Study: Americans Ignorant About American Revolution

The American Revolution Center (ARC), an organization hoping to build the first national museum of the revolution in Philadelphia, released today what it’s calling “the first comprehensive national survey of adult knowledge of the American Revolution.” The findings, which are based on a random sample of 1,000 telephone interviews, indicate that 83 percent of Americans failed a basic test on knowledge of the American Revolution and the principles on which the country was founded.

Perhaps more interesting is the finding that 90 percent of respondents think that knowledge of the American Revolution and its principles are very important, and that 89 percent expected to pass a test on basic knowledge of the American Revolution, but scored an average of 44 percent.

The survey questions considered issues related to Revolutionary documents, people, and events, and also asked attitudinal questions about the respondents’ perception of the importance of understanding the Revolutionary history and the institutions that were established to preserve our freedoms and liberties. The entire study can be downloaded via pdf here.

Here is are some of the more remarkable findings:

American adults mistakenly believe the Constitution established a government of direct democracy, rather than a democratic republic. While this basic fact is included on the naturalization exam for immigrants to qualify for U.S. citizenship, more than half of the Americans polled do not know it.

More than 50 percent of Americans wrongly attributed the quote, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” to George Washington, Thomas Paine, or President Barack Obama, when it is in fact a quote from Karl Marx.

Many more Americans remember that Michael Jackson sang “Beat It” than know that the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution.

60 percent of Americans can correctly identify the number of children in reality-TV show couple Jon and Kate Gosselin’s household (eight), but more than one-third do not know the century in which the American Revolution took place. Half of those surveyed believe the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, or War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution.

At a time when thousands of political protesters hold “tea parties” around the nation, more than half of Americans do not know that the outcome of the Boston Tea Party was not a repeal of taxes, but rather that it prompted British to pass the Coercive Acts which ignited American patriotism and sparked the Revolution.

One-third of Americans do not know that the right to a jury trial is covered in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, while 4-in-10 mistakenly think that the right to vote is.

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3 thoughts on “Study: Americans Ignorant About American Revolution

  1. John Tyrrell

    Interesting post. Can’t say that I am surprised. Don’t think that Americans are much different from others in their historical knowledge; they may differ in their belief that they ought to know something about their history.
    I would be interested in a justification of the view that the US Constitution created a “Democratic Republic”. A Republic yes. My reading of the period – albeit some time ago – was that the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid democracy above all and to keep power in the hands of the “better sort of people”.

    Reply
  2. ar-liam

    Please, plese do stop calling them the founding fathers. The term is a 19th century invention that does great disservice to the many women who struggled for our liberty and helped form our government. the preferred, non-sexist term is: “The Framers.”
    The US constitution is a compilation of compromises that together comprise a federal union – and representative democratic republic. It is badly in need of a rewrite to unwork the many undemocratic institutions embodied therein. But we seem afraid to undertake that lest the entire structure fail.

    Reply
  3. michelle

    Oh please, rework the constitution? Maybe if you are interested in pulling out all of those amendments that try to socialize this great country. Personally, as a woman, I’m fine with the Founding Fathers and I presume they are rolling in their graves at this point. No one cares about what they (the founders or framers) were trying to do. We need to be more educated about exactly why we have the constitution we have today so that we don’t become like that great nation of Britain we were fleeing, as we try to revamp ourselves into something the Founders never intended.

    Reply

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