How Well Do You Know the U.S. Constitution?

Torrance Grey

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About This Quiz

Nothing less than the blueprint for the American government, the Constitution is an important part of history classes and citizenship tests (and the occasional quiz show!) How well do you know this vital document? Show off your savvy now with our quiz!

The primary purpose of the Constitution is ...

While federal taxation was an important issue of the day, and rights are always vital, the Constitution is more broad than those two things. It describes the powers of the three branches of government, and the limits of those powers.

In what year was the Constitution was written?

The Declaration of Independence which was written in 1776. The Constitution was created 11 years later, in September 1787.

Prior to the Constitution, the new nation was governed under what document?

The Articles of Confederation was a blueprint for a rather weak form of government -- understandable given the the United States had just emerged from under the yoke of a powerful nation. But the Articles of Confederation was too simple and loose a blueprint to last.

What was a key weakness of America's existing form of federal government?

Only the states could tax citizens. So if the federal government needed money, like for the national defense, it had to ask the states, which was time-consuming and might not result in adequate funding.

Where was the Constitutional Convention held?

The convention is also known as the "Philadelphia Convention" or "Federal Convention." Previously, delegates from five states had attended a convention in Annapolis, where they agreed to reconvene in one year to discuss a significant overhaul of the government.

How many states were there at the time of the Convention?

The fledging United States stretched down the eastern coast as far as Georgia. Florida, which had been passed back and forth between England and Spain, was a Spanish holding at the time.

Who presided over the Constitutional Convention?

George Washington was respected because of his military leadership during the Revolutionary War. An oil painting in the Capitol Building shows him standing on a raised podium in the middle of the Convention.

Which of these men was NOT at the Constitutional Convention?

Rutherford Hayes was the 19th president of the United States. He wasn't born until long after the Constitution had been signed.

On what was the original document written?

Evernote would have been convenient for the Founding Fathers. However, it would have made creating amendments much too easy.

The Constitution gives more space to ______ than to any other subject.

The legislative branch and its powers were obviously important to the Framers. More ink was spilled on this part of government than any other.

The Constitution is divided into segments called ________.

The Constitution is divided into seven articles. These discuss different parts and aspects of the government.

People who opposed the Constitution were generally called _______.

Anti-federalists usually had connections with, or sympathies toward, the common people. They feared oppression by a big government, especially in the form of taxation.

The Federalist Papers were a series of essays written in support of the Constitution. Which of these was NOT one of the authors?

Alexander Hamilton might have been the biggest proponent of a very strong central government. Today, of course, he's known as being the subject of America's hottest musical.

Which was the first state to ratify the Constitution?

Though Pennsylvania opened debate on ratification a bit earlier, Delaware beat them to actual approval of the Constitution. The vote among delegates was 30-0.

Which state was the last to ratify the Constitution?

Rhode Island held a popular vote on the Constitution, and its citizens rejected it. But the tide was clearly going the other way, so by 1790, Rhode Island did ratify the document.

Why didn't West Virginia send delegates to the convention?

West Virginia didn't break off from Virginia until the Civil War. It was admitted to the Union in 1863.

Which part of the government does the Constitution discuss first?

Perhaps because the House is in closest touch with the people, the Constitution first addresses its responsibilities. Then it moves on to the Senate.

Which of these is NOT a power of the legislative branch?

Appointing ambassadors is a power of the executive branch. However, the Senate must approve such appointments.

When state law and federal law conflict, which takes precedence?

This is known as the "supremacy clause" of the Constitution. While it's tempting to guess that the Supreme Court decides, this only happens when an appeal is brought by a state -- which doesn't always happen.

Where would you find the phrase "We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union ..."?

The preamble to the Constitution lays out the six "intents and purposes" of the Constitution. While poetic and broad in range, they're important when judges talk about the intentions of the founding fathers and interpret current law in light of the Constitution.

Does the Constitution consider the possibility of its own future amendment?

Article 5 of the Constitution sets out a procedure whereby the Constitution can be altered. Two-thirds of both houses must adopt a proposed amendment or the states must, at a special convention. Then three-quarters of both houses must ratify it, or, in case of the convention option, three-quarters of the states. (It's not as confusing as it sounds, really!)

Under the Constitution, in which branch of the federal government are members appointed for life?

Federal judges, such as those on the Supreme Court, serve until they wish to retire. However, Congress can impeach federal judges for misconduct, as can the president.

Under the Constitution, which branch of government gives pardons?

The president can issue pardons to criminals, though this is rare. Presidents often do this just before leaving office, to minimize political backlash.

What issue did the "three-fifths compromise" deal with?

The "three-fifths" compromise said that slaves count as three-fifths of a person for census purposes. This affected a state's representation in both the House of Representatives and the electoral college.

The "elastic clause" of the Constitution allows what?

This clause is "elastic" because it covers a lot of ground. However, Congress must legislate in accordance with the six ideals laid out in the preamble of the Constitution -- the "more perfect union," the "common defense," the "general welfare" and so on.

Article 2 of the Constitution deals with the _______.

The executive branch comprises more than just one man (or one day, woman). The president's cabinet and other federal agencies are included in this branch.

According to the Constitution, the president must be at least what age?

The Constitution creates a minimum age for the presidency, but no maximum. Given what neuroscience is increasingly learning about age's effects on cognition, especially undiagnosed early-stage dementia, it might seem unbalanced that we deny a 32-year-old the office, but not a 72-year-old.

The president is also subject to the "emolument clause." What is an "emolument"?

The emoluments clause was a hot topic during President Trump's transition. The president is supposed to earn no money while in office except his $400,000 salary, but people wondered if he could really withdraw all involvement from his worldwide real-estate empire.

How many times has the Constitution been amended?

There are 27 amendments to the Constitution. Six more proposed amendments were adopted by Congress but failed to be ratified, the most famous of which is probably the ERA, or Equal Rights Amendment.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution are called what?

The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights all work together. The Bill of Rights ensures freedoms that we think of as quintessentially American.

The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to ________.

The other three freedoms are guaranteed under the First Amendment, which is about free speech, assembly and religion. The Second Amendment was meant to guarantee that citizens could be armed well enough to oppose a government turned tyrannical.

What did the 18th Amendment do?

Don't confuse this with the Volstead Act. That was a Congressional act which created enforcement methods for the 18th Amendment.

What did the 21st Amendment to the Constitution do?

Prohibition was a failed national experiment; there's no doubt about that. But it gave us the Jazz Age, legends like Elliott Ness and his "Untouchables," and (in a roundabout way), NASCAR. Funny how things work out!

A key debate among present-day Constitutional scholars is whether the Constitution is a "_______" document.

Is other words, it's whether the Constitution was meant to be changed over time. Liberal judges say yes; conservatives tend to treat the Constitution like the Bible: no longer open to editing, but to be lived by as is.

Where is the Constitution kept today?

The National Archives are on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. It has a rotunda you could just about play hockey in.

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