Government is the system through which a nation, state or community exercises authority and control. It creates and enforces laws, maintains a military, addresses foreign policy, regulates the economy and provides public services. Its responsibilities are essential to the existence of civilized society. There are many different forms of government, but all share the same basic responsibilities. These include democracy, socialism, communism, monarchy and autocracy. Governments can be federal, local or tribal, as well as a combination of the three.

The purpose of government is to govern the nation, state or community through laws and policies that are intended to address society’s most critical issues. In order to govern, governments must have a stable structure and provide security for their citizens. They must also be able to provide for the common good and ensure that all people have an opportunity to prosper.

In a democracy, citizens participate in the process of selecting their leaders through voting and other means. The leader they elect is responsible for making decisions about social and economic issues that impact the entire community, known as the region or constituency. The elected leader is often a member of a political party, which is a group of people who share similar ideas and philosophies about what the role of the government should be.

One of the most important jobs of any government is protecting “common goods,” which are natural resources that all people may freely use but which are in limited supply, such as clean water and fish in the sea. Governments must protect these resources so that a few people do not take everything and leave others with nothing. Governments must also ensure that all people have access to educational and health care services, as well as to the land they live on.

The Constitution outlines how the national government functions, with three branches that collaborate in a checks-and-balances system to avoid abuse of power by any one branch. The executive and legislative branches are responsible for enacting national laws, while the judicial branch interprets and upholds the law. Congress (legislative branch) passes bills, which can only become law after being signed by the president or vetoed by the president and then overridden by two-thirds of both houses of Congress. In addition, the Supreme Court reviews and judges any laws or presidential actions that might be unconstitutional. See these classroom resources for more information on the functions of each branch.