National Government: Definition, Responsibilities & Powers

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  • 0:00 Definition of a…
  • 1:14 Responsibilities
  • 1:36 Powers
  • 2:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the two basics types of national government, and see how each works with regional governments. When you're finished, take the quiz to see what you've learned.

Definition of a National Government?

A national government is the government, or political authority, that controls a nation. At minimum, a national government requires a national army, enough power over its states or provinces to set and maintain foreign policy, and the ability to collect taxes. Beyond that, a national government can be anything from a dictatorship to a loose federation of states, like the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. National governments can be separated into two basic types - unitary and federal.

A unitary government is centralized, with states or provinces having little or no power. Their regional powers aren't even set because they can be eliminated at any time by the national government. Monarchies, dictatorships, and communist regimes are all types of unitary governments.

A federal government reverses the roles. The states have most of the power, and the national government is only given enough power to keep itself running. Some federal governments have little more power than the ability to raise an army, conduct foreign policy, and raise taxes. The United States and most modern countries have federal governments.


National governments are responsible for maintaining internal and external security and stability. Usually, that means they're responsible for establishing national laws and enforcing them. They also must raise and train a military and set international policy. And because national governments aren't possible without money, they must be able to set taxes high enough to pay their employees.

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