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Pop Quiz: Which of These Phrases Appear in the US Constitution?

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Here's a pop quiz about the U.S. Constitution, courtesy the New Yorker:

True or False?

The following phrases are found in the U.S. Constitution:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

“The consent of the governed.”

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“All men are created equal.”

“Of the people, by the people, for the people.”


Before we get to the answers, consider this brief discussion of a related issue -- the debt ceiling.

To date President Obama has ducked out of the debate regarding one section of the constitution's 14th Amendment, and how it might allow the government to raise the debt limit without the approval of Congress.

But other pundits have spoken up, saying that  the post-Civil War amendment -- which basically says the public debts of the U.S. can't be questioned -- should be used to overturn the law requiring a congressional vote on the topic.

Some believe Obama should consider using this nuclear option should he not have the cooperation he needs from Congress before the looming August 2 debt-ceiling deadline. Frank Jones at NPR warns of the massive risk  that would accompany such a move, saying, "If the president took this course, he would spark a constitutional crisis of the first order. Advocates of this position even predict there would be calls for impeaching the president."
 
But aren't Obama's staunched opponents those very same people who claim to put their interpretation of the US constitution above all else?

As it happens, a story in the New Yorker this week highlights one of the problems with any public discussion of the constitution -- very few Americans have read the original document.

Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University, and author of The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History, writes, "A national survey taken this summer reported that seventy-two per cent of about a thousand people polled had never once read all forty-four hundred words.

"This proves no obstacle to cherishing it; eighty-six per cent of respondents said that the Constitution has 'an impact on their daily lives,' " she adds.

Lepore also explains: "A great deal of what many Americans hold dear is nowhere written on those four pages parchment, or in any of the amendments. What has made the Constitution durable is the same as what makes it demanding: the fact that so much was left out."

Her terrific essay includes the pop quiz at the top of this post. The sample questions were taken from a test administered by the Hearst Corporation in 1987.

So...how many of those phrases appear in the Constitution?

Zero. As in, none.

"This is what’s known as a trick question," writes Lepore. When the original survey was issued, eight out of 10 Americans believed that “all men are created equal” was in the constitution, and an even higher percentage picked "Of the people...," which belongs to Lincoln's Gettysburg address of 1863.

Perhaps the trickiest option is, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," which many people will recognize from history lessons on Marxism. Five in 10 Americans polled believed it came from our founding fathers.

As for what is in the constitution, here's that key section from the 14th amendment:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

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