There are some things about our country’s history that every person should know. If you grew up in this country and was educated here, there is really no excuse not to know them. As I scoured the internet for examples, I was led to the citizenship exam that is taken by those who are born in other countries but are seeking to become Americans. I looked over the questions and decided to ask a few people I know. Deliberately, I choose those who did not have a master’s in history since I know quite a few of them. I wanted this to reflect the average person so I ventured further out among my friends. I made them swear not to look up the answers and to complete it as quick as they could.
Of those who took the quiz, all thirteen who volunteered, here are their stats:
60 and over — 3
Didn’t finish high school — 2
High school diploma — 4
Associate’s degree — 2
BA — 5
MA — 0
Granted, this isn’t an official survey where a hundred or more participated. It’s hard to get many people to get involved without paying them or something it seems. But this gave me a quick glance at several people I know.
Question #1 — Why did the colonists come to America?
2 out of 13 didn’t know this answer. My fourteen year old was shocked that this was not common knowledge. The two who did not know it were the ones who did not finish high school.
Why is this important? The colonists came over for a variety of reasons. One reason was to seek freedom, religiously and politically. The new land was a chance to improve their lives and create a new world where they could live with more opportunity and more room to breath. Knowing why the country was started helps to understand many of the arguments used by politicians and other groups. You can’t understand the current activities of the country nor the future if you can’t understand the past and where most beliefs stand on.
Question #2 — Who lived in America before the colonists arrived?
Everyone got this right. Maybe because it is talked about so much. Native Americans, a.k.a. American Indians, have gotten more attention in the last few years about how they were treated hundreds of years ago.
Why is this important? Knowing this, a person is aware of issues that still permeate our nation. There is still bitterness between many Native American tribes and those who are not members. Even if you have their blood in your veins, it can be tense. Many non-Natives look down on the Natives while many Natives hold grudges against the non-Natives from many generations ago. It spills out in the political arena quite often and can also show up on the cultural level depending on where you live. Not knowing this prevents one from understanding the problems around them.
Question #3 — What group of people were brought here as slaves?
One person did not know the answer. I would love to know how they could not know this. I was impressed with a few answers that went beyond the expected answer of Africans. There were other groups though in fewer number. One person even included the indentured servants who were a form of self-imposed slavery that many from Europe put themselves in for the hope of a better life after their service was over.
Why is it important? This action has greatly impacted our world today. Many alive still remember a time when the descendants of these slaves were to be separate in society. While that has been outlawed, many still feel that way. The result of bringing the Africans to the New World to work is seen in discrimination today and in how whites and African Americans react to each other, to themselves, to their own culture. Knowing the past of slavery brings a fuller understanding of today.
Question #4 — Why did the American Revolution occur?
2 did not know the answer to this. The rest basically got it right by stating politics or the desire to remove Britain’s imposing rule.
Why is it important? The heart of the American Revolution can be found within the foundation of America today. To understand the people of this country and the politics and society of it, one has to understand where the country started and how far it was willing to go to achieve its dreams.
Question #5 — Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
1 person answered Lincoln. Another just stated ‘founding fathers’ while another listed many including Jefferson. That left ten stating correctly that it was Thomas Jefferson.
Why is it important? I will have to admit that if one does not know this, they will still be able to function as a valuable asset to society.
Question #6 — When was the Declaration adopted?
2 didn’t know the answer, and 1 gave a date with no year attached. It was 1776
Why is it important? To be honest, this is another one that most people won’t know and don’t really have to know. Dates are not near as important as reasons and understanding, in my opinion. Yet this is one that is celebrated every year. So the ones who did not know…to me shows they are not observant.
Question #7 — Name three of the original thirteen colonies.
2 didn’t know the answers. 1 listed only two and one of them was a state on the west coast. The answers could have been: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania,
Why is it important? Every day life will not be affected by not knowing this, but the knowledge will help a person if they have to travel in these states as this history is a big part of the states’ cultures.
Question #8 — What happened at the Constitutional Convention?
Only 2 got this question right with 1 slightly close. While this isn’t something discussed every day, the answer is right there in the question. The constitution was created.
Why is it important? The actual event is not important to know to be a contributing citizen to this society, but not figuring this out just from reading the question gives me a shudder. Logically, anyone should be able to figure out the answer by reading the question carefully. Most did not. This shows how most people do not pay attention and think before answering.
Question #9 — When was the Constitution written?
Only 2 got this right as well with 1 close. I’m not even sure I could get it exactly right. It was written in 1787.
Why is it important? To be honest, this is another one that is not that important, in my eyes. As long as a person knows about the Constitution and what it does for them, that should be enough.
Question #10 — Name one writer of the Federalist Papers.
5 gave a right answer. 1 was close, and 6 didn’t have a clue. The authors were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.
Why is it important? Sadly, few people even know what the Federalist Papers are much less who wrote them. To know of this work, is to understand much of how the country started and the foundation many beliefs are held in the government.
Question #11 — What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?
Can you believe that 2 didn’t know? This man is known for so many things including harnessing electricity, our postal service, our public library system, heating stove, bifocals, and so much more.
Why is this important? Since so much of our modern day life is impacted by this man’s genius, there should be no question as to why knowing this is important. This one man did more to affect our daily lives than most of the founding fathers put together.
Question #12 — Who is the Father of Our Country?
Only 1 person didn’t know the answer to this. George Washington has been given this title because he helped lead the troops to independence and eventually accepted the nomination to be the first president.
Why is this important? Knowing the origins of this country and the man many of the nation’s principles stand on is important to learning how the government works and the ideals many laws are set on.
Question #13 — Who was the first President?
