Representative Government: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What is a…
  • 1:01 How Do They Work?
  • 2:22 Benefits
  • 3:11 Challenges
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn what defines a representative government and gain insight into how it operates in democratic political systems. You'll also learn the benefits and challenges of a representative government.

What Is a Representative Government?

If you've ever spent any time studying the development of the United States, you probably know that the transition from British rule to American rule was a difficult and complicated process. As colonial Americans grew increasingly frustrated with the largely absent British government in the decades leading up to the revolution, they began to protest the imposition of British laws through rallying cries like, 'No taxation without representation!' This was one of the more common slogans from that era, it was intended to express frustration with the fact that they were being forced to pay British taxes but felt as though they had no voice in Britain's representative government.

A representative government is a type of government comprised of politicians who represent certain individuals or groups. In most cases, these representatives are voted for by citizens through a democratic process. The US Congress and British Parliament, for example, are both representative governments because the politicians represent people from different parts of the country in the political arena.

How Do Representative Governments Work?

Representative governments are the cornerstone of democratic political systems because they allow citizens to decide who will speak and act on their behalf in the larger government. In the United States, for example, the legislative branch of the government (Congress) is comprised entirely of elected officials who are responsible for representing the citizens from their states. This type of government allows for each state to be equally and adequately represented in the federal government, which theoretically makes everyone's voices heard.

While US Congress is a common example of representative governments, most Western democratic countries have some variation of this style. In Germany, for example, the Bundestag is the branch of the German government that is responsible for representing the citizens in the larger governmental body. Like the US Congress, members of the Bundestag are primarily responsible for meeting with their constituents, which is just a fancy name for the people whom they represent, and addressing their concerns, answering their questions, and bringing their issues before the national government.

Because they speak for the people, the most important aspect of any member of a representative government is that they are accessible to the people whom they represent. This allows them to be of direct service to citizens and ensures that they are intimately familiar with the issues and suggestions that they address in the larger government.

Benefits of Representative Governments

The most important benefit of a representative government is that individual citizens, or groups of citizens, are given a voice in their national political system. In the United States, for example, citizens of each state can access their representative and make their opinions and wants known to the representative, who will then do their part to address these issues in the national political arena. If you think back to the earlier example of 'no taxation without representation,' you can see the significance of representative government in the larger democratic system. Because Americans pay taxes to the government, they expect that some of those taxes will beUSed in ways that benefit the state or country. In this case, the person elected to be representative is there to argue on their behalf and ensure that this relationship between taxation and representation works as is intended.

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