Saturday, September 20, 2008

How Well Do You Know the Constitution?

From “Straight Talk” - a weekly commentary written by Chip Wood

September 17th, is Constitution Day - a day specifically designated by an act of Congress when Americans are supposed to honor the remarkable document that created our system of government. The date was chosen because the Constitution was approved at the original Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787.

The act that created Constitution Day mandates that all publicly funded educational institutions provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day. Let’s see how well the schools have done their job. Ask a recent high school or college graduate to take the following brief quiz. I’ll be interested to hear how many of the 25 questions he or she answers correctly.

And be sure to take the quiz yourself, too. Even if you score 100%, it’s good to be reminded of some of the fundamental principles that our country was founded on.

1. Has the Constitution always guided our country?
1. No. Originally the nation functioned under the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation. Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution was written, agreed to, and sent to the states for ratification. When ratified by nine states (as the document itself prescribed), the Constitution was declared to be the new governmental system. That occurred on September 13, 1788. The new government was ordered to be convened on March 4, 1789.

2. What are the three branches of government named in the Constitution?
2. Legislative, Executive and Judicial.

3. Does the Constitution allow the Supreme Court to make law?
3. No. The very first sentence in the Constitution states: "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States….” Any Supreme Court decision is the law of the case that binds only the plaintiff and the defendant. The meaning of the word “all” has not been changed.

4. Does the Constitution empower the President to make law?
4. No. Executive Orders issued by the President that bind the entire nation are illicit because, as noted above, “All legislative powers” are possessed by Congress. An Executive Order that binds only the employees of the federal government (such as granting a holiday) is proper because the President should be considered to be the holder of power much like that possessed by the CEO of a company. But the entire nation is not in the employ of the President. The President does have a role in lawmaking with his possession of a veto. He can veto a measure approved by Congress (which can be overturned by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress), or simply allow it to become law by doing nothing within 10 days, “Sundays excepted.”

5. Does the Constitution give the federal government any power in the field of education?
5. No. The Constitution contains no mention of any power “herein granted” in the field of education.

6. Where in the Constitution is there authorization to dispense foreign aid?
6. No such authorization appears in the Constitution.

7. Does the Constitution mandate a minimum age for a Senator?
7. Yes. To be a senator, one must be 30 years of age. He must also be nine years a citizen of the United States and an inhabitant of the state he will serve as a senator.

8. What are the Constitutional requirements for a person to be President?
8. A President must be a natural-born citizen (not an immigrant who became a citizen), must be 35 years of age, and must have lived in the United States at least 14 years.

9. Did the Constitution give the federal government power to create a bank?
9. No. Congress was granted power to “coin money,” meaning it was to have power to create a mint where precious metal could be stamped into coinage of fixed size, weight and purity. There is no constitutional authority for the federal government to have created the Federal Reserve.

10. Can the provisions of a treaty supersede the Constitution?
10. Absolutely not. Thomas Jefferson responded to those who consider treaty-making power to be “boundless” by stating, “If it is, then we have no Constitution.”

11. Does the Constitution allow a President to take the nation into war?
11. It does not. The sole power to declare the nation at war is possessed by Congress. Congress last used this power at the beginning of World War II when war was declared on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Germany declared war on the U.S. the next day.) A congressional vote to authorize the President to enforce UN Security Council resolutions should never be considered a substitute for a declaration of war.

12. Can you name any of the four crimes mentioned in the Constitution?
12. The four crimes mentioned are: Treason, bribery, piracy and counterfeiting.

13. Should the Bill of Rights be considered part of the original Constitution?
13. Many do hold that view because if the promise to add a Bill of Rights had not been made during the ratification process, some states would not have ratified the Constitution.

14. According to the Constitution, how can a President and other national officers be removed from office?
14. The President and other high officers of the federal government can be impeached by a majority in the House and tried by the Senate. Impeachment does not constitute removal; it should be considered the equivalent of an indictment that must be followed by a trial. Two-thirds of the senators “present” must approve removal at the subsequent trial to effect removal.