Yes, 1 person did not know the answer to this. I just don’t think they thought about it. George Washington was the first president.
Why is this important? Because his name is everywhere and is used for many different government locations and events.
Question #14 — What territory did the US buy from France in 1803?
3 participants didn’t know the answer was the Louisiana territory.
Why is it important? This area has a strong French influence. This would help people who live in the area or move through it see why there are so many French names of towns, tribes, etc.
Question #15 — Name one war from 1800s the US fought in.
Only 2 were not able to name a war. Most chose the War of 1812 which is easy to remember.
Why is it important? Many of these wars helped to shape the nation both politically and culturally. To understand the wars fought helps to understand the country.
Question #16 — Name the war between the North and the South.
Only 1 didn’t know this answer as the Civil War, or War Between the States.
Why is it important? This was an event that changed the country and still impacts it today. There are historical sites from this war as well as new laws, amendments, and continued animosity. To understand the nation, especially the middle and eastern sections, one has to know about this war.
Question #17 — Name one issue that led to the Civil War.
The most popular answer is slavery. 1 person didn’t know that. Other answers include state rights and pride (my personal favorite).
Why is this important? Same reason as why someone needs to know the name of the war. The reason behind the war and the war itself has shaped much of the nation and the cultures that have resulted. The war did not solve a problem that is still being fought today with gradual success.
Question #18 — What was one important thing Abraham Lincoln did?
The most common answer is the freeing of slaves. 2 participants did not know an answer.
Why is this important? This president is referred to often in political circles, literary circles, and the academic circles. His term in office changed the course of American history, and he has been honored in every area of society.
Question #19 — What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
This proclamation by Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the South. 1 person didn’t know the answer. 1 person said he gave women rights they had been denied. 10 others said it freed slaves. Only one got it exactly right as it only freed the slaves only in the South so they could join the fight against their former masters.
Why is this important? It is the act that led to blacks and whites being equal in the eyes of the law. Much of the cultural issues today were started by this proclamation as a society of ruling whites had to adapt to accepting people of other color, mainly those who had been slaves, as their equal.
Question #20 — What did Susan B Anthony do?
Only 1 person didn’t know about this outstanding woman. This is the reason us women have the right to achieve our dreams and participate in American society, even politics.
Why is this important? It would be a shame that we forget one of the women who risked everything so that women could vote, own property, and be considered equal to men in the majority of jobs.
Question #21 — Name one war the US fought in during the 1900s?
Only 1 person didn’t know the answer. It could be many that we have lived through ourselves.
Why is it important? Since most of us have lived through events that happened in the 1900s, it would be a terrible shame if we couldn’t remember even The Gulf War which was one of several major wars in that era.
Question #22 — Who was the President during WWI?
I have to admit that this was even hard for me as WWI seems so far away. This comes easier to those who lived during the time. Of the participants, 4 had no idea who it would be while 3 guessed wrong. The ones who got it right? The ones who were old enough to remember.
Why is this important? For every day life and participating in the nation, I have no idea.
Question #23 — Who was the President during the Great Depression and WWII?
1 person didn’t know the answer and 5 were wrong. President Franklin D Roosevelt served the most terms in office.
Why is this important? Since this president is the reason for limited terms for the office of presidency as well as our Social Security administration, he should be known quite well.
Question #24 — What war did President Eisenhower fight in?
Only 1 person got this right. 5 didn’t know and the others guessed wrong. It was World War II.
Why is this important? Not quite sure how this can be so important for citizens to know.
Question #25 — During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the US?
11 got it right. 2 had no idea that it was communism or nuclear war.
Why is this important? It wasn’t that long ago when the Cold War ended. The tension is still there underlying many events that are currently unraveling on the world political front. This will resurrect itself in politics.
Question #26 — What movement tried to end racial discrimination?
Only 1 person didn’t answer this question. The rest knew it to be the Civil Rights Movement that took the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment to a whole new level.
Why is this important? The movement started the move to end it, but tensions can still be found. To understand today’s social and political racial tensions, you need to know about this movement, who was involved, and what resulted.
Question #27 — What did Martin Luther King, Jr. do?
Yes! Everyone got this one right. This was one of the main leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who was murdered and made a martyr for the cause.
Why is this important? His words are still quoted today and used in speeches across the country. His actions and words still push the movement forward.
Question #28 — What major event happened on September 11, 2001?
Everyone got this as well possibly because we all lived through it and remember the terrorists who hit the World Trade Signals.
Why is this important? It shapes American political and societal views on foreign interactions and terrorism.
Question #29 — Name one American tribe?
Only 1 person couldn’t answer the question. The rest name several from Cherokee ot Menominee.
Why is this important? These tribes still live in this country today and effect our economy daily. Understanding of who they are and their past helps us to understand the present and the future.
Question #30 — Why does the flag have 13 stripes?
1 person did not’ know an answer. The rest knew that the represented the thirteen original colonies.
Why is this important? We see these stripes whenever we look at the flag. It is important to understand what they stand for and the sacrifice they gave for the country that is strong today.
Question #31 — Why does the US flag have 50 stars?
Only 1 person didn’t have an answer. The rest gave the correct answer of the total number of states represented in the stars.
Why is this important? The same reason as the question above.
Question #32 — What is the National Anthem?
Only 1 person got this wrong but they had a good answer — America the Beautiful. The Star Spangled Banner has been the National Anthem for many years.
Why is this important? We sing it at every sporting event. You should know it.
Okay, my survey wasn’t too official but it gives you an idea. Now a more scientific study was done where over 2500 Americans took a similar test. Over 71% scored less than fifty percent. That’s even sadder than my survey.