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TN History for Kids

Elem Four: How state government is set up

The Tennessee State Capitol

Three Branches

Tennessee's government is set up very much like the U.S. government. If you've learned one, you've pretty much learned both of them.

For example: Tennessee's system of government is spelled out in a state Constitution. The state has three branches of government. They are called the executive, the legislative, and the judicial -- just like the U.S. government.

The Tennessee Senate says the Pledge of
Allegiance every day, just like you do in class!

The Legislative Branch

The legislative branch of government MAKES the laws. It has a house and senate, just like the U. S. government.

Every resident of  Tennessee is represented by a member of the Tennessee State House and the Tennessee State Senate. The House and Senate meet every year, starting in January and finishing in April or May.

If you haven't been to the state Capitol to see the House and Senate meet, you should!

Governor Haslam visits a school in Dyersburg
PHOTO: Office of Governor Haslam

The Executive Branch

The executive branch of government ENFORCES the laws and runs the day-to-day operation of the state. The governor is the head of the executive branch of government.

Tennessee's current governor is Bill Haslam, who was elected in November 2010.

Janice Holder is sworn in as chief justice
of the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2008

The Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of government INTERPRETS the laws -- which means it decides what the laws mean when people don't agree on them. The judicial branch also runs the courts.

Like the judicial branch of the U.S. government, the Tennessee judiciary branch is headed by a supreme court.

How Does It All Work?

Does some of this sound hard? Here's an example of how things might happen:

A committee of the state legislature

Let's say that a member of the Tennessee state senate wants public school libraries to have more books and wants the state to pay for them. He or she proposes a law to spend more of the state's tax money on books for school libraries. The bill gets passed by the house and senate and becomes law.

The governor and the people who work for him enforce the law the best way they know how. That's the job of the executive branch. So they start sending more money to libraries like the one in your school to buy books.

But whenever you spend lots of money on new things, there are arguments. Let's say, for instance, that some parts of the state complain that they aren't getting all the money that they are supposed to get under the new law. They might file a lawsuit in court to challenge the way the law is being enforced. That lawsuit might go all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which might change the way all the new school library book money is being spent.

You'll learn a lot more about the way the Tennessee government works as the years go by. But let's shift gears. The state of Tennessee is divided into these smaller things called counties.

And what's a county? Click here for the next section.