American Government vs. British Government


A government of any country is the sole governing authority which is made of political units. Government is not a person but an instrument through which authority is exercised in the area of enforcing laws, making decisions or solving disputes. It is basically a ruling power in a political society. People of a country look at the government as the institute made of various political persons responsible for their betterment, protection and well being. There are different types of government found in different countries, the most common being democracy and dictatorship. The fundamental purpose of the government of any country is to provide security and maintain order working for the benefit of its people. The people obey the government bodies and believe in them so that they work for their betterment. However, there are some negative aspects to governments as well when the politicians constituting it work for their own good rather for that of their subjects.

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Therefore, with both positive and negative aspects, government is sometimes considered a friend while other times considered an enemy of its citizens. The role of governments has increased over the past years and incorporates everything from national security and public order to economic situation, social order, religion and education. The structure of every government varies from one country to another which is defined by the country’s constitution assigning roles and responsibilities at every level[1].

The aim of this research paper is to explore and analyze the governments of United States of American and United Kingdom of Great Britain. The paper will start by exploring the type and government structure of both the countries including their political organizational chart and then provide a comparison and contrast of the two. The paper will end with a concluding paragraph which will include some personal opinion about the both the governments about what I like and what should be changed according to me.


The government of United States of America is essentially a federal republic government which means that it is a common government of the federation. The laws of the government are specific for individual states and territories and the federal government monitors issues concerning all the states. The US federal government is the ruling power of the country and above all governments, branches and levels in the United States of America. The structure and its different branches are explained by the US Constitution. The Constitution is the most important thing in the government because it describes the structure and responsibilities of every branch within the government. The three main principles which it talks about are the rights of the people of United States, Government by the people, and the division of roles, responsibilities and powers between the three branches of government which are executive, legislative and judicial[2]. The Constitution gives full details on the philosophy, duties and responsibilities of the government as well the individual rights and problems faced till today. However, in addition to the Federal government, the Constitution also describes the responsibilities of the State government. These are mentioned in the State constitutions which differ from state to state.  Basically, the powers not given specifically to the federal government in the US constitution are actually the responsibility of the state and included in the state constitutions. This government also constitutes of three branches similar to the federal government but what comprises them is different. The US government also consists of a local government but its structure and responsibilities are defined by a Charter created by the State government. Examples of local governments are city and county governments which are responsible for administering local programs like maintaining schools, collecting garbage, police and fire services etc.

The three branches of the US Federal government have been created through a system of separation of powers and checks and balances. This gives the three branches the authority to act on their own, to regulate the other branches and to get regulated by others. These three branches are the main structure of the US government which enables the government to stand out from rest of the governments of the world. The US constitution limits the powers of the federal government and divides them at a national and state level. The policies of the federal government are controlled by the US constitution because they have a considerable impact on the domestic and foreign affairs of the country. The three branches were established because the Constitution didn’t want to concentrate all the powers in the hands of one or few instead separate branches were created each with its own distinct powers. This ensured the establishment of a strong central government at the center with a lawmaking and enforcement system while balancing the power between all three[3]. The three branches are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Legislative Branch

Legislative branch is basically the legislative or lawmaking branch of the government which is established in the Article I of the constitution. It was established with the formation of a bicameral Congress. It is bicameral because it comprises of House of Representatives and the Senate. The representation is based on population in the former while there is equal representation in the latter. Again the powers of the Congress are limited by the Constitution giving the other powers to the states and the people.  The House of Representatives consists of 436 voting members and 5 non-voting members. The elected one serves for a two-year period and the house seats are apportioned to the state on the basis of population. In contrast, there are two senators for each State who serve for six-year term. Both of the houses are equally important in the Congress because the consent of both is required to make any law. There are numerous powers given to the Congress by the Constitution through which they work for the betterment of the people, society, state and the government. There are also numerous functions performed by the Congress which can be called congressional oversight. This ensures that there is no fraud, people are informed of their individual and civil liberties, they are compliant to the law and also it gathers information for making laws and evaluates executive performance[4].

