Tuesday, Oct. 17 - Civics - Types of Government

Objective: Understand that governments within a state, country or region establish order and direct public affairs. Learn the different types of government.

The three main types of government are autocracy, oligarchy and democracy.



In an autocracy a single person holds all the power. This is the oldest type of government. Autocrats either inherit their role or use force to get it.

A monarchy is a government in which a king or queen is head of state. Monarchs in Europe from the 1400s to the 1700s and the czars in Russia were known as absolute autocrats. Modern autocratic monarchies are rare today, but they do still exist.

Most monarchies today are constitutional monarchies. Great Britain is an example – the queen is the ceremonial head of the government, but has little power. Governmental decision making is in the hands of the Parliament, which is elected by the people.

A dictatorship is a government ruled by one person or a small group of people who seize absolute power. A dictator controls the government and has absolute authority over citizens lives – such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini.



An oligarchy is similar to an autocracy, but a small group of people (not just one person) rules with absolute power. Sometimes and oligarchy will hold elections. However, the only candidates up for election support the oligarchy. An example of this is the People’s Republic of China in which the only political party is the Communist party.

England was an oligarchy in the 1700s – the real majority of power was in the hands of a few members of Parliament and voting was limited to people with a certain income.



In a Democracy, the people decide the laws and elect leaders. Abraham Lincoln called it a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

There are two kinds of democracy. In a direct democracy, citizens vote on issues of government in a meeting of all citizens. This was the democracy of ancient Athens, where all male citizens help govern. In New England, we still hold town meetings, where we decide laws and town and school budgets.

The direct democracy is impractical for larger governments, so they go with a representative democracy – people elect representatives who govern and make and enforce laws. This is the government of the United States – we elect a president, senators and representatives.

The U.S. is also a constitutional democracy – the powers of the government are described in the constitution.

Countries differ in how the chief executive, or head of government, is chosen. In Canada, citizens vote for representatives who become members of Parliament. The leader of the political party with the most seats in Parliament becomes the prime minister. In the United States, we have a presidential democracy. The president is elected and is independent of the legislature.