Many of them are serious, however, and there are definite themes that have emerged over time in the questions. Below are the 20 questions that students in middle and high school ask the most often to the center, which holds a live chat with schools across the country every Constitution Day.
Constitution Day occurs annually on Sept. 17, the day in 1787 that 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the final version of the country’s founding document. In 2004, Congress mandated that all federally funded schools and federal agencies have programs about the Constitution, although it did not specify what they should be.
These questions appeared on the center’s website, and I was given permission to publish them.
1. What is the Constitution?
Answer: The U.S. Constitution is the fundamental framework of America’s federal system of government. It sets out both the structure of the government, as well many of the rights and freedoms that are protected against government interference.
2. How long did it take to create the Constitution?
Answer: The Constitutional Convention lasted about four months, from May 25 to September 17, 1787.
3. Can someone please tell me what the New Jersey Plan is in a short sentence?
Answer: The New Jersey Plan wanted to give each state equal representation in the new federal government. The Virginia Plan, on the contrary, proposed apportioning representation based on population.
The structure of Congress in the final Constitution included a combination of the two — the “Connecticut compromise” — where representation in the House of Representatives would be based on population, but in the Senate, each state gets the same number of senators.
4. How many delegates were there during the signing of the Constitution?
Answer: During the signing session there were 41 delegates present, and 38 of those delegates signed the document. One delegate — George Read — also signed on behalf of another delegate, John Dickinson, who was home sick that day. Fifty-five different delegates had been in Philadelphia over the course of the Convention, but some left early.
5. What was the average age of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention?
Answer: The 39 signers of the Constitution varied in age. The average age was 42 years old. The youngest signer of the Constitution was 26-year-old Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey. The oldest signer was Benjamin Franklin at 81.
6. Are taxes specifically mentioned in the Constitution?
Answer: Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 states that “Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.” The 16th Amendment established the power to create an income tax. For more information on the Taxing power, visit the Interactive Constitution.
7. Who wrote the Bill of Rights and when was it added to the Constitution?
Answer: The Bill of Rights was drafted by James Madison and was ratified on December 15, 1791.
8. I don’t really understand the Electoral College. Can I get any clarification?
Answer: The Electoral College, found in Article II of the Constitution, is the system of electing the president of the United States. It is made up of 538 electors drawn from the states and the District of Columbia, based on the number of members of Congress from each state. One original thought behind creating the Electoral College was that it would be made up of enlightened representatives who would filter public opinion through a “deliberative” body and serve as an intermediary between the people and presidential candidates. Today, most state electors are appointed mainly to simply vote for the winners according to vote totals in the states; however, electors technically do have the legal right to vote for whomever they wish. For more on the Electoral College, check out the Interactive Constitution.
9. Who ran against George Washington in the first election?
Answer: The first presidential elections were conducted under a system that allowed electors to cast two votes, with the winner becoming president and the second place finisher becoming vice president. George Washington was elected unanimously, receiving one vote from every elector. John Adams, John Jay, and several other Founders were among the recipients of the electors’ second votes, with Adams becoming our first vice president.
10. Who was the youngest president? The oldest?
Answer: The youngest president was actually Teddy Roosevelt. He was 42 years old when he became president on the death of William McKinley. John F. Kennedy was the youngest president to be elected, at the age of 43. Donald Trump was the oldest to be elected, at the age of 70.
11. Which president was the tallest?
Answer: The tallest president we had was Abraham Lincoln. He was 6’4”.
12. Which president lasted the longest in office?
Answer: Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to four terms and served 12 years in office. President Washington declined to seek re-election after his second term and future Presidents until Roosevelt did the same. Then, after Roosevelt’s death, the 22nd Amendment was adopted preventing anyone who has already served two terms as president from being elected. So Roosevelt will always be the longest-serving president — unless we amend the Constitution again.
13. Why have there been no girl presidents?
Answer: As of the most recent 2016 election, no female presidential candidate has received the required number of electoral votes — 270 — to win the presidency. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the first woman to be a major-party presidential nominee, but only received 227 votes to Donald Trump’s 304 electoral votes. There have been two women who have run for vice president as a major party nominee: Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin.
14. Why was George Washington on the $1 bill?
A special committee … determined that portraits of Presidents of the United States have a more permanent familiarity in the minds of the public than any others. This decision was somewhat altered by the Secretary of the Treasury to include Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury; Salmon P. Chase, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War and is credited with promoting our National Banking System; and Benjamin Franklin, who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. All three of these statesmen were well known to the American public. Treasury Department records do not reveal the reason that portraits of these particular statesmen were chosen in preference to those of other persons of equal importance and prominence.
15. Did George Washington really cut down his dad’s cherry tree?
Answer: No. George Washington never actually cut down his dad’s tree. The story is a myth that illustrates Washington’s honesty.
16. Why haven’t we had a Constitutional Convention in recent years?
Answer: It is difficult to amend the Constitution — it has only happened 27 times in the last 229 years. To have another convention would take years and would be a very complex matter. Most surveys indicate that a majority of people support the current Constitution, but there have been recent calls for a new Article V convention to propose new amendments.
17. When did the Liberty Bell crack?
Answer: No one is exactly sure when the Liberty Bell cracked, as it was not recorded. The first mention of a crack is in February 1846, when it was published in the Philadelphia Ledger that Philadelphia wanted to repair the crack in the bell so that they could ring it for George Washington’s birthday.
18. How long did it take to build the White House? How old is it?
Answer: The White House is 218 years old. It has undergone many renovations and expansion projects. The original White House took eight years to build, from 1792 to 1800.
19. Who was the first president to live in the White House?
Answer: The first president to live in the White House was John Adams and his wife Abigail.
20. Why does the president have 35 bathrooms in the White House?
Answer: There are a lot of people who work in the White House so those bathrooms come in handy!