checks and balances
Core U.S. constitutional principle whereby each separate branch of government has limiting powers over the others and thus no one branch can become supreme.

divided government
Electoral result in which one party controls the presidency and the other one or both houses of Congress; theoretically and in occasional practice it can lead to paralysis.

judicial review
Power vested in the courts to review legislation and executive actions to determine their constitutionality.

Montesquieu, Baron de
French political philosopher (1689-1755) whose Spirit of the Laws, a seminal work of political theory, greatly influenced the Founding Fathers.

question time
Weekly period in Britain's House of Commons when the prime minister and members of the cabinet are quizzed about their policies and actions.

responsible government
Principle that the government is answerable to the legislature. British prime ministers were originally appointed by the crown and only gradually did they become responsible to Parliament rather than the monarch. The phrase responsible government was specifically used in the struggle to establish democratic governments in Canada and Australia during the 19th century.

shared powers
As a counterpoint to separation of powers, the principle that the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court share power over the laws of the country. The U.S. system of government is sometimes called a "shared-powers system."

Political party official who is charged with "whipping" party members into line on important votes. In the United States the party whips are influential figures, but they do not have the power of their counterparts in Great Britain. Because voting the party line is so important to the survival of the government, failure to follow the whip can lead to virtual expulsion from the party.

Every week the British prime minister appears before the House of Commons and must answer questions put to him or her by the members of Parliament. Sometimes it is suggested that the president of the United States should be subject to similar questioning by members of Congress, as a way of encouraging closer interaction between president and Congress. If the president did so, however, it would be his or her choice; the president is elected directly by the people and is answerable to the voters rather than the legislature. Whereas the prime minister has no choice because he or she is a member of Parliament and is directly accountable to that body. Herein lies a very basic difference between the presidential system of government as it exists in the United States and the parliamentary system that has evolved in Great Britain.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution adopted the principle first enunciated by the Baron de Montesquieu of separation of powers. They carefully spelled out the independence of the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. At the same time, however, they provided for a system in which some powers should be shared: Congress may pass laws, but the president can veto them; the president nominates certain public officials, but Congress must approve the appointments; and laws passed by Congress as well as executive actions are subject to judicial review. Thus the separation of powers is offset by what are sometimes called checks and balances.

In a parliamentary system, by contrast, the legislature holds supreme power. The prime minister is chosen by members of the legislature (Parliament) from among their own number and in practice is the leader of the majority party in the legislature. The cabinet members must also belong to the legislature, where they are subject to the same kind of questioning that the prime minister experiences. If the prime minister loses the support of the majority in the legislature on a significant vote, he or she must resign, and elections are called immediately. Thus, whereas in the United States, elections are held at fixed intervals, in Britain and other parliamentary countries, they may occur at any time, the only restriction being (in Britain) that they must be held at least once every five years.

Here are some topics to explore that relate to Presidential and Parliamentary Government. Looking at the articles, images, and other materials in this Research Starter may give you more ideas. Each topic has one or more articles to start you on your research, but remember that it takes more than one article to make a research paper. Continue your research with our list of articles below.

What are some of the differences between a parliamentary and constitutional government?
Constitution of the United States (I)
Constitution of the United States (II)

What are the separation of powers and why is it important in parliamentary and constitutional governments?
Separation of Powers
Prime Minister

Who was John Locke and what did he contribute to these governmental systems?
John Locke

Congress of the United States

President of the United States

Presidents of the United States Chart
Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Canada
Prime Ministers of Great Britian
Common Law
Constitution of the United States (I)
Constitution of the United States (II)
Constitution of the United States (III)
  House of Representatives, U.S. (2007-2009)
  Judicial Review
  Political Parties
  Separation of Powers
  John Locke
  Senate, U.S. (2007-2009)
  Spirit of the Laws, The (excerpt)
  Reform Acts
  Parliament Act

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10 Downing Street
The official Web site of the British prime minister offers press releases, official statements, facts about prime ministers past and present, and an opportunity to join an open discussion online.

American Presidents: Life Portraits
Companion to C-Span's series on American presidents, with a page on each offering facts, a portrait, texts, audio files, references, and links. Search for presidential landmarks, use the teaching resources, conduct a search, view the series schedule.

Civnet: International Resource for civic education and civil society
Current and historical governmental issues are covered in news and longer articles; teaching resources include bibliographies, lesson plans, and a large collection of 'great documents.' Web site of Civitas, an international nongovernmental organization.

