Separation of Powers

GabeGovernment(ML), Mini Lessons

Read from Common Sense Government eBook: Federalism and Separation of Powers

Like federalism, the separation of powers principle was designed as a check on federal authority. But whereas federalism was a check from without in the form of the states, separation of powers is a check from within.

The phrase most often associated with the separation of powers is “checks and balances.” Another, more accurate phrase appears in Federalist 47: “partial agency.”

The idea behind these phrases is a simple one: By setting the departments of government against one another, institutionally, it will become very difficult for any one branch of government to assert its will against the other two. The branches will thus be in a constant struggle with each other, rendering the people safe from undue encroachments of power.

Watch the following video to get a better idea:

  1. Why were the Founders so worried about the concentration of power in one person or branch of government? Who did they have in mind? What was their concern?
  2. How are the different branches supposed to check each other?
  3. Can you think of examples where one branch has exceeded its authority? What has been the result?
  4. Do you think government officials still care about the original system? If so, can you point to things they have done, despite their party or preferences, to preserve it? If not, why do you think they no longer care?
  5. Do you think the answer to the previous question depends on your political point of view? If so, who, today, is trying to defend the Constitution, and who is trying to supersede it?

This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense Government eBook.  Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for use by students and teachers.  Click Here to download the Common Sense Government materials.

Image Citation:

23 Feb, 2015, Separation of Powers [Digital image].  Retrieved from <>