Poll: Many Teens Don't Know July 4 History

ByABC News
July 3, 2001, 5:09 PM

July 4 -- For 14 percent of U.S. teens, the Fourth of July will mark the historic day we declared independence from France.

Another 5 percent think we rose up against the tyrannous Canadians on July 4, 1776.

That's according to a new study, which finds a sizable percentage of high school-age Americans don't really know what all the fuss is about today. More than a fifth of the survey respondents didn't know which country we declared our independence from, including 14 percent who thought it was France, not Britain.

The survey reported that 15 percent of U.S. teens didn't know the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Nine percent thought we ratified the Constitution that day. (That didn't happen for another 13 years.)

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How Many Colonies?

A significant percentage of teens weren't sure who was doing the declaring, either 17 percent didn't know there were 13 original colonies.

"When you look at these numbers, it means that more than 5 million U.S. teenagers don't understand the true meaning of Independence Day," said Colin Campbell, head of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which sponsored the study. The survey polled 1,020 people between the ages of 12 and 17. It has a margin of error of 3 percent.

It found other gaps in their knowledge, as well: 19 percent couldn't name the third branch of government, after the executive and judicial.

More than a quarter of those surveyed didn't know the two sides fighting in the Civil War 13 percent said the conflict was between the United States and Great Britain, and 5 percent said it was between East and West.

Stumped by The Star-Spangled Banner

And only 69 percent could name the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as Francis Scott Key.

The questions, designed for fourth-graders, are far simpler than those asked on the American citizenship test. That exam includes questions such as: Who becomes president if the president and vice president die? And, how many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution? (The answers are the speaker of the House of Representatives and 27, respectively.)