Test your knowledge! A recent survey by Newsweek suggests that 70% of Americans do not know the basics of our US Constitution and 57% of Americans have never read the Constitution.
Do you know the nickname of the Constitution? ANSWER: The Supreme Law of the Land. Barely one-third of Americans can even name the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. More than half of Americans at 53% incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Get to know your Constitution! You can read the full document online at ConstitutionCenter.org! It takes 30 minutes to read.
Test Your Knowledge
Can you answer these historical questions regarding the US Constitution that most people don’t know? Take this trivia quiz to find out!
#1. What was the purpose of the original US Constitution?
The US Constitution of the United States established the federal government and define its powers. It established fundamental laws and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
#2. The US Constitution establishes English as the national language requiring that it be used in schools and government.
False. Many people are surprised to learn that the United States has no official language. As one of the major centers of commerce and trade and a major English-speaking country, many assume that English is the country’s official language. But despite efforts over the years, the United States has no official language.
#3. Who is the "Father of the Constitution"?
James Madison of Virginia is known as the “Father of the Constitution” because of his pivotal role in the document’s drafting as well as its ratification. Madison also drafted the first 10 amendments — the Bill of Rights.
#4. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest written national Constitution that's still being used?
True. The Constitution of the United States is the world’s oldest continuously-active codified constitution, having been in force since 1789. Only half of all constitutions function continuously for more than 19 years. It is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.
#5. The US Consititution gives every citizen the right to vote.
False. The right to vote is something most Americans hold as sacred. But the Constitution is clear on the matter. Although the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments say voting rights can no longer be limited based on race, color, prior status as a slave, sex, or age, none of these amendments affirmatively state that a citizen of this country will be allowed to vote. Additionally, each state has significant discretion to establish specific eligibility qualifications to cast a ballot. That’s why people currently serving sentences in Maine and Vermont prisons can cast ballots people incarcerated in Wisconsin can’t participate in an election until they have completed their probations.
#6. The US Constitution clearly defines the "separation of church and state".
False. The Constitution prohibits the establishment of a national religion or religious tests for lawmakers but does not explicitly lay out the concept that religion and governance should be, as they say, non-overlapping magisteria. The phrase “separation of church and state” comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist association in 1802, in which he expressed support for the idea.
#7. Which state is mispelled in the US Constitution?
Of the spelling errors in the Constitution, “Pensylvania” above the signers’ names is probably the
#8. Who was the oldest person to sign the US Constitution?
The oldest person to sign the Constitution was Benjamin Franklin who was 81 years old. Because of his poor health, Benjamin Franklin needed help to sign the Constitution. As he did so, tears streamed down his face.
#9. Who was the first President of the Confederation Congress?
Known as the “forgotten first President”, John Hanson was elected the first “President of the United States in Congress” in 1781 under our first laws of the Articles of Confederation. He approved the Great Seal of the United States that is still used today. He was also responsible for establishing Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November. For this reason, some biographers argue that John Hanson rather than George Washington was actually the first President of the United States.
#10. The first National Thanksgiving was established to thank God for the new Constitution.
True. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation calling for “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” The date was set for Thursday, November 26, 1789.
#11. Under the US Constitution, you can become a state-sanctioned pirate.
True. Article I, Section 8 gives the government the authority “to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas.” It also allows the government to grant letters of marque—that is, to grant people permission to become privateers. Such a license could allow you to capture, steal, or spy on ships of America’s foreign enemies!
#12. The US Constitution states how to address the nation's President.
False. The Constitution does not indicate how the nation’s president should be addressed. According to the Mount Vernon estate, Vice President John Adams suggested “His Elective Majesty,” “His Mightiness,” and even “His Highness, the President of the United States of America and the Protector of their Liberties”.
#13. The Bill of Rights guarantees "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness".
False. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness is commonly attributed to the Constitution, but it comes from the Declaration of Independence. The 5th Amendment does offer protections to our “life, liberty, or property,” noting we cannot be deprived of any of them without due process of law.
#14. Benjamin Franklin supported adding the ability to impeach a president to prevent assassinations.
True. Benjamin Franklin supported adding the ability to impeach a president to the Constitution because he argued that assassination would leave a president “not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character.”
#15. The US Constitution was founded on the beliefs of Christianity and biblical principals.
False. Although most of our founders were religious, they did not want to impose their own religion by law on others. And they certainly thought that a religious citizenry was important to good government, but they did not intend to set up a Christian regime under our founding documents. The Constitution is a secular document and never mentions “Christianity.” The word “religious” is used only once in Article VI to ban religious tests for public office. And then two years later the Bill of Rights starts off “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This language dispelled any lingering doubt whether America was intended to be a Christian nation when it prevented the federal government from advancing or inhibiting any religious tradition. We have a constitutional democracy in which all religious beliefs are protected. The same Constitution that refuses to privilege any religion, including Christianity, protects all religions and the right of other American citizens to claim no religious beliefs at all. As a result, we are a nation of Christians sociologically but we are not a Christian nation constitutionally.
- George, Mort. The U.S. Constitution for Everyone. New York: Putnam Publishing Group, 1987
- Sonneborn, Liz. The Articles of Confederation. Chicago, Ill: Heinemann Library, 2013
- Library of Congress. The Constitution of the United States of America, https://www.loc.gov/item/20013929/
- National Constitution Center. Historical Documents, https://constitutioncenter.org/learn/educational-resources/historical-documents
- ConstitutionFacts.com. https://www.constitutionfacts.com/
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