Executive Branch

The executive branch consists of the President, Vice-President and cabinet members where the most executive power is vested in the hands of the President. The President is basically the leader of the country and he chooses his vice-president as a running mate. Both are selected by the Electoral College. The president has the dual role of the head of state of government as well as military commander-in-chief. The powers of the president can be divided into three categories namely Head of State, Administrative and Legislative powers. He has numerous responsibilities to perform in the area of Head of State such as addressing and convening congress, appointing ambassadors to the nation, appointing cabinet members and court judges, and enforcing the laws of the country. In the administrative area, he has the authority to appoint the heads of the executive departments with the approval of the senate. In the legislative area, the Congress cannot pass a law or legislation without the approval of the President. The Vice-president is the president of the senate and takes the charge of the president when the President is not able to serve. There are fifteen cabinet members which include various departments[5].

Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of the US federal government was established with the creation of the Supreme Court which is the highest court in the federal court system. Other federal courts were also established by the congress since they were necessary. The Supreme Court deals with matters related to the federal government, United States Constitution, disputes between states and execution and compliance of law. Each state has its own court which has its own laws, rules and procedures. The most important matter in which Supreme Court deals is the US constitution interpretation. This process is known as Judicial Review. The head of the Supreme Court is essentially the head of the entire judicial branch called Chief Justice and he is assisted by eight members called Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has complete authority over the federal courts of US but this authority is limited in the case of state courts[6].

Elections and Voting

Previously, elections were held only for the House of Representatives and state legislatures and voting was only a matter of state government. But today, both the houses are directly elected and all the US citizens have a right to take part in it without any discrimination.

State and Local governments

Each state government has their own written constitution and code of laws and has the greatest influence on the daily lives of the Americans. Though there are differences in the law and procedures of the states but they all have the same elected official called Governor, elected state legislature and state court system. Local governments comprise of institutions like town, city or counties etc. They are responsible for issues like traffic, electricity etc.


Source: Washlaw, “U.S. Government Organizational Chart.” Washlaw. Washburn University. 16 Jan 2009 <>.


The government of United Kingdom of Great Britain is mostly popularly known as Her Majesty’s Government (or his when appropriate). It is basically a monarchy where executive authority is exercised by a monarch and consists of monarch’s ministers. There is no one single written constitution describing the rules of the government rather the constitution is formed from various sources like statute law, case law and international treaties. The King or the Queen has numerous responsibilities since he or she is the head of the executive branch of the government, head of judiciary, military commander-in-chief and supreme governor of the Church of England. UK government is essentially a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch. In simple words, the head of the state is a king or a queen and the head of the government is the prime minister. Elections are carried for selecting the members of parliament in which people have the right vote since these members are their representatives. The Prime Minister forms a cabinet in which he chooses senior government ministers who are the heads of government departments and therefore called Secretary of the State. The Cabinet is simply the supreme decision making body in the government[7].


Britain’s legislature is the Parliament which is made up of House of Commons, House of Lords and the constitutional role of Queen. The ministers are appointed both from the House of Commons and House of Lords. The main functions of the parliament includes passing legislation, scrutinizing the work of government, work on the taxation system and debate major issues. Parliament is most important because the government is directly accountable to it and has therefore, absolute sovereignty over all the government institutions. Parliament is also responsible for making the law while judges only interpret the law which is in contrast to Judicial Review. The center of the parliamentary power is the House of Commons and the House of Lords’ powers are supposed to complement it and not rival it. The parliament exerts control over the executive branch through a number of ways by raising questions, debates or discussions. House of the Commons has the power to force a government to resign by passing a resolution of ‘no confidence’. Members of the parliament are elected every 5 years through general elections in which people vote through secret ballot and those having majority votes wins the election. The political party which receives the highest support from the House of Commons forms the government[8].

Local Authorities

There are various local authorities in UK government each having its own duties and responsibilities which are further divided into rural and urban areas. They are responsible for their own local matters such as public transport, education, community politics etc. The local government consists of two common systems namely, two-tier and single-tier system. The former one being older is more complex and consists of District and County Councils. District Councils deal with matters pertaining to rubbish collection, council housing etc while the County Councils are responsible for social services, public transport and education. All the laws pertaining to local government are decided by the Parliament and UK government[9].

The states have their own legal systems with their own rules and procedures which have minor differences from each other. The head of the Judiciary branch of government is called the Lord Chancellor and he along with Home Secretary, Attorney General and Secretaries of the State are responsible for the administration of the law. The Lord Chancellor is always selected from the House of Lords. The Queen’s Court and the Crown are the main courts of the United Kingdom.

