Government Definition

Government may be defined as a political organization comprising the individuals and institutions authorized to formulate public policies and conduct affairs of state. Governments are empowered to establish and regulate the interrelationships of the people within their territorial confines, the relations of the people with the community as a whole, and the dealings of the community with other political entities. Government applies in this sense both to the governments of national states, such as the federal government of the U.S., and to the governments of subdivisions of national states, such as the state, county, and municipal governments of the U.S. and the governments of the provinces of Canada. Such organizations as universities, labor unions, and churches are also broadly governmental in many of their functions. The word government may refer to the people who form the supreme administrative body of a country, as in the expression “the government of Prime Minister Churchill.” (1)


Governments are classified in a great many ways and from a wide variety of standpoints; many of the categories inevitably overlap. A familiar classification is that which distinguishes monarchic from republican governments. Scholars in modern times, especially in the 20th century, have stressed the characteristics that distinguish democratic governments from dictatorships. In one classification of governments, federal states are distinguished from unitary states. Federal states, such as the U.S. and Switzerland, comprise unions of states in which the authority of the central or national government is constitutionally limited by the legally established powers of the constituent subdivisions. In unitary states, such as Great Britain and Belgium, the constituent subdivisions of the state are subordinate to the authority of the national government. The degree of subordination varies from country to country. It may also vary within a country from time to time and according to circumstance; for example, the central authority of the national government in Italy was greatly increased from 1922 to 1945, during the period of the Fascist dictatorship. In one classification of democratic nations, parliamentary or cabinet governments are distinguished from presidential ones. In parliamentary governments, of which Great Britain, India, and Canada are examples, the executive branch is subordinate to the legislature. In presidential governments, such as in the U.S., the executive is independent of the legislature, although many of the executive’s actions are subject to legislative review. Still other classifications hinge on varying governmental forms and powers among the nations of the world.

In the theory of political science, the function of government is to secure the common welfare of the members of the social aggregate over which it exercises control. In different historical epochs, governments have endeavored to achieve the common welfare by various means. Among primitive peoples, systems of social control were rudimentary; they arose directly from ideas of right and wrong common to the members of a social group and were enforced on individuals primarily through group pressure. Among more civilized peoples, governments assumed institutional forms; they rested on defined legal bases, imposing penalties on violators of the law and using force to establish themselves and discharge their functions. (2)

History of Government

The despotic empires of Egypt, Sumer, Assyria, Persia, and Macedonia were followed by the rise of city-states. See more about the History of Government, including Rome, Middle Ages and the modern nation-state.

The United States Government

The operation of the United States government is based on the US Constitution that was adopted by Congress in 1789. A key feature of the United States Constitution is federalism, an original idea for power sharing between states on the one hand, and the national government on the other. Another major feature of the Constitution is the principal of separation of powers within the national government, with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

The government of the United States is truly national in character. It can deal with the people of the country directly, not just indirectly through the states. This is certain powers such as the powers to make war and deal with other nations are granted exclusively to the national government and are denied to the states. Still others such as law enforcement and taxing powers overlap and can be exercised by both the national and the state governments.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention had no pattern to go by when they sewed this system together. And they were not quite sure what they had when they finished with it, but the system came to be called federalism in the United States, government based upon a written constitution in which power is divided between ( and shared by ) the national government and the states, it is also divided within the federal government. The national government features a separation of powers. Its executive branch, its legislative branch, and its judicial branch exercise powers that are largely separate and distinct. Congress is the legislative branch. It makes laws. The President is supposed to execute, or carry out, the laws. And the courts interpret the laws determining exactly what laws means if there is a dispute.

There is not a strict and complete separation of powers, but a partial one, the powers of the three branches overlap. The separation and the overlapping of powers are called checks and balances. The presidential veto is a good example. It is a presidential check on the power of Congress. If in disagreement with a bill passed by Congress, the President can veto (reject) it. In that case, the bill cannot become law unless it is again passed by both houses of Congress, but this time it must be passed by a two-thirds vote of both the House of Representatives and Senate to become law.

