safety, and social services. They can also enact their own laws and regulations, as long as they do not conflict with federal law or the US Constitution.

Some states have more influence and resources than others, depending on factors such as population, economic strength, and political power. For example, California is the most populous state and has one of the largest economies in the world.

From British Colonies to United States

The original thirteen states of the United States were once individual colonies of Great Britain. They were established by British settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries and had varying degrees of autonomy prior to the American Revolution.


In 1776, following the American Revolution, and independence from Britain, thirteen colonies on the continent declared their intention to found a form of government distinct from its European counterparts. This would be based solely on popular sovereignty rather than hereditary rule or divine right.

Following independence from Britain, there emerged a need to enforce economic stability and political unity among the newly formed states. In response to this need, a group of delegates from each state convened in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a constitution that would establish a federal government and ensure the protection of individual rights.

Despite being over 200 years old, the United States Constitution remains the supreme law of the land.

American Political System: Foundations

In the 18th century, the founding of the United States’ Constitution was politically radical, and its emphasis on democratic ideals and institutions has long since served as a model for many other nations globally.

At the time of America’s War of Independence from Britain, Europe was dominated by an “Age of Absolutism”, a term used to describe a period between 1600 and the French Revolution of 1789, where monarchs and rulers sought to establish absolute authority and control over their territories, unrestrained by parliaments, feudal elites, churches, or other institutions.

Some well-known examples of absolutist monarchs include Louis XIV of France, who famously declared, “L’état, c’est moi” (“I am the state”), Peter the Great of Russia, and Frederick the Great of Prussia.

By 1688, Britain had moved to be governed more directly by its parliament, but the royal sovereign remained in place through what is known as a “constitutional monarchy”—a system still in place today.

Foundational Ideas of American Politics

Though revolutionary at the time, America’s political system was founded on centuries-old ideas about individual freedoms and liberties.

The Magna Carta of 1215 laid the groundwork for political rights in Britain, establishing the principle that everyone, including the king, was subject to the law, had the right to a fair trial, and should be protected against arbitrary imprisonment.

These ideas were further developed in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which enshrined limits to the government’s power and individual rights. This was influenced by the Enlightenment philosophy of John Locke. Locke held that all individuals had the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property, and that these rights could not be taken away by a government, which should rule only by consent of the people.


America’s Declaration of Independence went on to adopt this philosophy as its founding principle of government. It asserted that “all men are created equal”, endowed with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Constitution: Structure and Powers


The American Constitution, ratified in 1788, is the fundamental law of the United States, and sets out the structure and powers of the federal government.

One of the key features of the Constitution is the mandate that each branch of government should have its own separate powers and responsibilities.

The Constitution is divided into seven articles, each of which outlines a different aspect of the federal government. Article I establishes the legislative branch, which is responsible for making the laws of the United States. Article II creates the executive branch, which is responsible for enforcing the laws. Article III establishes the judicial branch, which is responsible for interpreting the laws and resolving disputes.

This is accompanied by a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one branch becomes too powerful. Each branch of government has the power to check or limit the actions of the other branches.

Amendments and the Living Constitution

The American Constitution is a living document, and has been amended several times since its ratification in 1788. An amendment is a change to the original text of the Constitution that can be proposed by Congress or ratified by three-fourths of the states.

The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were added in 1791 and guarantee certain basic rights such as freedom of speech and religion; protection against unreasonable search and seizure; due process; equal protection under law; right to bear arms; prohibition on cruel or unusual punishment.

Since then, there have been over twenty additional amendments passed which further clarify these rights or expand them to include new groups such as women in the 19th Amendment (1920), and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery (1865).

Second Amendment: Origins and Controversy

One of the most controversial additions to the Constitution is the Second Amendment of 1791. It states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.

The purpose of the Amendment was to guarantee citizens a means of self-defense and ability to mobilize against external threats or a tyrannical government.

Some have argued, however, that it is due to this Amendment that the USA accounts for over 70 percent of mass shootings globally. Critics hold that the framers of the Constitution could not have anticipated the development of advanced weaponry such as assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, widely available to Americans due to second amendment rights.

Such a case highlights the difficulty of abiding by a document now written over two centuries ago. While it provides a strong foundation for American democracy, it cannot account for all the technological advancements and societal changes that have occurred since its inception.

Political Factions and Party Evolution

The Constitution established a system of government that created opportunities for political factions to organize and advocate for their interests, and for political leaders to form coalitions to advance their agendas.

Early political factions included Federalists, who favored a strong central government, and Anti-Federalists, who supported a weaker government with greater state autonomy.

In the 19th century, various factions evolved to become the two political parties that dominate today: the Republicans and the Democrats.

The two parties have undergone significant changes over the years. During the Civil War, the Republican Party was the party of Abraham Lincoln and the Union, and the northern states, while the Democratic Party was associated with the Confederacy and the South.

In the 20th century, the two parties shifted their focus to economic issues. The Democratic Party became associated with progressive policies and government intervention in the economy, while the Republican Party became associated with conservative policies and limited government.

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