Branches of Government and State Powers

The Constitution is divided into seven articles, each establishing the basis of the three branches of government and the powers afforded to the states. While it might not seem revolutionary now, the Constitution that was established in 1787 was possibly the most revolutionary and most profound document of its time. It created the firsts modern day republican government and has served as a model to new republics all over the world.

Legislative Branch

The First Congress, 1788
The legislative branch is the largest branch of government, and is the longest article outlined in the Constitution. It was also created to have the most power of any branch in the republic. Unlike in the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution outlines two separate houses of the Legislature, one side based on population, and the other side containing two delegates per state. The legislative branch has the authority to overrule the president on any issue. This authority is meant to balance out the inherently monarchical position of the president. The Legislative branch under the Constitution contains in it one of the largest changes made from the Articles of Confederation, the power of the Federal Government to tax its citizens. The Constitution gives the power of the national purse to the legislative government, and with that, much of the general power to run the nation. The specific powers of the legislative branch, outlined in Article I of the Constitution, are as follows:
  • The Legislative branch has the ability to impeach the president, and can force the resignation of anyone in the government who has broken a law.
  • The Congressmen have the ability to create their own rules when it comes to passing laws and completing other formalities on the House or Senate floor.
  • The Legislative branch has the sole power to tax, borrow money, and maintain a military and government using the money gained from taxes.
  • They also have the power to establish and maintain a myriad of government institutions including the post office and the road system.
  • Finally, the legislatures can overrule any decision made by any state or other lesser body.

Executive Branch

The White House
Possibly the most controversial part of the Constitution, the Executive branch of the United States was created to enforce all laws established by the federal government. The executive in charge of this branch (The President) is unable to make any laws, but has the ability to enforce all laws passed by congress. To balance out this inherently monarchical position of power, the congress was given the power to overrule the executive in any decisions that he makes. The specific powers of the executive, outlined in article II of the Constitution, are as follows:
  • The president must to the best of his ability, "Preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
  • To do this, the President has the power of the Commander in Chief. He controls all aspects of the Federal Military, as well as the State militia.
  • The president also has the power to appoint any officials he deems necessary to run the country.
  • He must also, "from time to time," give updates to the nation on the state of the union.

Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court Building
The powers of the Judicial Branch are the least clear out of any of the branches of the Federal Government. The Judicial Branch was set up to be the final power of the Government and have the final say in any legal issue in the nation. They are to deliberate on all issues regarding the Constitution and have the final say on the constitutionality of any law passed by a state or the by the nation. The Judicial Branch can overrule any decision made by the Executive or Legislative Branch. The powers of the Judicial Branch, outlined in Article III of the Constitution, are as follows:
  • The Judicial Branch has the ability to establish a supreme court and any smaller courts as needed by the union.
  • The lower courts have the ability to try all federal crimes, and the ability to process all appeals.
  • The supreme court can try anybody charged with treason or any case that has been appealed through the lower courts.

State Powers

The United States, 1783-1803
The powers afforded to the states under the Constitution are considerably smaller than the powers the states had in the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation recognized each state as a sovereign entity in an agreement of strong mutual friendship. It gave states free reign when it came to governance. The Constitution changed all of this. Article IV of the Constitution only gives states powers not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. It also makes states subordinate to congress and the federal government.

This was perhaps the most alarming change in the Constitution. Many viewed this as a direct infringement on the rights of states. The restrictions on the powers of the States, as listed in Article IV of the Constitution, are as follows:
  • The States can pass any law, as long as it does not infringe on any federal law mentioned in the Constitution.
  • States must maintain a republican form of government.
  • States cannot expand themselves into any other states, and states cannot be founded within existing states.
  • State governments are always inferior to the Federal government.
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