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Unit 8


South Dakota Government

Lesson 1
Nation and State

     Governments make and carry out rules. They also settle arguments about rules. The rules that governments make are called laws. Towns and counties have governments. States, tribes, and nations do too.

     In the United States, it is the citizens who give authority to governments. Authority is the power to make people do things. This power is given through laws. The men who set up our country made the first and most important law. It is the Constitution of the United States (you read about this in Unit 1). The Constitution is the highest law in our country. All other laws are built from it. It says that our government will stand up for people’s rights. Our government will also work for the good of all the people.

     The leaders who wrote the Constitution wanted people to have the right to change the law. Changes to the Constitution are called amendments. The first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is about personal rights. It gives us freedom of speech. It says that all people can practice whatever religion they choose. It says that each citizen has a right to a fair trial. Later, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the same rights as men.

     The Constitution sets up the national government in Washington, D. C. It sets up state governments. It makes the states share power with the national government. Only the national government can do some things. Only the states can do other things. Some things both can do. The sharing of power in this way is called federalism.

United States Constitution
United States Constitution


U.S. Capitol
Photo from U.S. Capitol Historical Society brochure


     Only the national government can declare war or make treaties with other nations. The national government can issue money. It can oversee trade among the states. The states cannot do these things. States can ratify amendments to the Constitution. States must look after the health and safety of their people. Both nation and state can collect taxes. They can both set up courts and protect people’s rights.

     Citizens choose government leaders by voting in elections. A citizen must be eighteen years old to vote. The states hold the elections. A person who is elected will serve one term. A term is a set number of years. To serve more than one term, a person must be elected again. Elections and terms make sure that leaders do not get too strong. They must not forget to do what the people want them to do.

Ballot Box, 1960s
Photo courtesy of South Dakota State Historical Society

Presidential Seal     The Constitution also keeps governments from getting too much power. It works like this. The governments are set up in three branches. They are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.  Each branch has different powers. The legislative branch makes laws. Congress is the legislative branch of national government. The executive branch makes sure that laws are followed. The president is the leader of the executive branch. The judicial branch decides what the laws mean when people cannot agree about them. The Supreme Court and lower courts make up the judicial branch.

     The branches have separate powers, but they are not independent of each other. The Constitution sets up checks and balances. These allow each branch to make sure that the others are doing a good job. For example, Congress can make a law, but the president can veto it if he does not think it is right. If enough members of Congress still want the law, they can vote to ignore the veto. Congress can also impeach a president. The judicial branch can say that the laws that Congress made are unconstitutional. The courts can also say that the president is doing things that are wrong.U. S. Supreme Court Seal The president picks out the Supreme Court justices. Congress votes on whether or not it agrees with the choices. These rules check the powers of each branch. They make sure that no branch of government gets too strong.

citizens (n.), members of a state or nation

impeach (v.), to accuse or bring charges against

independent (adj.), free; not under the power of others

justices (n.), judges who settle arguments about laws and crimes

taxes (n.), money collected by a government to pay for services

unconstitutional (adj.), against the Constitution

veto (v.), to reject