The first three articles of the United States Constitution hold the provisions that define the structure of American government. They divide governance into three branches: the legislative branch (known in practice as Congress), the executive branch (i. e. the Presidency) and the judicial branch (manifest as the Supreme Court). Each branch possesses different powers not by mere accident of design, but with clear and purposeful intent. The structure of the government was determined as a deliberate ‘separation of powers’ provided by the United States Constitution.
It ensures that not one arm of the government possesses too much power, though it is important to note that the powers specific to each branch are not limited solely to the functional dimension of their roles but extend to an ability to restrict the abuse of branch-specific powers or wielding unnecessary influence upon one another. (De Grazia, 1957) The ability of each branch to restrain one another is known as the system of checks and balances, wherein the powers of one branch are limited by the powers of another branch.
For example, while the Presidency may be the executive branch of the federal government, the extent of its abilities – namely, those given to it for the purposes of ensuring the faithful execution of laws – are limited by the laws passed by Congress. Furthermore, it is a responsibility of Congress to investigate and oversee the activities of the executive branch, for the purposes of restricting or preventing any abuses of power. This is referred to as ‘congressional oversight’. However, the judicial branch also restricts the powers granted to Congress.
Although it is Congress which makes the laws, initiate investigations and impeach high-ranking officials, the judicial branch can invoke the Constitution to repeal questionable laws that may or may not be unconstitutional. compel the presentation of evidence and testimony to challenge investigations. These two principles - the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances – possess a symbiotic relationship which is highly telling of why the American government was designed the way it was.
It is indicative of The Founding Fathers’ vision that government would function in a way that prevented multiple powers from being aggregated in the hands of one entity, such as a monarch. In effect, the structure of American government prevents the centralization of power that allowed the British monarchy to indulge in the political and economic excesses that the Founding Fathers revolted against in the first place. Prior to the ratification of the Constitution, the idea that governance would be the sovereign right of individual states was a consideration that held much currency.
However, such a structure ran the risk of weakening the united states – lowercase intentional - as a whole. The Founding Fathers vision, in its essence, invoked Federalist concerns: the need for a strong central government with a consistent scheme of taxation, a standing army ready to defend all states, etc. that ensured the preservation, maximization and defense of the liberties mandated by the Constitution, but limited in power.