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 ...
to prevent civil-rights violations
to delineate the structure and functions of the government
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.
Prior to the Constitution, the new nation was governed under what document?
the Articles of Confederation
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?
it didn't have a residence for the President
it couldn't declare war
it couldn't levy taxes
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.
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.
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.
When state law and federal law conflict, which takes precedence?
the U.S. government
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.
this is actually in the Declaration of Independence
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!)
What issue did the "three-fifths compromise" deal with?
the tax code
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?
America to expand westward as needed
Congress to make all laws appropriate to the governing of the nation
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.
district lines for the House of Representatives to be redrawn
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"?
money or other benefits
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.
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 21st Amendment to the Constitution do?
gave women the vote
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!
established the election of senators by popular vote
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.