Test your knowledge of the United States Constitution with this
quiz. If you get all the answers correct you have an admirable grasp
of our Constitution and the principles behind it. If you get them all
wrong you're just an average American.
1. How many states were there in 1787, the year the Constitution
was written? (Name them for extra credit.)
2. The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in the summer
of 1787. Who was the president of the convention?
3. Which of the following (more than one) were NOT members of
the Constitutional Convention: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,
Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry,
John Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Abraham Lincoln?
4. What was the basis of government between the end of the
Revolutionary War and 1787? Why didn't it work out?
THE CONSTITUTION ITSELF
5. How was it that the Constitution became accepted as law?
6. The Constitution provides for two Houses of Congress, the
Senate and the House of Representatives. How many Senators and how
many Representatives are there to be in each House?
7. Can the President make laws?
8. Can the President ignore any laws or claim they do not
apply to him?
9. Some things were left out of the Constitution, for instance
motor vehicle laws (there were no cars in 1787). How are these things
to be handled?
10. Must the Constitution be adhered to strictly, or is there
some leeway in its interpretation?
11. Can someone who commits a crime in one state escape
punishment by fleeing to another state in which whatever he did is
12. Some of the following are directly from the Constitution;
others are bogus. Which are which?
A. "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States
which shall be made in Pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme Law
of the Land, except for the Law of God as given to Man in His Holy
Bible through Jesus Christ our Lord."
B. "The United States shall guarantee to every State
in this Union a Republican Form of Government."
C. "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the
Army and navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several
States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he
may declare War; he may require the Opinion in writing, of the
principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject
relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power
to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States.
D. "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned,
and the members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and
judicial Officers, both of the United States and the several States, shall
be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no
religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office
or public Trust under the United States."
13. Does the Constitution outlaw slavery?
14. Can Congress do anything secretly?
15. Can the Constitution be changed? If so, how?
16. Are amendments different from, or subordinate to, the rest of
17. Does the Constitution prohibit laws that restrict religions?
18. The first ten amendments are called "The Bill of Rights." Why?
19. The Bill of Rights does not say you have the right to smoke. Does
this mean you don't have that right?
20. When was the most recent amendment to the Constitution ratified?
What was that amendment?
21. Does the Constitution give equal rights to Jews? to Blacks?
22. Is the income tax constitutional?
23. Do convicted criminals have equal rights? How about people
accused of a crime? Is the death penalty constitutional?
24. Does the Constitution treat each Black person as three-fifths
of a man?
(This question has nothing to do with the Constitution.)
Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" contains one blatant falsehood.
What is it?
ANSWERS START ON THE NEXT SCREEN
1. There were 13 states. They were New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
2. George Washington. Later he would be elected the first President
of the United States.
3. Thomas Jefferson (who was in Europe as American minister to
France), John Adams (likewise as American minister to England),
Patrick Henry (who "smelt a Rat") and Abraham Lincoln (who hadn't been
born yet) were not present.
4. The Articles of Confederation, passed in 1781, joined the
states in an alliance. However, the Congress under this arrangement had
so little power that it could not stop the states from quarreling over
boundary disputes and other matters. Each state had its own money,
making interstate commerce very difficult. States could not be
counted on to help one another in case of an invasion by the British
or Spanish or whoever. Most importantly, it appeared that the Congress
was not strong enough to stop domestic "rebellions" such as "Shay's
Rebellion" of 1786 in which farmers fought against taxes that were
forcing them off their land.
THE CONSTITUTION ITSELF
5. By ratification of each of the states. Ratification of nine out
of thirteen states was required. By 1790, all thirteen states had
ratified it. Article VII provides for ratification of the Constitution.
Of course this Article was not valid until the Constitution was
ratified, but this doesn't really matter because all the states eventually
ratified it anyway.
6. The Senate has two Senators for each state (Article I,
Section 3). Each state has a number of Representatives that is
proportional to the population of the state (originally counting each
slave as 3/5 of a person and not counting "Indians not taxed").
Every ten years this number is decided upon by the Congress. (Article I, Section 2.)
7. No. Laws are made by Congress (Article I, Section 1). The
President may "veto" a law to prevent it from taking effect, but
Congress may override the veto. (Article I, Section 7.)
8. No. Article II, Section 3: "He shall take Care that the
Laws be faithfully executed." However, some Presidents have claimed
"Executive Privilege" which lets them do more than a strict reading
of the laws would allow.
9. The Constitution originally did not say. Amendment X (1791)
provides that all powers not delegated to the United States by the
Constitution and not prohibited to the states themselves by the
Constitution are reserved to the states themselves or to the people.
But Article I, Section 8 lays out the powers of Congress, for instance
"to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several
States, and with the Indian Tribes." Thus, even though Congress
does not make the motor vehicle laws (the States do), it can pass
laws concerning the use of trucks in interstate commerce.
