Government is the organization of a society to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that the community cannot otherwise secure on its own. Its tasks include maintaining a safe and secure environment, ensuring an adequate supply of essential goods and services, and guaranteeing the rights of citizens. Governments come in many forms. Some are more democratic than others; others may be more authoritarian, with a few people controlling all the power in the state. Regardless of their form, all governments must have a system of checks and balances to prevent one branch from becoming dominant over the other two branches.
The people, through elections, choose representatives to represent them in city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. These elected bodies then make laws to govern their jurisdictions. Governments also enforce the law, prosecute criminals, and manage foreign affairs. They must balance the needs of all citizens to ensure the overall welfare of the nation. Governments may raise taxes to pay for education, public transportation, health care, housing, and the military. They must protect the common good, or those goods that everyone can use but are in limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean drinking water. Government must also safeguard those things that are inherently private, such as the privacy of people’s telephone conversations and their right to read newspapers.
Generally, the more a democracy grows, the more power it gives its voters over government decisions. However, it is possible for a government to become too powerful, even in democracies. To prevent this from happening, the Framers of the Constitution created a system that checks the powers of the legislative (Congress), executive (the President’s office), and judicial (Federal court system) branches of the Federal government. This system of checks and balances is called separation of powers.
Another important role of the Federal government is to protect citizens’ civil liberties, or freedoms, such as free speech and the right to privacy. Consequently, laws restrict how much the government can tap people’s phones or limit what newspapers can publish. The Federal government must also protect the common good, or those goods that are available to all people but are in limited supply, such as national security and education.
All three branches of the Federal government must be kept in check to avoid a single branch getting too powerful, and thus violating the people’s rights. To do this, the Framers created a system in which each branch can counteract the other two, such as by rejecting laws made by Congress or overriding a president’s veto. The result is a system of checks and balances that keeps the Federal government from becoming too large or too controlling, despite the democratic process in which most of its officials are chosen by their peers. The Framers also established that laws must be accessible to the people so they can understand the process of governmental decision-making and review the documents and statistics used by the branches to reach their conclusions.