Test Your Knowledge!
“Are Your Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” is a popular television game show. We thought this would be a good question to ask on Constitution Day (September 17, when the U. S. Constitution was signed in 1787). So here are some basic fifth grade questions on the Constitution from an 1828 elementary school textbook. See how you do! (Answers below.)
- Did [the states remain entirely distinct countries]?
- How often does Congress meet?
- May a man’s children be punished by law for his offense?
- Can [the President] make the law?
- What is an oath?
- How long do [judges] remain in office?
- Why then should not Legislators hold their office in the same way?
- What was the subject of the first amendment?
- Have the different States of the Union all the powers which rightfully belong to a State, except those which are denied to them by the Constitution?
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(The answers containing ellipses actually contain answers to multiple questions, so we just included the part addressing the questions above. These are from the 1828 Elementary Catechism on the Constitution of the United States by Arthur Stansbury.)
- No. Having been led to unite together to help each other in the war, they soon began to find that it would be much better for each of them that they should all continue united in its farther prosecution, and accordingly they entered into an agreement (which was called a Confederation) in which they made some laws which they all agreed to obey; but after their independence was obtained, finding the defects of this plan, they called a Convention in which they laid a complete plan for uniting all the states under one General Government – this plan is called The Federal Constitution. On this great plan, or Constitution the safety and happiness of the United States does, under Almighty God, mainly depend: all our laws are made by its direction or authority; whoever goes contrary to it injures and betrays his country, injures you, injures me, betrays us all, and is deserving of the heaviest punishment. Whoever, on the contrary, loves and keeps it sacred, is his country’s friend, secures his own safety, and farthers the happiness of all around him. Let every America learn, from his earliest years, to love, cherish and obey the Constitution. Without this he can neither be a great or a good citizen; without this his name will never be engraved with honor in the pages of our history, nor transmitted, like that of Washington, with praises and blessings to a late posterity. (pp. 9-10)
- It must meet once, at least, in every year; but may meet oftener if necessary. (p. 19)
- In some countries, where a man has been guilty of treason, (that is, making war against the Government) a law is passed called a bill of attainder, by which his children are prevented from being heirs to him or to any other person; and, if he belonged to what in those countries is called the nobility, and his children would have belonged to it too, they are prevented; nor can they nor their children, nor their children’s children, recover this privilege, till an act is passed for that purpose. No such law can be made in this country; it is expressly forbidden by the Constitution. (p. 38)
- Not at all. These two powers, of making law and executing law, are kept by the Constitution, entirely separate; the power that makes the law cannot execute it, and the power that executes the law cannot make it. (The one of these powers is called the Legislative, and the other is the Executive power.) . . . [I]t is the great safeguard of freedom; because, if the one makes oppressive laws, the other may refuse to execute them; or, if the one wishes to do tyrannical acts, the other may refuse to make a law for them. (p. 44)
- It is a solemn calling upon God, who knows the hearts of all men, and will call every man to account for his conduct in this world, to bear witness that what a man says is true, or that what he promises he means to perform. . . . [The President’s oath of office]: “I do solemnly swear, that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States; and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (p. 50)
- During good behavior; that is, until they resign their office or are turned out of it for some great offense. (p. 61)
- Because they make the laws, while Judges only explain and apply them; it would be very dangerous to liberty to give our law makers power for life; they require restraint lest they should become our tyrants; – therefore their time of office is made short, so that if the people think them unwise or unfaithful they may refuse to give them the office again. (p. 62)
- The subject of the religious freedom. . . . [T]he right every man has to worship God in such a way as he thinks fit, without being called to account for his opinions or punished for them. . . . Congress was forbidden to make any law respecting an establishment of religion; that is, giving the preference to any one form of religion above another, and making laws to support it; or making laws to prevent men from freely holding or observing any particular form of religious belief and practice. (pp. 68-69)
- Yes. When the States united to form a constitution for their General Government, they agreed to give up to that government some of the powers they had before, and they set down in the Constitution what these powers were. All other powers they keep. The same thing is true respecting the people. All the powers they have not given up to the State Governments or to the General Government, they keep in their own hands. (p. 75)
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