10. The Constitution itself does not say. Some people are
"strict constructionists"; they believe that the Constitution must be
interpreted as narrowly as possible. For instance, because motor
vehicle laws are not given to the nation as a whole by the
Constitution, they are strictly the concern of the states. Other
people are "loose constructionists" and believe that the Constitution
may be interpreted broadly. For instance, had the writers of the
Constitution known about airplanes they would have provided for a
Federal Aviation Authority to regulate airspace. Sometimes the
strict constructionists win and sometimes the loose constructionists
11. No. Article IV, Section 2. The state he is in must return
him to the state accusing him of the crime. Note that he need only be
charged with the crime in the other state; this implies that it doesn't
matter whether he is guilty or not.
12. A. Bogus. Taken from Article VI, except for the part about
God, Jesus Christ and the Bible.
B. True. Article IV, Section 4. This does not refer to the
so-called Republican Party, which did not exist in 1787.
C. Almost but not quite true. Article II, Section 2. I added
"he may declare War" (only Congress may declare war: Article I section 8)
and I left out at the end "except in Cases of Impeachment" (if Nixon had
been impeached and convicted, Ford could not have pardoned him).
D. True. Article VI, last paragraph. Voters are of course free
to use any criterion, including religion, when voting (which is why
we probably will never have a Moslem president) but there can be no
official rule or law barring Moslems, Jews, secular humanists or anyone
else from office on the basis of religion.
13. Yes, by Amendment XIV of 1868. Prior to that amendment, slavery
was allowed in the United States. Curiously, Article I Section 9
prevents Congress from banning the importation of slaves until 1808.
14. Yes. Article I, Section 5: "Each House shall keep a
Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same,
excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy...."
The journal of non-secret business is called "The Congressional
Record" and is published daily for each day Congress is in session.
15. Yes. An amendment can be proposed by either two-thirds of
both the Senate and the House of Representatives or two-thirds of
the state legislatures. The amendment must be ratified by three-fourths
of the states. Amendments are ratified by state legislatures. Article V.
16. No. When written down, the amendments are in a separate
section so that you can see exactly what was changed, but the Constitution
is to be treated as if it were directly changed by the amendments.
17. Yes, by Amendment I of 1791 which states in part: "Congress
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof."
18. They were passed all together as a single "bill", and
they explicitly grant rights such as freedom of speech that were not
originally clear in the Constitution. The power to deny these rights was
not explicitly given to the new government by the Constitution, but people
just wanted to make sure.
19. No. Amendment IX says in effect: just because the Constitution
doesn't give you a certain right doesn't mean you don't have it. If there
is no law or local rule (or school rule) forbidding smoking, you may smoke.
20. Amendment XXVI in 1971. This amendment gives 18-year olds (and
older) the right to vote.
21. Jews: yes. Blacks: yes. Women: maybe. Amendment I forbids
religious discrimination. Amendment XIV of 1868 abolished slavery by
declaring that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are
citizens and all citizens have full privileges and rights to life, liberty
and property (unless convicted by due process of law). Even after this,
women were not allowed to vote. Amendment XIX explicitly gave women
the right to vote. Many people believe that the Constitution as it stands
gives women equal rights with men. Other people believe it does not, and
that an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is necessary. An ERA was proposed
but was not ratified by enough states.
22. It is now, by Amendment XVI of 1913. Before the passage of
this amendment, Article I, Section 9 was construed to prohibit direct
taxation of citizens by the government except in proportion to census,
which would mean that everyone pays the same dollar amount. Amendment
XVI adds income as a basis for tax; it does not add any other basis.
23. Amendment XIV of 1868 implies that people convicted of
crimes by due process of law do not have full rights of life, liberty or
property; even before this amendment was passed, it was always assumed
that convicted criminals may be put to death (no right to life), put
in jail (no right to liberty) or have their belongings confiscated (no
right to property). The Constitution does not say whether the death
penalty is allowed or not. Some people think it is because it doesn't
say; others think it isn't because it is a cruel punishment and therefore
violates Amendment VIII. The Supreme Court sometimes says that the death
penalty is Constitutional and sometimes says it is not.
Those who have been accused of a crime have full rights until they
are convicted, by Amendment V. (In practice, people accused of a crime
are usually allowed to choose between staying in jail until the trial or
posting a bail bond which cannot be "excessive" by Amendment VIII; for some
very serious crimes they are not given this choice.)
24. Not any more. Before Amendment XIII, slaves (who were almost
all Black, let's face it) were to be counted as "three-fifths of all other
Persons" for purposes of taxation and representation. This was a compromise:
the slave states wanted to count the slaves as people when determining the
number of Representatives but not when determining taxes based on
population. After the amendment, the "three-fifths" business is gone.
Black people are never mentioned as such in the Constitution. Slaves are
not mentioned in the original text but are the "all other persons" of
Article I section 2. Blacks who were not slaves (which would include all
Blacks in the states that outlawed slavery) had equal rights, in theory at
least. Now all Blacks have equal rights.
"The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here...."
In fact, the world has remembered what Lincoln said for 120 years and
probably will always remember it. But how was Honest Abe to know?
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
The text of the Constitution of the United States can be found in
many dictionaries and encyclopedias. The current issue of The Wilson
Quarterly, Spring 1987, contains the text along with several interesting
articles. The Wilson Quarterly is a publication of the Smithsonian
Institution and can be found in most libraries and at certain very
comprehensive newsstands such as Reading International in Cambridge,