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19 September 2014
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Reference - Federal government
Overview
The Constitution does not contain any direct reference to federalism but clearly sets up a relationship between the national government and the states, based on distinct areas of responsibility. So the government of the United States is decentralised, with no one part of the system able to exert absolute power. Power is shared between the federal (national) government - which makes decisions on issues which apply to the whole country, and fifty state governments - which make their own laws covering local issues.

From the 1780s to the 1920s, the individual states exercised most political power. The federal government was limited to managing national level issues of money, war and peace. After the Wall Street Crash in 1929, the states co-operated more fully with the federal government in resolving many of the shattered American economy's problems. As a result, the federal government's role increased significantly in areas such as welfare, transport and urban development. Many are critical of this development of ‘big government' and there have been attempts by the states and by recent presidents (both Republican and Democrat) to reverse the growth of federal government.

The Constitution protects the rights of individuals against any potential abuse by government in a Bill of Rights.

Individual rights
The work of government is divided into three branches, each with different responsibilities.

The legislature makes laws. This happens in Congress.

The Executive carries out laws. The White House is its base and the President is head.

The Judiciary is the name given to the system of judges and courts where justice is interpreted. The highest and final court is the Supreme Court.

Each of these branches of government must agree with one another on an issue before a decision can be formally approved. It is a system of checks and balances. No one branch can impose its will. This can make it very difficult to achieve an outcome or make eventual decisions, quite different to what was originally intended.



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