Congress can check the power of the President and the judiciary in that, for example, it is Congress which has control over the budgets and expenditures of the other branches. Within Congress, itself, each house checks the power of the other because it takes the agreement of both houses to make a law. The judiciary checks the powers of the executive and legislative branches through its authority to interpret the law and the Constitution and to issue orders binding on the other branches- as when the Supreme Court ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over tapes of conversations in his office to a lower court in a criminal case.

Government in Election Law

Political body within a state which holds executive power to establish the general policy of the state and enforce the law. A government can be formed by parliament, as is the case in a parliamentary system, or by a president who is elected by universal suffrage, as is the case in a presidential system.

Women in Government at Ministerial Level (in the Human Development Area)

In this context, Women in Government at Ministerial Level means:

includes deputy prime ministers and ministers. Prime ministers were included when they held ministerial portfolios. Vice-presidents and heads of ministerial-level departments or agencies were also included when exercising a ministerial function in the government structure.Government

Federal government

The government of the entire country, as distinguished from the governments of the several states. For additional information related to the definition of Federal government in connection to Government, please visit the legal dictionary here. Government

Local government

The government or administration of a particular locality. For additional information related to the definition of Local government in connection to Government, please visit the legal dictionary here. Government

Mixed government

A form of government combining some of the features of two or all of the three primary forms. For additional information related to the definition of Mixed government in connection to Government, please visit the legal dictionary here. Government

Republican government

Powers of sovereignty are vested in the people. For additional information related to the definition of Republican government in connection to Government, please visit the legal dictionary here.


Embracing mainstream international law, this section on government explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.

Directorate-general (DG) and Europe

There is an entry on directorate-general (dg) in the European legal encyclopedia.



This entry provides an overview of the legal framework of government, with a description of the most significant features of government at international level.

Related Work and Conclusions



See Also

  • Enterprise
  • Joint Enterprise
  • Joint Venture


See Also

  • De facto government
  • Federal government
  • Judiciary
  • Legislature
  • Seat of government


See Also

References (Papers)

  • The President’s Private Dictionary: How Secret Definitions Undermine Domestic And Transnational Efforts At Executive Branch Accountability, Sudha Setty, Jan 2017
  • Exile And Election: The Case For Barring Exiled Leaders From Contesting In National Elections, Fizza Batool, Jan 2017
  • A Us Clean Energy Transition And The Trump Administration, Joseph P. Tomain, Jan 2017
  • Article Ii, Section 2, Paragraphs 2-3 (With John Mcginnis), National Constitution Center, Peter M. Shane, Dec 2016
  • Election Law And The Presidency: An Introduction And Overview, Jerry H. Goldfeder, Dec 2016
  • Reforming The Contested Convention: Rethinking The Presidential Nomination Process, Michael T. Morley, Dec 2016


See Also

Further Reading

  • Entry “Directorate-general (DG)” in the work “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)


Further Reading

  • The entry “government” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


See Also

  • Election Law
  • Electoral Laws
  • Electoral Legislation


See Also

Government Censorship
Overthrow of Government
Reproduction of law in Government sites
Government Classifications
Government History
Agreement On Government Procurement
Reproduction of law in Government sites
Government Censorship
History of Government
Overthrow of Government
Local Government
US Government Agencies Cross References

Notes and References

  1. Information about Government in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Id.

Guide to Government

Hierarchical Display of Government

Politics > Executive power and public service > Executive body
Politics > Politics and public safety > Politics > Political crisis > Cabinet reshuffle
Politics > Political framework > Political philosophy > Legitimacy
Politics > Politics and public safety > Politics > Political crisis > Resignation of the government


Concept of Government

See the dictionary definition of Government.

Characteristics of Government

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Translation of Government

Thesaurus of Government

Politics > Executive power and public service > Executive body > Government
Politics > Politics and public safety > Politics > Political crisis > Cabinet reshuffle > Government
Politics > Political framework > Political philosophy > Legitimacy > Government
Politics > Politics and public safety > Politics > Political crisis > Resignation of the government > Government

See also

  • Government structure
  • National government