Composition of UK Government

UK government is composed of various departments and ministers starting with Prime Minister who is also the First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service. He is appointed by majority support from the House of Commons and possesses the power to appoint or dismiss ministers. There are then Department ministers who are also called the Secretary of the State and are head of their respective governments. Followed by these are the Non-departmental ministers who are the holders of traditional offices and Lord Chancellor and law officers responsible for the judiciary. Finally there are Ministers of State and Junior Ministers who have specific responsibilities and duties where the former works with the department ministers and latter share in parliamentary and departmental duties[10].


Source: Wikipedia, “Local government in England.” 19 Dec 2008. Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. 16 Jan 2009 <>.


After describing the main structure and composition of both types of government, it is easy to provide a comparison and contrast of them.

 As we see that the first and foremost difference that exists is that US is a federal republic while UK is a parliamentary democracy consisting of monarchs. The structure of the US government is composed of three branches whereas the structure of UK government is composed of various departments and ministers. The federal government has Congress consisting of House of Representatives and Senate whereas the parliament has House of Commons and the House of Lords. Another major difference between the two resides in the Constitution. The US Constitution is a single written document which describes the philosophy and the various roles and responsibilities of the government in relation to the three branches where as the UK Constitution is made from different sources and therefore, is not single written document. It also includes some unwritten sources. Unlike US, there is no Supreme Court in UK which governs all other courts and matters of judiciary. The Chief Justice is equivalent to the Lord Chancellor since both are heads of the judiciary. In UK, the parliament has the authority over all the government institutions while in the US each of three branches has individual authority to good extent. The Head of the State in US is the President while in the UK it is the King or the Queen. The term periods for which they serve are also different. The local governments in UK are based on two-tier or single-tier system unlike United States government[11].

There are also similarities between the two forms of the government but they are very few. The King or Queen of UK and the President of US share similar responsibilities and have got similar powers. In both forms of government, the different states have their own laws and procedures with minor differences. A cabinet of ministers exists in each of the government though their numbers are different. Both forms of government carry out elections for appointing members of the Congress in US and members of parliament in UK. The head of the State chooses a Prime Minister who is basically the head of the government[12].


It was observed during the research that the UK form of government is very complex and difficult to understand even for the people of the country whereas the US government is relatively simple and easy to understand. The concept of Kings and Queens is the main difference between the two which makes one government a monarchy while the other is federal republic. In my personal opinion, US government is more famous because of its simplicity and clear division between the responsibilities of the three branches. UK government should also try to make its government structure simpler so that it can be easily understood at least by the people of the state.


Britannia, “Government in Britain.” 2004. Britannia Panaroma. 16 Jan 2009 <>.

Heineman, Robert A., and Steven A. Peterson. American Government. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill, 1995.

Sobel, Syl. How the U.S. Government Works. Barron’s Educational Series , 1999.

McGeehan, John, and Morris Gall. Let’s Review U.S. History and Government (Let’s Review: Us History and Government). 4th ed. Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.

Moran, Michael. Politics and Governance in the UK (Hardcover). Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Washlaw, “U.S. Government Organizational Chart.” Washlaw. Washburn University. 16 Jan 2009 <>.

Watts, Duncan. Understanding US/UK Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide (Understanding politics) . 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008.

Wikipedia, “Local government in England.” 19 Dec 2008. Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. 16 Jan 2009 <>.

[1] Sobel, Syl. How the U.S. Government Works. Barron’s Educational Series , 1999.

[2] Heineman, Robert A., and Steven A. Peterson. American Government. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill, 1995.

[3] Sobel, Syl. How the U.S. Government Works. Barron’s Educational Series , 1999.

[4] McGeehan, John, and Morris Gall. Let’s Review U.S. History and Government (Let’s Review: Us History and Government). 4th ed. Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.

[5] Heineman, Robert A., and Steven A. Peterson. American Government. 2nd ed. McGraw Hill, 1995.

[6] Sobel, Syl. How the U.S. Government Works. Barron’s Educational Series , 1999.

[7] Moran, Michael. Politics and Governance in the UK (Hardcover). Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

[8] Britannia, “Government in Britain.” 2004. Britannia Panaroma. 16 Jan 2009 <>.

[9] Wikipedia, “Local government in England.” 19 Dec 2008. Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. 16 Jan 2009 <>.

[10] Britannia, “Government in Britain.” 2004. Britannia Panaroma. 16 Jan 2009 <>.

[11] Watts, Duncan. Understanding US/UK Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide (Understanding politics) . 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008.

[12] Watts, Duncan. Understanding US/UK Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide (Understanding politics) . 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008.


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