Are you smarter than a politician? The Institute for American Civil Literacy decided to find the answer to that question. For the last several years, they have conducted a survey of Americans to see just how much they know about civics and history. The answers are disturbing. In 2008, they asked 2,508 Americans a series of 33 questions, then gave the nation a grade from A to F. Only 21 people received an “A” meaning they scored 90 percent or above on the test. Another 66 people received a “B”; 165 managed a “C”; and 445 people qualified for a “D.” An amazing 1,791 people out of 2,508, or 71.4 percent, failed to achieve a score of 60 or higher.

On most of the questions, elected officials scored lower than the general public. For example: 44 percent of elected officials were able to identify Rowe vs. Wade as the primary Supreme Court ruling involving legal abortions. The public did a bit better with 51 percent knowing the answer.

Less than 46 percent of elected officials knew that the Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress, not the president. The general public did a bit better with 54 percent answering correctly.

How did President Roosevelt react when the Supreme Court ruled against some of his programs? About 25 percent of us knew that he tried to expand the court so he could appoint judges who would support his programs while fewer that 20 percent of elected officials knew that.

But the politicians came out ahead on a couple of questions, but even then they were not impressive. Approximately 24 percent of our elected officials knew that the Lincoln-Douglass debates were about expanding slavery into the new territories. Only 19 percent of the general public got that right.

If you would like to take the test, go to

So what are we to make of this? In its summary, the Institute listed among its major findings that Americans failed the test with an average score of 49 percent. This failure crosses all political and regional lines. Liberals earned a 49 percent score: Conservatives came in at 48 percent. Republicans averaged 52 percent and Democrats achieved only a 45 percent score.

Nor does higher education help. College graduates with a bachelor’s degree scored 57 percent, which is only 13 percent higher than those with a high school diploma.

Our educational system is a failure when it comes to teaching fundamental history and civics to our citizens. Or, as one commentator said, Americans are too dumb to cast an enlightened vote. In my opinion, our schools spend far too much time being politically correct and pushing social changes and far too little time in basic education. And if we lose track of our history and heritage, we will lose America.

At the end of the Constitutional Convention, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, “What have you given us?” He answered, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” A radical politician once said. “If you would conquer a people, first take away their heritage.” I am afraid both of those statements are coming true. Our culture, our history and our heritage are nearly lost. And so is our liberty. Time is running short.

Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is His website can be accessed at

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