As the Founders of the Republic would have done….grab a friend and a tankard of your favorite brew and take the following Quiz and discuss it in celebration of the day that commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution:
True or False (a.k.a. “I’ve got a 50/50 chance”):
1) The Constitution opens with this line from the Preamble: “When in the course of human events…”
2) The revolutionaries Thomas Paine (author of Common Sense) and Patrick Henry (he of “give me liberty or give me death” fame) put in place the limits on the Executive power.
3) The rights of the people are found only in the Amendments to the Constitution.
4) The Constitution does not contain the word “slave.”
5) Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were among the 39 men who signed the Constitution.
6) The President’s State of the Union Address is required by the Constitution.
7) At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison argued against adding a Bill of Rights to the proposed Constitution.
8) Alexander Hamilton of NY supported offering an American kingship to a foreign prince.
9) The First Amendment is the 1st listed in the Bill of Rights because it declares the most important fundamental rights.
10) Members of Congress cannot be arrested except for treason, felony and breach of the peace, during their attendance at Congress and in going to and returning from Congress.
EXTRA CREDIT: Where does an explicitly intended reference to a person’s sex appear in the Constitution and/or its Amendments? (Ignore all the references, if you can, to the usage of the hes, hims, his, etc.)
1) False. Hey! Didn’t you look at the photo above–hint, hint! It is the Declaration of Independence (1776) that opens with those words. The Constitution (1987) opens with “We the People of the United States….”
2) False. Patrick Henry thought the Constitution was a betrayal of the revolutionary Spirit of ’76 and although he was elected to attend, he declined saying he “smelt a rat.” In fact, he later actively sought to defeat its ratification in Virginia by debating one-on-one with James Madison. Thomas Paine in the summer of 1787 was stirring up revolutionary fervor in France.
3) False. Art. I, Sec. 9 includes the the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus; and it also prohibits a Bill of Attainder, and ex post facto law. In addition, a right to vote is implied in various places throughout the document (although originally limited to free propertied men.)
4) True. The term does not appear in the body of the Constitution but the institution certainly does. A delegate from Pennsylvania, Gouverneur Morris, was both an early abolitionist and the stylist of the Constitution. He edited out the term “slave” and instead opted for reference to “persons” and distinguished them from “free persons.” But slavery as an institution was still incorporated into the Constitution, by allowing “persons” imported into the country (Art. I, Sec. 9), weighing as part of the population count those “bound to Service for a Term of Years” as three fifths of all other Persons (Art I, Sec.2), and allowing the Migration or Importation of such “Persons” until 1808 (Art. I, Sec 2, Cl.2). With the ratification of Amendment XIII in 1865, the institution of slavery was finally ended: “Neither slavery nor involuntary service…shall exist within the United States…”
5) False. Jefferson never attended the Convention because he was serving as ambassador to France (however, he did correspond regularly with several of the delegates.) Washington despite having served as the Chair of the Convention was absent during the signing.
6) True. Art II, Sec. 3: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union…”
7) True. Madison believed that the entire document was a bill of rights because only clearly articulated powers were given to government institutions and whatever was not given was retained by the people as their natural rights. However, in order to win ratification of the Constitution, Madison eventually promised a Bill of Rights and led the effort in the First Congress to write them (and control their content.) Imagine the US and us without them.
8) True. Despite his recent resurgence as the hippest of the Founders (thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda), Hamilton was committed to a strong executive power reminiscent of royalty. Although he initially supported it, he did back off from offering a kingship to Prince Henry of Prussia. But meanwhile the fear that the convention would in fact declare a new “king” was so powerful that a formal statement had to be made that summer to the residents of Philadelphia who panicked when they saw Benjamin Franklin carried on a sedan chair to the Convention each day. No, Franklin was not being crowned king; he suffered from gout and this mode of transportation was the least painful for him (although certainly not for the local prisoners who carried his bulk to and fro!)
9) False. It’s a cute and oft repeated story but total bunk. In Madison’s early draft of the Bill of Rights, there were originally 20 amendments; these were then narrowed down to 12. When first two were not ratified by the states, the third Amendment moved up to become the First (the one we know and love about free press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc.). By the way, the rejected first amendment involved setting the number of Representatives in Congress; the rejected second Amendment had a strange fate—it was eventually approved by enough states in 1992 to become the 27th Amendment. But the 200-year-ratification period seems to violate democratic principles because the dead are literally joining forces with the living to approve a constitutional change. Fear the Walking Dead! So, realizing this was a possibility, since 1933 most proposed Amendments have included a clause with a time limit for ratification. (And that’s what contributed to the demise of the Equal Rights Amendment.)
10) True. This clause, Art. I, Section 6, was in response to one of the tactics used by King George to influence the vote and discussion in Parliament. Nothing like detaining people before a vote to get your way. King=dictator.
Extra Credit: Okay, you get partial credit if you say the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) which states that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of “sex” (this had the effect of recognizing women’s right to vote.) But full credit to those of you who named the Fourteenth Amendment (1868). In Sec. I, the 14th recognized the citizenship of all those born or naturalized in the US—thus having the radical potential to recognize the equal rights of all. But, alas, in Sec. 2, the word “male” appears, and makes it clear that the rights of “male inhabitants” alone are to be guaranteed. This is solidified by the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) that states the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” having dropped the word “sex” from the original draft. And so, for another agonizing 50 years the suffragists fought on to secure women’s suffrage.
The U.S. Constitution is the oldest existing written Constitution in the world and also the shortest at 4,440 words. (Most Florida HOAs rules and regs are longer!!!)
Just as Gold Star father Mr. Khizr Kahn could reach into his pocket in order to reference his copy of the Constitution, we can do the same.
Here is a paper and pocket-sized one, and there’s also a Kindle version, both without slanted political commentary (and they are difficult to find; Note: currently the best-selling one on Amazon would not fit these criteria! Beware!)
And of course, there is an app for that! Add “The Constitution” to your smartphone.
Finally, in my humble opinion, some of the best reads about the Constitutional Founding if you want to read more about it: