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 Constitution.
• 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."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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