Monday, December 5, 2011

Understanding The United States Constitution

"We the people...."

So often we take these words opening the U.S. Constitution Preamble for granted.  NEVER before had the right of rulers been questioned or the individual rights of the masses been so considered. Never before had people constructed and set up their own form of government.

How much do you know about the US Constitution?  Take this quiz now or after reading this post.  They're a lot of fun:

Ten question quiz

Take the advanced 50 question quiz

Which of the Founding Fathers Are You?

Real or Fake?

Whether you need refreshing or not (I did), there is an awesome book - and graphic novel to boot - that not only details our Constitution - it explains it and puts the rationale behind many of its measures into an enlightening perspective.

The United States Constitution - Jonathan Hennessey; Art by Aaron McConnellThe United States Constitution:  A Graphic Adaptation (written by Jonathan Hennessey, art byAaron McConnell) is one of THE BEST books detailing our Constituion - by far - for kids and adults.  IF you haven't read it - get a copy it is truly outstanding.  This graphic novel describes the precipitating factors and events that led to our Nation's birth and clearly and succinctly details the Preamble and the Twenty-seven Amendments of our Constitution.  It is a vivid, accurate adaptation that totally blew me away.  This comic adaptation portrays the story of our history with incredible power, depth, and insight.

Hennessey and McConnel use metapthor, art, and prose as they explain why the Constitution was - and still is - so special and how it set up the three branches of government trying to check and balance our inherent greed for power.  Here are some of their most striking points:
  • For the first time in history, a resistance movement, "dared to break the colonies away from the richest and most powerful nation on earth.. A nation where most Americans' ancestors had been born... Few even questioned that the right of rulers to rule came from on high (pp. 8-9)."
  • Many, many factors led to the American Revolution. This book, rife with metaphor, details how Britain and the Colonies "wrestled"  bitterly with the growing rebellion and the question of the rights of man as John Locke argued that "all men are created equal with the natural born rights to life, liberty and property..."
  • Hennessey and McConnell argue that the U.S. Constitution was"the greatest compromise of all time. " They explain the thinking and compromises made in order for the very different colonies to form a union and our current form of government. They also explain the elastic and basket clauses the framers put in to help this work adapt to changing times and needs.
  • This book visually and verbally explains the Preamble and each Article of the Constitution detailing not just the laws but the rationale behind them, and the checks and balances put into place to help keep one branch of the government from overpowering the others.
It really is amazing to read this and realize how much thought went into setting up our system of government.

As we face so many internal and external threats today, I find myself in awe of our founding leaders and the compromises they were willing to make NOT for their parties, but for the PEOPLE and the NATION.  It feels today that because our two-party system is so entrenched, the party cogs -our senators and congressional representatives- vote more to maintain their party, their status, and the system.  What must we do to return to that state of understanding compromise?   Just look at the compromises that were made then:
    • Slavery was a huge issue that nearly broke the union. The founding framers could not immediately resolve this issue. So the right to bring in slaves was granted only until the year 1808; the South could not count their slaves as residents (thus limiting the slaves states' power in government); wording about slavery was very carefully controlled in the writing of our Constitution.
    • Possibly the greatest compromises, however, were over power - balancing the power of the people, the states, and the federal government ( a struggle which we grapple with even today).
    • Representation was a compromise - in the Senate each state has the same number of representatives (giving each state the same voting power and thus granting smaller states the same voice as larger states) and in the House of Representatives the number of congresspersons is based on its population (giving larger states more voting power because they represent more people).
    • Who counts as a resident?  Free women (who wouldn't be allowed to vote for another 131 years) were included but native Americans were not.  AND then there was that ever prickling issue of slaves.  The South wanted slaves to be counted as the increased number would give them more voting power, but the North argued that would have given too much power to the South. Thus arose the three-fifths compromise: referring to the slaves as 'other persons' each slave would be counted as 3/5 a person when determining the number of residents per state the the number of representatives for the given states.
    • The electoral college was also developed to help balance the power of large and small states.
    • [One area of no compromise:  the right to vote or hold office.  That was given ONLY to free men and in many cases exclusively to those who owned land. None of the men had any argument with this.]  

I usually post about learning, parenting, and education, not politics but I just couldn't help myself. And, I think there is so much we can learn from this - both politically and personalll. As Spock said to Kirk, "Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." 

Let's hope in this next election we find those representatives who can turn from their parties and the needs of the 'one' (or few) and compromise effectively to meet the needs of the many!

Please let me know what you thought of the quizes and materials presented here.


  1. This looks like a great list of resources. I'm pinning it for later in the year when we get to this portion of history.

  2. I'm a showoff -
    But haven't had time to take the longer quiz yet.

    Compromise is a poisonous word to today's politicians; wasn't that way even 30 years ago.


  3. Very interesting, and I'll be the first to say, I know nothing !!! ; )

  4. now this is a good one! great choice!

  5. I found out that I am a very poor student of Government and history. Perhaps I can chalk it up to my age. (:0)
    Very interesting post and I am so glad I can finally post on your blog again.
    Blogger and I were not friends for a while!

  6. What a fabulous, reflective post. We, Americans, have fallen short in our knowledge of our Constitution and American history. It's embarrassing. Thanks for the quiz links. I aced the 10 question quiz; was in the top third of the more advanced one and am founding father, James Madison! Now, I must get back to work! :-)

  7. Very thoughtful post. I don't have time for the quizzes but when I have more time I will.

  8. Hello - I know a little about UK History and Politics but not too much about the USA situation - but I do know that all countries and States need Understanding and Unity - have a good week - Jane UK

  9. Interesting tangent into politics; however, I didn't take the quiz as I'm Canadian and would most likely fail it...not something I like to do! lol But some of our students do study the American Revolution as it does relate to Canada's history, too. Have a wonderful week,

    abcw team

  10. I managed seven out of ten in the quiz which I didn't think too bad considering I'm not a US citizen. I'm not sure that I'm much like James madison though!

  11. I'm afraid I won't be very good at that!
    Thanks for sharing all the same;o)

    Happy day****

  12. I won't pass on the quiz, I have limited knowledge about it.

    U is for Umbrella, please come and see. Thanks!

  13. "Let's hope in this next election we find those representatives who can compromise effectively to meet the needs of the many!"
    Bonne chance! (Also known as "lots of luck!")

  14. I can never resist a quiz although not being a US citizen I only managed Patriot for the first, the true and false I was more successful I'm a revolutionary hero. I like the sound of that. We could do with a new revolution.

  15. I only got 8/10 on the quiz. Pretty average, but it was fun! Thanks so much for linking up for Feed Me Friday. I'm following back.