2.2 Structure and Design of U.S. Government

Lesson Introduction

photo of the constitution

Before the Constitution was ratified, under the Articles of Confederation, the nation was a loose league of states. Each state governed itself almost independently. The central government itself held little power.

The Constitution changed this, making the central government much stronger. However, the writers of the Constitution built in limits on the powers of the central government by creating federalism. In a federal system, one national government and many state governments share power. The Constitution further restricts the national government’s power by listing its powers. All other powers, according to the Constitution, are reserved for the states or the people.

The framers of the Constitution also divided power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the federal government. They set up the government to make sure that each branch cannot abuse the power it has. Thus each branch of government has the power to check the actions of the other branches. (In this context, the word check means “to restrain” or “to hold back.”) Our government’s system of power sharing is called checks and balances.

In the lesson, you will learn more about how the checks and balances system of power sharing works at the national, state, and local level.