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What Americans Don't Know About the Constitution Next
Digital History ID 3230

 

A public opinion poll conducted during the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution in 1987 found that most Americans were woefully ill-informed about the content and meaning of the document. Only a bare majority knew that the purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government and define its powers. Nearly half believed that the Constitution contains Karl Marx's phrase "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

Well over half of those surveyed believed:

  • The president, acting alone, can appoint a justice to the Supreme Court.
  • The Constitution established English as the national language.
  • The Constitution guarantees the right to a free public education.

Here are some other findings from the survey:

  • Almost half of those surveyed mistakenly thought that a Supreme Court decision can never be overruled.
  • Nearly half believed that a president can suspend constitutional liberties in a time of national emergency.
  • Eighty-five percent thought that any important case may be appealed from state courts to the Supreme Court.
  • Forty-six percent of adult Americans did not know that the purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government and define its powers.
  • Twenty-six percent believed that the Constitution's purpose was to declare independence from England

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