By the time John Adams became president, Americans already had taken to noisy celebrations of Independence Day, of which he heartily approved.
“It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other,” he wrote to his beloved Abigail.
That tradition continues, of course, to the point that not only Independence Day, but its underlying ideals and the sacrifices that made it possible, might be taken for granted.
The Center for the American Dream at Xavier University recently conducted a survey, asking native-born Americans any 10 of a group of 99 questions on the civics portion of the naturalization test taken by immigrants.
Whereas 97.5 percent of immigrants achieved a passing grade of 60 percent, only 65 percent of citizens born here passed. The natives tended to do well on questions related to geography, national symbols and holidays, but poorly regarding principles and ideas.
About 96 percent knew that the Statue of Liberty is in New York Harbor, for example, and 100 percent knew that each star on the U.S. flag represents a state. About 99 percent knew that Barack Obama is president, but only 71 percent correctly identified Joe Biden as vice president.
Only 7 percent knew that the Constitution has 27 amendments; 8 percent could name any of the authors of the Federalist Papers: John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.
There was widespread misunderstanding about the powers of the federal government and the states. In the survey only 43 percent correctly identified one power reserved for the federal government and just 23 percent correctly named one power held by the states.
The facts, principles and ideas addressed in the survey should be fundamental to every American’s education.
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty,” said Thomas Jefferson, John Adams’ rival, successor as president and, ultimately, friend by correspondence.