Federal Government Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Alison Gu
The federal government in Washington, D.C., is made up of three branches. In this lesson, you will read how the people who created the United States decided it was a good idea that each branch keep an eye on each other.

Federal Government Power

The United States' federal government gets its power from the Constitution, written in 1787. That is more than 200 years old! The Constitution is a piece of paper with words and ideas that tell how the government of the United States works. You can see the Constitution in Washington, D.C. It is a very important document and is guarded day and night!

Federal Government Control

In the United States, your state, like New York, California or Texas, has great power. But anything to do with the country, like how the United States protects itself or trades with another country, is under the control of the federal government. If two states have an argument, like how much water to use from a lake that both states share, the federal government decides.

Keep in mind that there's a difference between capital and capitol even though they sound the same. Thankfully they're spelled differently, but it's important for us to distinguish them.

A capital is the main city of a country or a state. The federal government is based in Washington, DC, the capital of the United States.

On the other hand, a capitol is a building where people meet to make laws. The Capitol Building is the place where Congress, a group of people who are elected to government, make laws for the United States.

The Capitol Building
The Capitol Building

Federal Government Function

When the United States was born, people were afraid of having a king and didn't want one part of the government to become too strong, so the Constitution created a system of checks and balances. This idea tries to make all parts of the government equal. Let's see how this works!

Think of the federal government as a tree with three branches, with each branch doing something different.

1. Legislative Branch

The legislative branch makes laws and controls money collected from taxes. This branch consists of Congress. One part of the U.S. Congress is the Senate, and there are two senators from each state in the country. The other part of Congress is the House of Representatives, and the number of representatives for each state varies. Some states with many people, like California, have many representatives. States with few people only have a few representatives. For instance, Montana only has one representative! Both senators and representatives can serve as many times as they are elected.

2. Executive Branch

The White House
White House

The executive branch must keep the law. The president, who lives in the White House, is the boss of this branch, and under him or her is the vice president. If a country attacks the United States, the president controls the army to protect the country, but only Congress can decide to make war on another country. The president is elected every four years, and a president can only be president twice. Congress makes the law, but only the president can sign and make it official.

3. Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court Building
Supreme Court

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