The Separation of Powers

One of the most important elements of the Constitution of the United States is the separation of powers. This divides the powers of the government between the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. When the Founding Fathers created the government for the new nation after the American colonies broke away from Great Britain, they did not want to create a monarchy. They did not want to have a system in which a king or queen ruled the nation; therefore, it was important that they create a government that prevented any one person from having too much power.

The executive branch is represented by the president and vice-president of the United States. Congress, which is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, is the legislative branch, and the Supreme Court and lower federal courts is the judicial branch. Each branch limits the powers of the other two branches through a system called checks and balances. For example, the judges who serve in the judicial branch are selected by the president and approved by Congress but the judicial branch has the authority to decide that laws Congress creates are unconstitutional. The legislative branch has the authority to create laws but the president has the power to veto them. The legislative branch can then override that veto if enough members of Congress think it is necessary. Congress also has the authority to impeach the president if enough members think the president has abused the power of the office or committed some other crime against the United States.

On the other hand, the president has the authority to call a special session of Congress. So, for example, if Congress is on a break over the summer, the president can order Congress back to Washington to vote on an important matter. This happened in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and President George Bush wanted Congress to vote on an emergency spending bill. War is another reason that a president might use this authority. Abraham Lincoln did it on July 4, 1861 during the Civil War.


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