What Is Congress?

The Role of the House

The House of Representatives plays an important role in the United States Government. Its job was given by the Founding Fathers of the United States during the Philadelphia Convention in May of 1787 when our current Government was created.

The Three Branches of Government

  The signing of the ConstitutionOil on Canvas, Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, Architect of the Capitol

During the Philadelphia Convention, it was decided that the United States Government should have three branches. The three branches would keep each other balanced so that one branch did not become too powerful. All Americans have equal and fair representation through the three branches:

  1. Legislative: The Congress
    The legislative branch makes the laws of the United States, controls all of the money, and has the power to declare war.
  2. Executive: The President and Vice President
    The executive branch enforces the laws of the United States, spends money as allowed by Congress, declares states of emergency, appoints Judges to the Supreme Court, and grants pardons for crimes.
  3. Judicial: The Supreme Court
    The judicial branch intreprets laws, judges when a law is unconstitutional, and makes arrangements for prisoners.

To be sure that one branch does not become more powerful than the others, the Government has a system called checks and balances. Through this system, each branch is given power to check on the other two branches. The President has the power to veto a bill sent from Congress, which would stop it from becoming a law. Congress has the power to impeach Supreme Court Judges or Presidents. The Supreme Court has the power to overturn a law that they believe is unconstitutional.

The Legislative Branch

  The U.S. Capitol

Congress meets at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Members of Congress have offices in buildings that are attached to the Capitol and visit the Capitol for meetings and legislative sessions. See if you can help A.Bill get from his office to the Capitol to vote on a law by trying the Capitol Maze!

During the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, participants from large states wanted the number of representatives in Congress based on the number of citizens in the state—so the more citizens the more representatives. Participants from small states were worried they would have no power and wanted an equal number of representatives from each state. To be sure everyone had equal representation and power it was decided that the Congress would have two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two houses work together to pass laws.

The Senate

The Senate has 100 members—2 Senators from each state, regardless of its size. Senators serve 6 year terms and there is no limit to the number of terms they can serve.

The House of Representatives

  The House Chamber

The House of Representatives has 435 voting Members, five Delegates, and one Resident Commissioner. Members and Delegates each serve a two year term while Resident Commissioners serve for four years. The number of Representatives from each state is based on the state’s population. Each state has at least one Representative.

By separating the two branches of Congress, Americans are guaranteed equal representation. The houses work together to pass laws that are then enforced by the Executive Branch and overseen by the Judicial Branch.

The House of Representatives is full of traditions and artifacts. You can see what the oldest artifact—the coin silver inkstand—looks like by printing out the Relic Connect the Dots!