Twenty-five questions you should be able to answer about the U.S. Constitution
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1.) How does the Constitution of the United States provide for changes, so that it may be fluid with time and appropriate for future generations?
c.) The Constitution can be amended
Article V of the constitution states that "The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution..."
2.) An amendment to the Constitution must pass by what minimum margins?
d.) A 2/3 majority in the House and Senate and adoption by at least 3/4 of the states - a signature by the president is not required.
Article V of the Constitution further states that amendments "...shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States...". A signature by the president is not required.
3.) When the Constitution was first ratified, how were U.S. Senators elected?
a.) By a vote of the state legislatures.
Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution states that "The Senators of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof...". This ensured that the states would have a formidable voice in the federal government, thus making it difficult to erode states rights. It also held down the cost of federal elections, since statewide campaigning for a Senate seat was not required. This Section of the Constitution was modified by the 17th amendment in 1913, which states that "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof...".
4.) The Constitution creates what type of government?
b.) A Republican form of government
Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution states that "The United States shall guarantee to every State in the Union a Republican form of Government...". This is not to be confused with the Republican party, which is named after our type of government. A Republican form of government is a representative democracy, where the people elect representatives who cast votes on legislation to be enacted. By contrast, a pure democracy is one in which the people vote directly on all legislation.
5.) In the form of government expressed in the Declaration of Independence and defined by the Constitution, power flows:
c.) From God to the people, then to the elected officials
The Declaration of Independence states that "...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The Declaration of Independence, therefore, states that the rights of the people are endowed by God. The Constitution sets up a Republican form of government, whereby the people elect their representatives.
6.) The Constitution requires Congress to be assembled:
b.) Only once per year.
Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution states that "The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year..."
7.) The powers which are not specifically enumerated in the Constitution as powers of the federal government, are:
b.) Automatically given to the states.
The 9th amendment to the Constitution states that "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." and the 10th amendment states that "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it [the Constitution] to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
8.) Choose the only power in the following list which the Constitution does not give to Congress.
c.) The power to create a Social Security system
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution describes the powers of Congress in detail so that the power of the various states is not diluted. Article I, Section 8 does not allow the federal government to create a Social Security system. The Constitution could never have been ratified if the federal government had retained the power to collect and disperse vast amounts of money.
9.) Choose the only power in the following list which the Constitution does not give to the states.
c.) The power to enter into an agreement with a foreign power
Although states may create programs such as a Social Security system and a Welfare system under the Constitution, Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution states that "No state shall, without the Consent of Congress...enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power...". The founding fathers were wise to make the states responsible for those powers not enumerated in the Constitution, since competitive state-run programs will be neither insufficient nor excessively generous. The former may cause people to leave a particular state, whereas the latter may cause a large enough influx of people to justify a state tax increase - which may also drive people from a particular state.
10.) Prior to passage of the 16th amendment in 1913, income taxes were unconstitutional. How did the federal government pay for itself before income taxes were collected?
a.) Import duties, excise taxes and taxes divided among the states by population
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states that ...direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States...". Article I, Section 8 states that "The Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises...but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States...". and Article I, Section 9 states that "No Capitation, [a head tax, or poll tax] or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken."
This means that the only continuous taxation power Congress had was indirect taxes - import duties and excise taxes [luxury taxes]. Any direct tax on a person had to first be apportioned, or divided, based upon the population of each state and, by definition, could only be levied at periodic intervals. Direct taxes were levied sparingly and were used primarily to pay war debts. This was changed in 1913 with the passage of the 16th amendment, which states that "The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."
11.) The Constitution does not allow any bills of attainder to be passed - bills of attainder are:
d.) Bills which allow forfeiture of rights or property without trial
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution prevents Congress from passing any bills of attainder and Article I, Section 10 prevents the states from doing so. Article I, Section 9 says "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed". Article I, Section 10 says "No State shall...pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts".
12.) The Constitution does not allow the passage of any ex post facto law - ex post facto laws are:
a.) Laws which take effect before they are passed
Therefore, according to the Constitution, the retroactive portion of any law is clearly unconstitutional. Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution prevents Congress from passing any ex post facto law and Article I, Section 10 prevents the states from doing so.
