Government is the system of rules and laws that controls an organized group or society. Governments are responsible for protecting citizens and their rights, making sure everyone obeys the laws, providing public goods and services, and maintaining order and stability. Governments vary in size, structure, and power. Most modern governments include three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

People started to form governments as a way to protect themselves against attacks by other groups or individuals. Over time, governments grew to take on other duties, such as taxation, defense, and justice. They also began to provide some goods and services that benefit the entire society, such as roads, schools, and healthcare. Governments have the ability to raise and distribute large sums of money and to compel citizens to pay taxes. These powers make them essential for protecting the nation against attack and providing needed goods and services.

In the United States, Congress makes the laws that govern the country. The President, who is elected by the people, heads the Executive Branch and is in charge of enforcing the laws. The Judicial Branch judges whether the laws that Congress passes are fair and legal. The Constitution is the set of rules that dictates how our country works.

When adults decide what the rules should be, they create a system of government that the rest of the community agrees to follow. In the United States, the Congress has 100 members: two Senators from each state plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each member of the Congress represents a district and is accountable to the voters who chose them. The President of the United States is the head of the Executive Branch and represents America when he talks with leaders of other countries. The Cabinet is a group of people who help the President with the day-to-day work of running our country.

While it’s impossible to make all politicians angels who never attempt to grab more power than they should have, the best way to keep them in check is to structure a government with checks and balances that limit their power and protect individual rights. James Madison argued for this in his essay Federalist No. 51, appropriately titled “The Structure of Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances.”

Aside from protecting our nation against attack and providing essential services, one of the most important functions of the government is to guarantee that we can live as free and equal citizens. The Founders believed that every person has natural or unalienable rights that they are born with. Governments must uphold these rights, even when they disagree with them. This is why the Founders established a constitutional republic, with a rule of law.