15. What authority does the Constitution give to the Vice President?
15. The Vice President stands ready to take the office of President if a president shall die or become incapacitated (as defined in the 25th Amendment). He is also the President of the Senate and has the power to break a tie vote should one occur.

16. How many amendments have been added to the Constitution?
16. There are 27. The first ten (the Bill of Rights) can be considered part of the original Constitution. Amendment 18 was repealed by Amendment 21. This means that, in 220 years, only 15 other amendments have been added. The process was deliberately made difficult to keep anything dangerous or silly from being added to the Constitution in the heat of passion.

17. How is an amendment added to the Constitution?
17. Congress can propose an amendment when two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to do so. Any proposed amendment must then by ratified by the legislature or a convention in three-quarters of the states. Amendments can also be proposed by a federal constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states. Any amendment arising from a constitutional convention must also be ratified by the legislature or a convention in three-quarters of the states.

18. Does the Constitution say anything about illegal immigration?
18. Not directly. But Article IV, Section 4 assigns to the federal government the duty “to protect each of them [the states] from invasion.” It does not specify that the invasion must be military. When 20 million enter our nation illegally, it is an invasion that should be repelled by the federal government.

19. What is the process mentioned in the Constitution for adding new states to the union?
19. By a majority vote in each House of Congress, a new state can be added to the union. This was done twice in 1958 to welcome Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states.

20. Is the term of a President limited by the Constitution?
20. Yes. In 1951, Amendment 22 was added to the Constitution to limit any president to two terms. The only president who served longer than two terms was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who held office during a fourth four-year term. He died in April 1945 shortly after beginning his 13th year in office.

21. Which part of the federal government holds “the power of the purse”?
21. The House of Representatives. Article I, Section 7 states: “All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives….” If a majority in the House (218 of its 435 members) refuses to originate a bill to raise revenue for any particular purpose, no funds can be raised for that purpose.

22. Does the Constitution provide a method for expelling a member of Congress?
22. Two-thirds of each house has the authority to expel any of its members for cause even though the member has been elected by voters.

23. What does the Constitution say about financing an army and a navy?
23. Congress can raise an army but “no appropriation of money” to fund it shall be for longer than two years. And Congress can provide for a navy without that same restriction regarding funding. Why? The men who wrote the Constitution feared the possibility that a standing army housed within the nation might arise and seek to take power. But they did not fear that a navy would try to do so, because a navy and its weaponry did not reside within the nation, only at sea or at coastal seaports.

24. How many times is the word “democracy” mentioned in the Constitution?
24. The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution. Our nation is a Constitutional Republic, not a Democracy. The Founders feared Democracy (unrestricted rule by majority) and favored a Republic (rule of law where the law limits the government). James Madison wrote: “…. Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

25. Does the Bill of Rights grant the people free speech, freedom of the press, the right to possess a weapon, etc?
25. No. The Declaration of Independence, which provides the philosophical base of our nation, states very clearly that our rights are granted to us by our “Creator.”
The various rights noted in the Bill of Rights were not granted by government. The purpose of the Bill of Rights is to prevent the federal government from suspending any of those God-given rights, including the right to possess a weapon. Those who claim “Second Amendment rights,” for instance, make a big mistake with such a statement. If the right is granted by the Second Amendment, meaning by government, it can be taken away by government. If the right is granted by God, only He can take it away.

It wasn’t as easy as you thought it would be, was it?
What would this country be like if the Constitution were fully and honestly enforced today? I hope some day we’ll come a lot closer to finding out than we are today.

Straight Talk is a weekly commentary written by Chip Wood. For many years Chip was the host of an award-winning radio talk show in Atlanta, Georgia.� He is the founder of Soundview Publications and serves as an MC at several investment conferences.� His weekly rants and raves are free for the asking at To ask a question or to comment on something you've read in Straight Talk, please write to

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