Top 10 Citizenship Questions Most Americans Would Fail

June 1, 2011

To become an American citizen, immigrants must pass a test on the history and civics of the United States. While 92 percent of wannabe citizens pass on the first try, some 40 percent of natural born citizens are estimated to fail if they were to take the same test. Is America a nation of idiots, or are we just apathetic about our great history?

The following questions were crafted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and are part of 100 possible questions asked during a naturalization interview. During the test, interviewees are asked to verbally answer up to 10 questions, of which they must answer six correctly.

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10. Can You Name One of Your U.S. Representatives?

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty ImagesRep. Karen Bass (D) - California’s 33rd District

Shockingly, less than a third of Americans can name their Congressperson. On the flipside a recent poll showed that only 29 percent of people couldn’t name the Vice President. The good people in the House at least have their State counterparts beat. Only 20 percent of people were able to name their State representative. Ouch. I suppose this is understandable when only around 50 percent of people vote and a Congressperson can change every two years.

To put it in some perspective, 90 million people voted in the 2010 midterm elections and 122 million votes were cast to decide the season 10 winner of American Idol. Americans care more about Scotty McCreedy than the folks who make and pass laws.

If you want to know who represents you (and you should), plug in your ZIP here - and the magic of the internet will reveal all.

9. If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?

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Answer: the Speaker of the House

Only nine Vice Presidents have become president upon the death or resignation of the President. If, for some reason, the Vice President is also unable to take the position then the next in line is the Speaker of the House. This order of succession was not always so. Soon after the nation was founded a law was passed that made the Senate president pro tempore next in line after the President and Vice President. Later, the Secretary of State became the third in line.

The system we have now became law in 1947 and is known as the Presidential Succession Act. It was ratified as part of the Constitution in 1965. So if President Obama and Vice President Biden both got hit by a bus, the presidency would fall to Republican John Boehner (yeah, he’s the Speaker of the House).

8. Who is the Chief Justice of the United States now?

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Answer: John G. Roberts Jr.

John Roberts was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush in 2005 after the death of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Roberts is the 17th chief justice of the United States. Prior to taking the bench in the highest court of the land, Roberts served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He is the youngest chief justice since 1801.

7. What Territory Did the United States Buy From France in 1803?

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Answer: Louisiana

The Louisiana Territory was bought from France in 1803 for the sum of $15 million dollars (around $220 million today). The United States bought 828,000 square miles, which was the largest land acquisition in American history. The purchase literally doubled the size of the United States and helped the country expand westward. The land grab encompasses all or part of 15 current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The newly acquired land also opened up the port of New Orleans and allowed farmers to ship their goods down the Mississippi River without needing permission from another country.

6. What did Susan B. Anthony do?

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Answer: Fought for women’s rights

Susan B. Anthony is a pioneer of women’s rights. Born in Massachusetts in 1820, Anthony devoted her life to civil rights. She was the woman responsible for introducing women’s suffrage into the United States. She also campaigned against slavery. She routinely traveled around the country, and Europe, giving up to 100 speeches a year advocating women’s rights.

Anthony died at age 86, 14 years before women were given the vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote and is widely known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Anthony is also the first women to appear on a circulating U.S. coin, the Susan B. Anthony dollar.

5. What is the “rule of law”

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Answer: Everyone must follow the law. (Duh!)

This is a simple one, so it’s surprising how many people get it wrong. When most people hear the answer, they kick themselves for overthinking the question. John Adams, the second President of the United States, is responsible for crafting the section of the Constitution that outlines the “rule of law.” Adams writes, “No person or group is above the law.” The rule of law “helps to make sure that government protects all people equally and does not violate the rights of certain people.”

4. How Many Amendments Does the Constitution have?

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Answer: 27

The first amendments to the Constitution took place in 1791 when the Bill of Rights was added. This consisted of 10 amendments that outlined the individual rights of people. It is a list of all the things the government can’t do. Some of these rights include freedom of expression, the right to bear arms, freedom from search without a warrant, and the right to a trial by a jury of your peers. Since the Bill of Rights, 17 further amendments have been made. The 27th amendment was added in 1992 and explains how senators and representatives are paid.

3. The House of Representatives has How Many Voting Members?

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Answer: 435

The House of Representative has had 435 voting members since 1912. The House also contains six non-voting remember who represent (or don’t) the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

While the number of representative in the house cannot change, the number of representatives in each state can. Representation in the house is based on population and is one of the reasons a census is conducted every ten years. No matter what, each state must have at least one representative.

2. Name One of the Writers of the Federalist Papers

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Answer: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay or Publius

The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay under the pseudonym “Publius” in 1787 and 1788. They were published in New York newspapers during the time New York State was deciding whether or not to support the U.S. Constitution. The essays made the case as to why New York should ratify the Constitution. All the essays were combined and published into a book in 1788 called The Federalist Papers. This book is still read by people to help them understand the Constitution.

1. What Year was the Constitution Written?

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Answer: 1787

Yes, the United States Constitution was written in 1787 by the Founding Fathers of the United States. James Madison, who would later become the fourth president of the United States, is credited with writing the bulk of the document.

The Constitution is short and outlines the “supreme law of the land.” It sets up the system of government known as “representative democracy” and lists fundamental rights all citizens and people living in the United States must have. The U.S. Constitution has lasted longer than any other country’s constitution. It’s sad that some 70 percent of American polled by Newsweek magazine didn’t know diddly-squat about it.