A Quarter of Americans Hazy on U.S. Independence


Pop quiz: What country did the U.S. declare independence from?

Over a quarter of Americans don't know the answer to that question, according to a newpoll from the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. And an eyebrow-raising 40% of 18- to 29-year-olds couldn't produce the correct response. The answers proffered by respondents included France, Spain, Mexico, Japan and China.

"This is not a ringing endorsement of the awareness of the American public," says Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute.

On the bright side, 74% of respondents correctly identified Britain, which ruled the American colonies until the Revolutionary War.

Don't Tread on Me

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, which included the following famous line attacking Britain's King George III: "The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." (Most delegates actually signed the document on Aug. 2, 1776.)

Seven years of war would follow with no certainty that the American rebels would prevail. Just months after the Declaration, the British Army captured New York City and forced General George Washington's army to retreat to Pennsylvania, prompting Thomas Paine's famous line: "These are the times that try men's souls."

The tide of the war changed in the rebels' favor after France allied itself with the colonists and sent its navy to their aid. The final major North American battle occurred in Yorktown, Va. in October, 1781, when French and American bombardment forced British general Lord Cornwallis to surrender. Britain didn't recognize American independence until the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The U.S. Congress would ratify the treaty in 1784.

The penultimate text from the Declaration of Independence:

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Happy Independence Day!