Civics is the study of citizenship and how a system of government works. Studying civics in the United States includes learning about the different branches of the government and how they work together. Understanding civics prepares you to be a part of adult society, following laws and voting for people to represent you in government positions. As you learn about civics, you will also study United States history, which helps you understand how the country came to be what it is today. Criminal defense attorney Diana Aizman explains important elements of our history and related constitutional amendments.
The British government passed laws designed to control the colonists living in America, but the colonists did not like these laws. The American Revolution was fought between 1775 and 1783 as the colonists tried to gain their independence from Great Britain. The Treaty of Paris was the formal end of the American Revolution.
Initially, the colonists just wanted more freedom from Great Britain, but they were willing to continue being loyal to the king. However, it eventually became obvious that the colonies needed full independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was the official statement of this independence from Britain.
Take a quiz or watch a short movie about the U.S. Constitution to learn more about United States civics. The Constitution outlines exactly how the United States government works. The men who wrote the Constitution knew that it would have to be flexible to continue to be the law of the land over a long period of time. The United States is made up of a central government and many different state governments.
After adopting the Constitution as the law of the land, it became necessary to add to it to make it better. The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments that were added to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights passed and was added to the Constitution in 1791. This collection of amendments gives specific rights to the American people.
Lawmakers realized that it would be necessary to add to the Constitution as time went on. While many amendments have been proposed, only 27 have been approved to be added to the Constitution. Successfully adding amendments to the Constitution is a long process.
The Legislative Branch is the section of government that makes the laws of the land. The legislature is Congress, and it includes the Senate and the House of Representatives. American people elect members of Congress. These elections occur every two years.
The courts and the judges who preside in the courtrooms make up the Judicial Branch of the United States government. The Judicial Branch is designed to make decisions about the laws passed by Congress. The court system has many different levels designed to hear different cases. Federal judges are appointed to their positions for their entire lives, and they don’t have to be elected.
The Executive Branch includes the president, the vice president, and the president’s Cabinet. The president has to be at least 35 years old and has to be a natural-born United States citizen. The president is in charge of the Executive Branch. The president also makes sure that the federal government operates correctly.
People with leadership positions in the House of Representatives have to make sure that daily duties are performed. The speaker of the House is the leader of the United States House of Representatives. Members of the House of Representatives vote in an election to decide who will be the speaker of the House for the next term. The speaker takes charge of meetings of the House.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country, and all other courts in the land have to follow decisions made by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has nine justices, which includes one chief justice and eight associate justices. The Supreme Court gets to choose the cases it will hear. Cases are usually heard by lower courts first before the Supreme Court.
George Washington was the first president of the United States, serving between the years of 1789 and 1797. Washington was also a general in the Continental Army. Washington was known for his military strategy during the American Revolution. He served two terms as president.
The president has the power to veto, or reject, bills passed by Congress, which means that a bill won’t become a law. If a president vetoes a bill, Congress may be able to override the veto if two-thirds of each house votes for the bill again. Overriding a veto doesn’t happen very often. Andrew Johnson was the president who had the most vetoes overridden by Congress.
The United States Senate is made up of 100 senators, two from every state. The House of Representatives has 435 members, with each state having a number of representatives determined by the number of people living in the state. The Senate occupies the north wing of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The House of Representatives meets in the south wing of the Capitol.
Slavery was the issue that caused widespread disagreements between states during the years that led up to the Civil War in the mid-1800s. As the country expanded by adding more and more states, officials argued about whether the new states would or would not allow slavery. When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, people in the South were afraid that their way of life would be taken from them. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, and he was vehemently against slavery and the spread of this practice. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, but he turned his interests to politics as slavery began spreading throughout the country. Lincoln was re-elected to a second term in 1864. He died in 1865 when he was assassinated.
The 14th Amendment was created to protect the civil rights of slaves who were freed at the end of the Civil War. This amendment defines citizenship for the United States. The 14th Amendment is the longest one that has been added to the Constitution. Adding this amendment took a long time because many people disagreed with it.
With the passing of the 15th Amendment, black men received the right to vote. This amendment was ratified in 1870. Although black men now had the right to vote, they still faced many difficulties. One roadblock created to stop black men from voting was a literacy test that required people to prove that they could read before they could vote.
Suffrage means having the right to vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was finally ratified. Women struggled to receive the right to vote for many decades before they finally got it with this amendment.
Black men gained the right to vote 50 years before women in the United States were finally given the right to cast their votes in elections. World War I was instrumental in the passing and ratification of the 19th Amendment: Women’s contributions during this war finally pushed Congress into passing the law.
Branches of Government (PDF)
Each of the three branches of the U.S. federal government work together to make the country run. The United States Constitution is the central law that dictates how the branches operate. The people in each branch have specific duties, and they all help to rein in the power of the others.
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, serving between 1801 and 1809. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826. He was a lawyer, and he also served as secretary of State under George Washington.
John Adams was the second president of the United States. He was George Washington’s vice president before being elected president himself. John Adams served as a diplomat during the Revolutionary War. He was also involved in negotiating the treaty of peace.
James Monroe served under George Washington in the Continental Army, and he received a war wound that affected him for the rest of his life. Thomas Jefferson was Monroe’s mentor. Monroe is known for being involved in negotiations of the Louisiana Purchase.
Take a virtual tour of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The mansion includes parlors, a study, bed chambers, a cellar, and more. There were also many outbuildings on the estate. You can see the kitchen, a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, a spinning room, and other buildings.
Each president has sealed a place in history, adding unique and fascinating history to this office. For example, in the beginning, the White House was called the President’s Palace. It was Theodore Roosevelt who gave the White House its official name.