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The Structure of the National Government

  • republic
  • Constitution
  • Founders
  • arbitrary
  • Seventeenth Amendment
  • virtue
  • justice
  • judicial review
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Articles of Confederation
  • Framers

The Structure of the National Government Activity: The Executive Branch

Distribute Handout A: Executive Powers and a copy of The United States Constitution.

Divide the class into pairs or trios and assign one section of the Constitution (in the first column of the chart) to each group. Have students become “experts” on their section of the Constitution, and then jigsaw into new groups with one member representing each section. Each student should then complete the remainder of Handout A.

Conduct a large group discussion to answer the questions:

Does the President have any lawmaking power? If so, how much?

The President is charged with executing (or carrying out) the laws. Why do you think the Founders gave this power to a separate branch of government rather than the branch that makes laws?

Why do you think the Founders gave the power of enforcing the law to a separate branch of government than the branch that makes laws, or the branch that interprets them?

Does the President’s power as Commander in Chief empower him to use military force against American citizens? If so, under what circumstances?

Does the President have a responsibility to enforce all laws passed by Congress? How do you know?

How far can the President go in “tak[ing] care that the laws are faithfully executed”? How far should he go?

At the Constitutional Convention, some delegates worried that the President would become too much like a king. A single executive, one worried, was the “fetus of monarchy.” In describing the executive power, did the Founders do a good job of preventing that possibility?

The Structure of the National Government Activity: The Legislative Branch

Review Article I of the Constitution with students. Make a list of the powers of the legislative branch on the board as you talk, and discuss how each house is different.

Make sure to explain that the Senate was originally elected by the state legislators, but that the Seventeenth Amendment changed the mode of election to a vote by the people within each state.

Also explain that all bills for raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives and discuss why students think the Founders made that distinction.

After the students have a good understanding of the legislative branch and its powers, discuss the process of how a bill becomes a law with students. Use Handout B: How a Bill Becomes a Law to have students follow along with the steps as you discuss them.

After you have discussed how a bill becomes a law, have students work in groups to create a flow chart on a large poster board to illustrate the steps.

The Structure of the National Government Activity: The Judicial Branch

Have students do a role-play activity to learn how the Supreme Court works. See the directions on Handout C: Moot Court Procedures for Teachers.

Choose one of the Supreme Court cases you are about to discuss, have just finished discussing, or choose from the cases listed on Handout D: Supreme Court Cases Background Information.

Next Lesson

National Government, Crisis, and Civil Liberties