The White House and The United States Government: A Guide for Students

The founders of the United States worried that any one branch of the Government might become too powerful. That's why they introduced the idea of checks and balances. The three branches of the United States Government have specific powers and responsibilities. The way laws are created shows how checks and balances work. The Legislative branch writes and votes on laws, which then go to the President in the Executive Branch. The President can either sign the bill into law, or the President can veto it. If it's vetoed, Congress can then vote to overturn the veto. However, it takes two-thirds of all members of the legislative branch to overturn a veto. The Supreme Court can then judge whether the new law is constitutional.

The History of the White House

Each president of the United States calls the White House home while they are in office. The house's address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. In 1800, John Adams was the first President to call the White House home. The white structure is familiar to all Americans, but most people don't know it was inspired by Dublin, Ireland's Leinster House. Construction started in 1792 and it took about eight years to build.

The house burned during the War in 1812 . The inside was destroyed along with scorched sandstone outside of the building. It took until 1817 to finish rebuilding. The West Wing was finished in 1901, and Teddy Roosevelt was the first President to move his office into that space. In President Taft oversaw the construction of the famous Oval Office. During Truman's time in the office needed structural repairs were made to the White House and the famous Truman Balcony was built. First Lady Jackie Kennedy oversaw the restoration of the interior of the house during her husband's short term in office.

The Executive Branch

The president is the leader of this branch of government. All other members of the branch carry out the President's decisions. Along with being the official executive of the Executive Branch, one of the President's main jobs is to act as a check and balance for the legislative branch. The president either signs bills passed by Congress into law, or vetoes them. Once a Congressional Act becomes law, another one of the president's responsibilities is to make sure the law is carried out. The cabinet is another important part of the Executive Branch. The cabinet is made up of leaders of Executive Branch Agencies, along with the President's Chief of Staff. Every member of the cabinet must be approved by the Senate.

The Legislative Branch

The Legislative Branch is also known as Congress. Congress is made up of two parts, which are the House of Representatives and the Senate. Congress's role in government is to write and vote on legislation. Additionally, this branch is responsible for declaring war and confirming Presidential appointments to the Cabinet and Federal Court Judgeships.

The House of Representatives is made up of 435 legislators. Each state is assigned a specific number of representatives based on its population. The more people live in a state, the more representatives that state has. Representatives are elected every two years. They are led by the Speaker of the House, who is elected by the representatives.

The Senate is the other part of the legislative branch. There are 100 senators. Each state gets the two senators, and each senator is elected for a term lasting six years.

The Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch is made up of courts. Local or state judges are often elected by the citizens. This isn't true of federal judges. The President appoints judges to a lifetime term and then the senate confirms the appointment. There are different levels of Federal Courts, made up of 94 District Courts that cover specific regions around the country. Next are the 13 Courts of Appeals. Finally, there is the Supreme Court. The Judicial Branch interprets the laws of Congress and the US Constitution when a case is brought to them.

Today, most people know the Supreme Court has nine justices. However, the Constitution doesn't actually specify how many Justices should serve at any one time. Like other federal judges, they are appointed by the President to a life term and then confirmed by the senate. The Supreme Court rarely oversees trials. Most of their work is centered on hearing appeals of decisions made by district or appellate courts. Each year the Supreme Court gets more than seven thousand cases to review. About 150 of these are selected to be reviewed by the Supreme Court Justices.

Elections and Voting

Voting is one of the most important rights given to American citizens in the Constitution. Originally, not everyone had this right. When the country was first founded, only white men over the age of 21 were eligible to cast a vote. It took amending the Constitution to give men of color, women, and adults between the ages of 18 and 21 the right to vote. Even now, there are rules about who can vote and how they must do it. For example, people who have been convicted of a felony lose the right to vote in most states. Also, in every state except for North Dakota people must register to vote before Election Day.

By: Jim Olenbush