Government is the people, laws, and officials that define and oversee a country. Governments are mostly concerned with public life, though many of the laws they make and enforce can affect private life too. They are usually organized into three branches; one to make the rules, another to carry them out, and a third to evaluate those laws. This system of checks and balances is called the separation of powers.
Governments can be found at all levels of society – from the most local, such as a township or city, to the most national, such as a country. In addition, they can be divided into multiple different types, depending on how much power they have and how those powers are distributed among them. Governments can also be classified by their structure, the kind of political rights and responsibilities citizens have, and how they get their power.
The origin of government is debated, but most agree that it began with the advent of civilization and a need to organize groups of humans into societies that could function efficiently. The earliest civilizations were tribal, with an overarching chief who managed a group of people and their land. The chief was elected by various rituals or tests of strength, and often had a council of elder tribesmen to advise him. Over time, these tribal governments evolved into nation states – sizable groups of people who shared a common culture, language, or religion and lived together in a definite territory. These nation states would then form their own government institutions to manage the affairs of the state and protect its citizens.
Historically, most governments have been formed by men. However, women and minorities are increasingly gaining the right to participate in the formation of government institutions. Currently, most governments are run by members of a specific political party, which selects candidates to represent them in government offices and organizes activities related to the promotion of its political ideology.
In the United States, Federal power is split between three separate branches – the executive (the President and his cabinet), the legislative (Congress, the Senate, and the House of Representatives) and the judiciary (the Supreme Court). State and local governments have more to do with people’s daily lives than Federal government does. For example, police departments and libraries fall under the control of State and local governments.
Municipal governments, those defined as cities, towns, boroughs (except Alaska), villages, and townships, are responsible for public services, such as parks and recreation, water and waste management, public buildings, emergency medical and fire protection, housing, and municipal courts. They may also be responsible for roads and bridges, street lighting and snow removal, and public transportation. In the US, there are 3,435 municipalities ranging in size from New York City and Los Angeles to Jenkins, Minnesota. Local government is typically based on the census-defined area, but can also be based on population. Many local governments have a written constitution, which is far longer than the Federal Constitution.