13.) The Constitution allows the president to make treaties and agreements with foreign powers, providing that
a.) A 2/3 majority of the Senate concurs
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states that "He [the president] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur...".
14) According to the Constitution, the minimum infraction necessary for the impeachment of a judge is:
d.) Bad behavior
Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution states that "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior...". The founding fathers were quite adamant that the original intent of the Constitution and its amendments would always be enforced by the judiciary.
Speaking on this issue in Federalist #81, Alexander Hamilton (a member of the Constitutional Convention, later to become Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington) stated that "In the first place, there is not a syllable in the plan under consideration [the Constitution] which directly empowers the national courts to construe the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution, or which gives them any greater latitude in this respect than may be claimed by the courts of every State."
On June 12, 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Supreme Court Justice William Johnson "On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed."
James Madison wrote to Henry Lee on June 25, 1824 "I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution...What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in the modern sense."
15.) The Senate and the electoral college share a common reason for their existence, which is:
d.) To give a greater voice to the smaller states
The Senate was devised as a way to balance the power of the House, where the number of Representatives per state is divided by population. The smaller states, feeling always at the mercy of the more populous states, wanted a check upon this power. Each state, therefore, was given equal power and an equal number of members in the Senate. Likewise, the electoral college was a compromise between allowing the president to be chosen by Congress (too much power for the legislative branch of government) or by a direct popular vote (too much power for large states) or by the state legislatures (too much power for the states over the federal government). The electoral college gives each state a number of electors equal to the number of House and Senate members for that state. Small states, therefore, have a much greater vote than their population would otherwise allow. Since the winner of the presidential election in each state receives all of that states' electoral votes, this system requires the victor to win enough states all across the country to enable him to govern. The electoral college makes it virtually impossible for one region of the country to elect the president of the United States. And although this system also requires the victor to obtain a sufficient popular vote to govern, there are times when the electoral college will elect a president who has not obtained an absolute majority of the popular vote. This was deemed secondary to the ultimate goal of preserving the Union by the founding fathers.
16.) Which of the following phrases does not appear in the Constitution?
a.) ...a wall of separation between Church and state
The phrase "...a wall of separation between Church and State." appears in a letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist Association of Danbury, CT on January 1, 1802 - it does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. The eight words contained in that phrase were taken out of context by the Supreme Court in 1947 when it struck down school prayer in the case of Everson v. Board of Education. The Supreme Court, which cited zero precedents for its ruling, stated that "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach." Thomas Jefferson's letter says "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting [regarding] an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." President Jefferson's meaning was further clarified in a letter to the Reverend Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808 when he said "I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions...or exercises."
The 1st amendment to the Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law respecting [regarding] an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...".
17.) The Constitution states that:
d.) The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed
The 2nd amendment to the Constitution states that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
18.) The Constitution states that the people have a right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, and requires that warrants specify:
c.) The place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized
The 4th amendment to the Constitution states that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
19.) According to the Constitution, a trial by jury cannot be denied if the value of the lawsuit exceeds:
The 7th amendment to the Constitution states that "In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
20.) The Constitution allows government:
d.) to take private property for public use, but only if the owner is paid a fair price for it
The 5th amendment to the Constitution says "...nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."
21.) The Constitution states that no person may be deprived of:
b.) Life, liberty or property
The 5th amendment to the Constitution states that "No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law". The 14th amendment says "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law". The phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" appears in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution.
22.) To whom does the Constitution guarantee a right to vote:
The 15th amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, states that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." The 19th amendment, ratified in 1920, states that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
23.) The Constitution forbids slavery or involuntary servitude, except:
b.) As a punishment for a crime
The 13th amendment to the Constitution states that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
24.) The Constitution allows the federal government to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by:
b.) Giving authors and inventors exclusive rights to their work
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that "The Congress shall have Power...To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their Respective writings and Discoveries".
25.) According to the Constitution, who has the right to govern that part of the military employed in the service of the United States?
b.) The Congress
Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that "The Congress shall have Power...To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States...".
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Each question is worth 4 points. Grade yourself according to the following curve:
90 - 100% = A
80 - 89% = B
75 - 79% = C
70 - 74% = D
69 and below = F
Keep taking the test until you get an A!
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