Sometime ago, I asked my blog readers to take a simple quiz regarding American government and history. I wanted to see just how well we knew some of the basics, such as our governing docs and some historical events. Nothing elaborate, I just wanted to take a pulse of our knowledge in general. 134 brave souls took the quiz for which I give my thanks. I didn’t want the quiz to be complicated which is why I tried to keep it as simple as possible. I could have asked for such things as age and political party affiliation, but I didn’t want to muddy the waters and turn people off.
Out of those who took the test, probably 25 people got a perfect score. I was not surprised by this as I didn’t try to invent a complicated quiz, just something that could give us some fundamental idea of what we know and what we don’t.
The quiz was far from scientific, yet I believe I can draw some conclusions from it based on the input. But first, let’s review the responses to each question. I’ll show both the number of responses and the percentage of the total, followed by my comments.
PLEASE ANSWER ALL 10 QUESTIONS – AMERICAN CITIZENS ONLY
1. Signed in 1620, it is the first governing document of Plymouth Colony as written by the colonists, later known to history as the Pilgrims. It was in essence a social contract in which the settlers consented to follow the document’s rules and regulations for the sake of survival.
22 – 17% – Magna Carta
92 – 69% – Mayflower Compact (CORRECT)
06 – 04% – Pilgrim Declaration
12 – 09% – Plymouth Compact
02 – 01% – Standish Consent and Decree
Comment: I considered this a tricky question as most people are unaware of any American history prior to 1776. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people got it right. Those that answered “Magna Carta” disappointed me; even though it is an important document that influenced others, it was still developed in England, not America. I consider it significant that people recognized its name though. By the way, the last three, Pilgrim Declaration, Plymouth Compact, and Standish Consent and Degree were figments of my imagination.
2. How many “separate but equal” branches are there in the U.S. Federal Government?
000 – 00% – 1
002 – 01% – 2
131 – 98% – 3 (CORRECT)
001 – 01% – 4
000 – 00% – 50
Comment: People may have gotten other parts of the quiz wrong, but somehow the concept of “three separate but equal branches of government” representing the checks and balances of government has been successfully stamped into our brains. Only three people missed this.
3. What is the following quote from? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
27 – 20% – Bill of Rights
94 – 70% – Declaration of Independence (CORRECT)
06 – 05% – Gettysburg Address
00 – 00% – Oath of Office
07 – 05% – US Constitution
Comment: The lion’s share of answers went correctly to the Declaration of Independence, but I was surprised to see how many people picked the Bill of Rights. As an aside, many of us had to memorize this section of the Declaration in elementary school.
4. Which U.S. President was NOT impeached?
34 – 25% – Bill Clinton
20 – 15% – Andrew Johnson
80 – 60% – Richard Nixon (CORRECT)
Comment: I expected this kind of response to the question. Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings could begin. The other two were impeached, meaning to hold trial in the Senate, yet were found not guilty. No U.S. President has ever been forcibly removed from office through peaceful means (assassination is another matter altogether).
5. What is the following quote from? “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,…”>
04 – 03% – Bill of Rights
32 – 24% – Declaration of Independence
02 – 01% – Gettysburg Address
00 – 00% – Oath of Office
96 – 72% – US Constitution (CORRECT)
Comment: Most people got this correct, but notice how many confused it for the Declaration of Independence. This particular quote is from the Preamble of the Constitution. Like the Declaration, many of us had to memorize this in grade school, but I don’t think they do so anymore.
6. What U.S. President served as commander-in-chief during World War I?
11 – 08% – Calvin Coolidge
07 – 05% – Warren Harding
18 – 13% – Theodore Roosevelt
03 – 03% – William Howard Taft
95 – 71% – Woodrow Wilson (CORRECT)
Comment: I expected this question to be a little tougher as a lot of us have forgotten the events of nearly 100 years ago. Baby boomers may still be familiar with World War II, but I thought they would surely have problems with the first war, “The War to end all Wars.” I wasn’t surprised that Teddy Roosevelt captured the number of responses that he did simply because of his strong name recognition. By the way, William Howard Taft was the only President who also became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (and the first to throw out a baseball on opening day).
7. What is the following quote from? “…and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
001 – 01% – Bill of Rights
000 – 00% – Declaration of Independence
000 – 00% – Gettysburg Address
127 – 95% – Oath of Office (CORRECT)
006 – 04% – US Constitution
Comment: I was flabbergasted that anyone got this wrong. The six who answered “US Constitution” should have read the question more carefully.
8. What is the following quote from? “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
005 – 04% – Bill of Rights
002 – 01% – Declaration of Independence
122 – 91% – Gettysburg Address (CORRECT)
000 – 00% – Oath of Office
005 – 04% – US Constitution
Comment: I was pleased to see most people remembered Lincoln’s speech. Interestingly, Lincoln was not the keynote speaker that day and, because of this, his words were almost overlooked by reporters in attendance. Thank God somebody was paying attention.
9. It stated that further efforts by European countries to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention. It asserted that the Western Hemisphere was not to be further colonized by European countries but that the United States would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries.
009 – 07% – Emancipation Proclamation
002 – 01% – Kansas-Nebraska Act
000 – 00% – Kennedy Doctrine
116 – 87% – Monroe Doctrine (CORRECT)
007 – 05% – NATO Accord2
Comment: I was pleasantly surprised by this one as I had assumed many people had forgotten about the Monroe doctrine, an important document which, to this day, is still in effect. I wonder if those who answered “Emancipation Proclamation” really understood the significance of that document. Probably not.
10. Which U.S. President was NOT directly involved with the Vietnam War?
81 – 60% – Dwight Eisenhower (CORRECT)
49 – 27% – Gerald Ford
01 – 01% – Lyndon Johnson
03 – 02% – John Kennedy
00 – 00% – Richard Nixon
Comment: This was perhaps my most controversial question as some of you argued that Eisenhower sent advisers to Viet Nam. True, but we send advisors to a lot of places. Viet Nam was Kennedy’s “line in the sand” to stop the proliferation of Communism. As to Ford, he inherited the Paris Peace talks from Nixon following his resignation and was in charge when we finally pulled out in 1975. Interestingly, I find younger people have no clue about this war whatsoever.
A few things occurred to me as I was compiling the results. First, the Gettysburg Address is better known than the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Gettysburg Address is a moving speech but it certainly doesn’t bear the significance of our governing documents.
Second, it seemed to me that a lot of people cannot distinguish between the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. They view them as synonymous documents. For what it’s worth, the Declaration was used to sever Britain’s authority over its American colonies. The U.S. Constitution specifies how the government is to operate. The Bill of Rights is an attachment to the Constitution and specifies the basic rights of the citizens, specifically the first ten amendments. It was greatly influenced by such documents as the “Magna Carta.” All three documents, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, are important reads that all citizens should be familiar with, not just students in grade school.
Finally, here are the number of correct answers versus incorrect answers submitted on the quiz:
1034 – 77% – Correct Answers
0306 – 23% – Incorrect Answers
In most schools, a 77% would represent a “C” which is probably not as bad as we think. Actually, this number is probably higher than the national average as I like to believe my readers are smarter than most.
First published: February 11, 2011
Keep the Faith!
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