Colonial Hall: The Biographies of the Signers of the United States Constitution
Biographical sketches of signers of the U.S. Constitution, from 'Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence' (1829) by the Rev. Charles A. Goodrich and 'The United States Manual of Biography and History' (1856) by James V. Marshall.

Confirmation of the Charters, 1297
The text of Edward I's confirmation of the charters of his predecessors. Very interesting document in the early history of the development of parliamentary rule in England.

Congress.Org — Your Link to Congress
A most useful guide to the U.S. Congress. It provides access to a complete and reliable directory of information about all the U.S. House and Senate members. Additional information includes committee assignments and district offices, among others.

Wealth of infomation on the U.S. Congress, aimed at high school students. Includes lesson plans and links to Internet resources and experts on Congress. From Dirksen Congressional Center.

Constitutional Law Materials
Provides an overview of the Constitution, a text, background materials and documents such as the Federalist Papers and Letter of Transmittal, and links to current and historical constitutional law decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Elections around the World
Hub of information on elections worldwide. Includes index of links to most recent elections, with detailed results, as well as to past elections. Also offers a directory of political parties and national parliaments. Links to offsite databases.

Explore DC: US Presidents
Profiles of all U.S. presidents and first ladies, with portraits, quotes, facts and figures, bibliographies, and a section on presidential homes and memorials in and around Washington. Maintained by WETA, a Washington public broadcasting station.

Federal Government Resources on the Web/Legislative Branch
A rich site offering extensive information about the U.S. Congress, with links to related sites providing congressional directories, committee assignments, roll call votes, bills, and more.

Governments on the WWW: Table of Contents
A Web directory with links to national and many regional government Web sites throughout the world. Includes the Web sites of heads of state, legislatures, judiciaries, political parties, embassies, and multinational organizations.

Grolier Online's The American Presidency
Grolier Online provides comprehensive information on the American Presidency. Detailed biographies, historical context, and many links are provided for three separate reading levels. Presidential campaigns are also covered.

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
The Web site of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a congress of legislative representatives from around the world, features a wealth of material on democracy, peace, economic development, human rights, women's rights, and education.

John Locke
Brief profile of John Locke, with a black-and-white portrait, a detailed time line, and a bibliography leading to electronic texts of several of his works. Part of online materials for a history of philosophy course at Oregon State University.

National Constitution Center
Information resource on the U.S. Constitution, provided by the National Constitution Center. Includes information on national and individual rights and offers forum areas, a search engine, information on upcoming events, lesson plans, and activities.

Political Databases of the Americas
Multilingual reference materials, primary documents (including national constitutions), and statistics for North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. Sorted by category; searchable by keyword or by country/region. Hosted by Georgetown Univ.

Site of France's Prime Minister
Official Web site of the prime minister of the French Republic. Offers information about the office and the French government in general, facts and figures about France, and a virtual tour of Hotel Matignon, the "government mansion." In four languages.

The U.S. Legislative Branch
From the Library of Congress, a collection of internal and external links to information relating to the legislative branch of government. Categories include the U.S. Congress, Internet services, support agencies, and the history of Congress.

The White House Historical Association
Wealth of facts, documents, and images for students and teachers ("Learning Center"), scholars, and the general public. A time line, with profiles and images of all presidents and first ladies; an art gallery; articles from the WHHA journal; and more.

Thomas: U.S. Congress on the Internet
A service of the Library of Congress, Thomas provides the full text of legislation, the full text of the Congressional Record, and information about committees.

U.S. Constitution
Hypertext version from Emory University Law School includes some explanatory notes as well as amendments never ratified.

Vote Smart Web
Project Vote Smart, a volunteer organization, provides a searchable database of information on U.S. political candidates (at all levels) and issues, with links to many other political and social sources on the Web.

Welcome to the U.S. House of Representatives' WWW Server
The official Web site of the U.S. House of Representatives provides extensive information on members, legislation, current activities, and history of the body.

Welcome to the United States Senate WWW Server
The official Web site of the U.S. Senate provides extensive information about members, legislation, current activities, and the history of the body.

Welcome to the White House
One of the most popular sites on the Internet. Take a tour of the president's residence, meet the first family, read presidential press releases. Biographical data on all past presidents can be found under "White House History."