With the founder-citing, Constitution-loving, 18th-century-dress-wearing
Tea Party movement in full swing, presumably Americans are more
interested than ever in early American history and the Constitution.
But a recent survey
attempting to gauge American
knowledge of U.S. history produced some discouraging results. Yahoo
News' Chris Lehmann
sums up the key points
• More Americans could identify
Michael Jackson as the composer of "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" than
could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the
• More than 50 percent of respondents attributed
the quote "From each according to his ability to each according to his
needs" to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or President Obama. The
quote is from Karl Marx, author of "The Communist Manifesto."
More than a third did not know the century in which the American
Revolution took place, and half of respondents believed that either the
Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred
before the American Revolution.
• With a political movement now
claiming the mantle of the Revolutionary-era Tea Party, more than half
of respondents misidentified the outcome of the 18th-century agitation
as a repeal of taxes, rather than as a key mobilization of popular
resistance to British colonial rule.
• A third mistakenly
believed that the Bill of Rights does not guarantee a right to a trial
by jury, while 40 percent mistakenly thought that it did secure the
right to vote.
• More than half misidentified the system of
government established in the Constitution as a direct democracy, rather
than a republic-a question that must be answered correctly by
immigrants qualifying for U.S. citizenship.
Lehmann notes what
may be the most telling statistic: "Before the test, 89 percent of
respondents expressed confidence they could pass it; 83 percent went on
to fail." Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis shrugs it off
. "I’m not at all certain
that this means much of anything for the
political system, though, because the people who are unable to identify
the basic facts of American history are also unlikely to be the ones
lining up at the polling place at six in the morning to cast a ballot."
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