When the Founding Fathers set about creating the American system of government after a successful rebellion from England, they had no idea how the system would evolve over the course of more than 200 years. The system built on a cornerstone of civil liberties now boasts one of the largest world militaries and a commitment to help the needy, maintain transportation networks and protect its citizens from irresponsible manufacturers.
Protect Civil Rights
The U.S. government is set up to ensure that all Americans regardless of race, gender or creed are afforded the same rights, privileges and participation in government. When the Founding Fathers ratified the U.S. Constitution, they included the Bill of Rights to protect freedoms of speech, freedom of the press and freedom from unlawful searches and seizure of their property. The Bill of Rights was later amended to abolish slavery after the U.S. Civil War and extend the right to vote to former slaves, then women, then to citizens 18 and older.
Maintain a Justice System
The federal government and each state have laws to protect citizens from criminal activity and punish offenders. Local, city and state governments hire and maintain police forces and court systems to enforce laws. The Federal Bureau of Investigation enforces laws that cross state lines. The FBI enforces the law against terrorists, bank robbers, embezzlers and corrupt federal politicians. The U.S. Department of Justice also defends federal laws. A network of courts metes out punishments for criminal offenders, starting with 94 district courts. You can appeal decisions to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court.
Whether it’s a world war or civil war, the U.S. government has provided military protection for its citizens starting with the American Revolution. The U.S. Department of Defense is the umbrella over the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard. In this century, U.S. armed forces invaded Iraq to depose dictator Saddam Hussein and invaded Afghanistan following the destruction of the twin towers in New York City by terrorists. In 2010, the U.S. military had 1.4 million people deployed in active duty and 833,000 in the reserves.
Build and Maintain Infrastructure
The U.S. government is responsible for building and maintaining the nation's network of highways. The Federal Highway Administration oversees more than 46,000 miles of interstate highways, plus all the bridges, tunnels and ramps built into the system. The federal government subsidizes mass transit systems, such as the New York subway system overseen by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as well as commuter rail lines and public bus systems. The government has taken a leading role in some energy production projects, such as the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada.
Provide a Safety Net
When you can’t earn what you need to survive, the government is there to provide some assistance. The Social Security Administration was set up after the Great Depression in the early 20th century to provide help for the elderly who lack retirement funds. The agency also provides free health care for the elderly and a stipend for the mentally or physically disabled. The government also provides temporary employment benefits for those out of work and welfare funds for low income individuals who qualify. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 extended basic medical care to Americans without health insurance.
Keep Products and Services Safe
Americans are less likely to eat spoiled food or suffer side effects from untested drugs due to the vigilance of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency mandates recalls for hazardous products, such as toys that can harm children or mass shipments of spoiled food. Drugs must pass through a years-long screening process before they receive approval from the FDA for widespread distribution. The FDA regulates medical devices, vaccines and cosmetics. It requires cancer warning labels on tobacco products and regulates marketing practices for tobacco products.
- Archives.gov: The Bill of Rights
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- United States Department of Justice: Our Mission Statement
- United States Courts: Federal Courts
- U.S. Department of Defense
- Christian Science Monitor: American’s Biggest Jobs Program; The U.S. Military
- Federal Highway Administration: Frequently Asked Questions
- Metropolitan Transportation Authority
- U.S. Department of the Interior: Hoover Dam
- United States Social Security Administration
- Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images