Freedom in the World
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The Republican Party made major advances in midterm congressional elections in 2010, gaining majority control of the House of Representatives and narrowing the Democratic Party’s lead in the Senate. The elections followed the passage of legislation to overhaul the country’s health care system, a measure that had been a high priority for President Barack Obama but drew stiff opposition from Republicans. Separately, a major controversy emerged over the release of hundreds of thousands of classified government documents by the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.
The United States declared independence in 1776, during a rebellion against British colonial rule. The current system of government began functioning in 1789, following ratification of the country’s constitution. Because the founders of the United States distrusted concentrated government authority, they set up a system in which the federal government has three coequal branches—executive, legislative, and judicial—and left many powers with state governments and the citizenry.
The United States is an electoral democracy with a bicameral federal legislature. The upper chamber, the Senate, consists of 100 members—two from each of the 50 states—serving six-year terms, with one-third coming up for election every two years. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, consists of 435 members serving two-year terms. All national legislators are elected directly by voters in the districts or states they represent. The president and vice president are elected to four-year terms. Under a 1951 constitutional amendment, the president is limited to two terms in office.