Politics and institutions in the USA

This civilisation landmark provides a general overview of the geography and institutions of the United States of America.

United States map

States making up the United States of America.


US flag

Government: Federal presidential constitutional republic

Independence: 4 July 1776 (Declaration)

Number of states: 50

Capital: Washington DC

Largest city: New York

President: Donald Trump

Legislature: Congress

  • Upper house: Senate
  • Lower house: House of representatives

Population: 328 million

Area: 9,147,590 Km2

National language: English

Currency: US dollar ($)

NOTE: hover over words in blue for additional information


The United States: A constitution-based federal republic

The United states is a federal, representative, democratic republic, a union of 50 sovereign States and a federal district (the District of Columbia, which is the capital of the United States). The government is federal because power is shared between the local, state and national levels; democratic because the people govern themselves and have the means to control the government; and it is is a republic because the people choose elected representatives by free and secret ballot.

US Constitution

First lines of the US Constitution

The Constitution is the basic and supreme law of the United States. It prescribes the structure of the U.S. Government, provides the legal foundation for all its actions, and enumerates and guarantees the rights of its citizens. The Constitution was prepared by a convention of delegates in Philadelphia in 1787.

The twenty-seven amendments approved since 1791 are also part of the Constitution. these include amendments 1 through 10, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, and amendments 11 through 27, which address a wide range of subjects. The Bill of Rights is a series of constitutionally protected rights of citizens, such as the right to freedom of religion, speech, and press (Amendment I), or the right to keep and bear arms (Amendment II).



1. How many independent states make up the United States?

2. In 3 words, how would you describe the government of the United States?

3. What is the most important law of the United States?

4. Who prepared the Constitution, where and when?

5. How many amendments have been approved since 1791?

6. What is the Bill of Rights?

7. What is Amendment I about?

8. What is Amendment II about?


The separation of powers and checks and balances

The separation of powers and checks and balances are two fundamental principles underlying the Constitution. They work together to prevent a tyrannous concentration of power in any one branch. There are three branches of Government:

  • legislative
  • executive
  • judicial

In addition to the separation and independence between the three branches, the Constitution sets up checks and balances. For instance, the President can veto bills approved by Congress and nominates individuals to the Federal judiciary; the Supreme Court can declare a law enacted by Congress or an action by the President unconstitutional; and Congress can impeach and remove the President and Federal court justices and judges. Impeachment is the process by which the President, Vice President, and all civil officials of the United States may be removed from office for Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanours.

See figure below to see how these two principles work.

United States map


9. What are the two most important principles underlying the Constitution?

10. What are they designed for?

11. What are the three branches of government?

12. What does impeachment mean?



The Congress of the United States is the legislative body of the Government, and consists of two Houses:

  1. The Senate
  2. The House of Representatives

A Member of Congress is a person serving in the Senate or the House of Representatives. A Member of the Senate is referred to as Senator, and a Member of the House of Representatives, as Representative or Congressman or Congresswoman.

United States map

The President has responsibility for the management of the executive branch. The President also holds the position of Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Under the 22nd Amendment, presidential tenure is limited to no more than two elected four-year terms.

The President and Vice President of the United States are elected indirectly by the citizens through the electors. Electors are individuals who are elected by popular vote in each state in the November general election in Presidential election years. The electors then choose the President and Vice President by a majority vote. The electors are collectively known as the electoral college. As mandated by the Constitution, the Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court.


13. What are the two houses of the government called?

14. Explain briefly what a congressman/woman is.

15. Who is the head of the U.S army?

16. How many years can the president remain in power?

17. Do citizens elect the president directly?

18. What is the electoral college?

United States map


Political parties

The US political landscape is divided in two: Democrats and Republicans.

Traditionally, Republicans are against abortion, in favor of the death penalty, for cutting taxes, and want to privatize public services (especially education). Democrats are mostly opposed to these ideas.

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19. What are the two main parties called?

20. Which of the two parties is against∫ abortion, taxes and public services?

21. What animals represent these parties?


1. Fifty.
2. Federal, representative, democratic.
3. The Constitution.
4. A convention of delegates in Philadelphia in 1787.
5. Twenty-seven.
6. Amendments 1 through 10 of the Constitution.
7. Freeedom of religion, speech and press.
8. Right to keep and bear arms.

9. Separation of powers, checks and balances.
10. Preventing a tyrannous concentration of power.
11. Legislative, executive and judicial.
12. Process by which all civil servants can be removed from office.
13. Senate and House of Representatives.
14. A member of the House of Representatives.
15. The president.

16. Eight (two four-year terms).
17. No.
18. The electors who elect the president.
19. Democrats and republicans.
20. Republicans.
21. Donkey (democrats) and elephant (republicans).


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