Stansbury’s Elementary Catechism on the Constitution

Developed and used in schools in 1828

Excerpt from the Preface and Conclusion of the Catechism:

Preface:

That a people living under a free government which they have themselves originated should be well acquainted with the instrument which contains it, needs not to be proved. Were the system, indeed, very cumbrous (cumbersome) and extensive, running into minute detail, and hard to be retained in the memory, even this would be no good reason why pains should not be taken to understand and to imprint it upon the mind; but when its principles are simple, its features plain and obvious, and its brevity surpassing all example, it is certainly a most reprehensible negligence to remain in ignorance of it. — Yet how small a portion of the citizens of this Republic have even a tolerable acquaintance with their own Constitution? It has appeared to the author of the following sheets that this culpable (blame worthy) want of acquaintance with what, is of such deep interest to us all, is to be traced to the omission of an important part of what ought to be an American education, viz. the study of the civil institutions of our country. — We prize them, it is true, and are quite enough in the habit of boasting about them: would it not be well to teach their elements to those whose best inheritance they are?

Conclusion:

In the next place, remember that this precious Constitution, thus wise, thus just, is your birth-right. It has been earned for you by your fathers who counselled much, labored long, and shed their dearest blood, to win it for their children. To them it was the fruit of toil and danger — to you, it is a gift. Do not slight it on that account, but prize it as you ought. It is yours, no human power can deprive you of it, but your own folly and wickedness. To undervalue, is one of die surest ways to lose it. Take pains to know what the Constitution is — the more you study, the higher you will esteem it. The better you understand your own rights, the more likely you will be to preserve and guard them.

And, in the last place, my beloved young countrymen, your country’s hope, her treasure, and one day to be her pride and her defence; remember that a constitution which gives to the people so much freedom, and entrusts them with so much power, rests for its permanency, on their knowledge and virtue. An ignorant people are easily betrayed, and a wicked people can never be ruled by the mild influence of their own laws. If you would be free — if you would see your country grow in all that constitutes true greatness — cultivate knowledge — flee from vice. The virtuous citizen is the true noble. He who enlightens his understanding — controls his passions — feels for his country’s honor — rejoices in her prosperity — steps forth to aid her in the hour of danger — devotes to her advancement the fruits of his mind, and consecrates to her cause, his time, his property, and his noblest powers, such a man is one of God’s nobility; he needs neither riband, nor star; his country knows and remembers his name; nor could any tide add to its honor, or to his reward. We have seen such men among us; we hope to see many more. And though the glory of giving to their country such a Constitution as this, is what none but they have been so blessed as to enjoy, yet you succeed to a task, but one degree removed from it, that of preserving what they have committed to your virtue, unsullied and unimpaired.

**(Italicized parenthesis added for clarity)

Request answers to the questions and more at the end of:

Only 55 of the 332 Questions

#6.  Is some government necessary in every country?

#7. Cannot all the people of a country govern themselves?

#13. Which of these ways of governing a nation is the best?

#16. How is this country governed?

#17. Was it always a Republic?

#26.   What do you mean by a Revolution?

#30. Why is the 4th of July kept with such public rejoicing through all parts of the United States?

#34. You say that in a republic the laws are made by certain persons whom the people choose for that purpose — who make the laws in our republic?

#35. But if even the Congress itself should make a law which is contrary to the Constitution, must the people obey it?

This question is in regards to the Congress Only:

#44. Suppose a dispute should arise concerning an election, and one person shall declare that he has been fairly chosen, while another denies it, and insists that he himself has been chosen; who has power to settle the dispute?

#49. May a person be chosen who has just come into the United States, and who is a subject of some other country (that means, who is bound to obey the laws of some other country)?

#50. Naturalized? What does that mean?

#55. When the Members of the House of Representatives meet to make the laws, are they all equal, or does any one preside over them?

#56. Who choose the Members of the Senate of the United States? (This question is based on Original Intent.)

#72. Suppose all the members of the Senate, or all the members of the House of Representatives do not attend a meeting, can those who do attend make laws without them?

#78. You said that the Clerk of the House of Representatives keeps a written Journal of all that is done in that House; is a Journal kept in like manner by the Secretary of the Senate?

#90. When is a person guilty of treason?

#94. How do Congress proceed in making the laws?

A question and answer to tease you with:

#99. Is not this a better way of making the laws of a Country, than either of those we first considered?

Answer: It is hard to conceive how greater care could be taken that no wicked, unjust, oppressive, hasty, or unwise Law should pass. There is full time to consider whatever is proposed; such fair opportunity to oppose it, if wrong, and improve it, if imperfect; so many persons, and from so wide a space of country must agree in approving it, that it is scarcely possible any thing very injurious can be enacted; or, at least, if it is, that a different form of Government would have prevented it.

#101. You have said that no Laws can be made for the United States, but by Congress; may Congress make any Laws they please?

#102. What power is given to Congress, by the Constitution?

#109. Ought the people to complain of having to pay Taxes and Duties?

#126. Can Congress erect Courts? that is, make a Law directing that a Judge shall sit at certain places, at certain times, before whom Causes or Criminals shall be tried?

#128. What do you mean by “ the law of nations”?

#130. When Congress has declared the United States to be at war with any particular country, can any of the citizens of the United States remain at peace with that nation?

#131.   When the United States have cause of complaint against another nation, and yet do not wish at once to go to war, is there any other measure they can take to compel that nation to do them justice?

#150.   Suppose any American citizen is seized and put in prison, may he be kept there as long as those who seized him think fit?

#153.   When may this right of having a writ of Habeas Corpus, which belongs by the Constitution to every citizen, be suspended?

#156.   May a citizen of the United States be punished for doing what, when he did it, was not forbidden by any law, but against which a law was passed afterwards?

#162.   In what way can the money of the United States be drawn out of the Treasury? (or place where it is kept)

#166.   May any citizen of the United States receive a title of nobility from the king, or prince, or government of any other country?

#168.   You said that when the states entered into that agreement by which they set up a General Government over them all, they had each a perfect right to govern themselves as free, sovereign and independent States; and that they gave up a part of their power to the General Government, and kept the rest of it in their own hands. What are the powers which they gave up?

#181.   Why did the States give up all these powers?

#182.   Who executes the laws which Congress have made, that is, who takes care that every body shall obey the laws?

#185.   How does any man become President of the United States

#186. How is this done; do the people themselves at once choose the President? (This question and answer begins the great explanation as to why we have the greatly needed “Electoral College.”)

#203. May any person be chosen President of the United States?

#214. What are the powers which belong to the President?

#234. Suppose Congress wish to know from the President something which he has not told them in his speech or messages, may they call upon him to communicate it?

#236. Are they (Congress) obliged to do as he (the President) advises?

#247. Are Courts necessary?

#250. Are all these Courts equal, or is one superior to another?

#258. What kind of causes are tried in the Courts of the United States?

#265. How are the Judges of the Courts of the United States appointed?

#267. Why are not Judges elected from time to time, like Members of the House of Representatives and Senators? and why may they not be removed from their offices unless they are proved to be guilty of great offences?

#270. What do you mean by a Jury?

#278. When a citizen of one State goes into any other State of the Union, may he be treated as if he was a foreigner? or may any difference be made between his privileges and those of the citizens of that State?

#292. Has any State the right to set up a monarchical form of government for itself, that is a government where the supreme power is in the hands of a king?

#296. The majority of the people of any State may certainly alter its laws, provided they do not violate the Constitution: but may the Constitution itself be altered?

#299. What is the supreme law of the United States?

#303. What was the subject of the first amendment?

#311.   May they meet with arms in their hands?

#322.   Are my life, liberty, and property guarded by the Constitution, so that no man is allowed to touch either of them, except according to the laws of the land?

#331.   Has the United States Government any power but such as is contained in the Constitution?

#332.   Have the different States of the Union all the powers which rightfully belong to a State, except those which are denied to them by the Constitution?

 

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