I had to learn 100 questions and answers for my US Naturalization civics quiz this week, and my default way of learning something is to organize the information into an essay. Not the best work I've ever done, but it got me through the test, so good enough:
The region now occupied by the US was originally settled by Native Americans, probably travelling from the Far East, around 15,000 years ago.
Modern Native tribes include Apache, Arawak, Blackfeet, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chippewa, Choctaw, Creek, Crow, Hopi, Huron, Inuit, Iroquois, Lakota, Mohegan, Navajo, Oneida, Pueblo, Seminole, Shawnee, Sioux, and Teton.
European colonists came to America to escape persecution, in pursuit of religious and political freedom, and economic opportunity.
The Atlantic slave trade took Africans to the American colonies as slaves. This practice was widespread by the time of the American Revolution.
The colonists decided to fight for freedom from British rule because:
- They didn't want to pay high taxes to the British government without representation.
- They did not like the British army being quartered in their houses.
- They wanted self-government.
By the time of the declaration of independence, there were thirteen colonies that became the initial thirteen United States:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
These States fought the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain.
In 1803 (27 years after the declaration of independence), the United States bought the Louisiana territory from France.
Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence declared the United States to be independent of, and free from, the rule of Great Britain. It was written by Thomas Jefferson, and adopted on July 4th, 1776.
It notes the right of all men to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The American Constitution
The supreme law of the land is the constitution. It sets up and defines the government, and also enumerates the basic rights of American citizens and residents.
The idea of self-government is represented in the constitution's first three words: "We the people...".
The constitution was written at the constitutional convention of 1787, by the Founding Fathers. Its passage was supported by the Federalist Papers, written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, under the pseudonym "Publius", after Publius Valerius Poplicola, a Roman aristocrat who led the overthrow of the monarchy to found the Roman Republic in 509 BC.
Benjamin Franklin is known as:
- Oldest member of the constitutional convention,
- The first Postmaster General of the United States,
- Writer of "Poor Richard's Almanac",
- Starter of the first free libraries,
- A US diplomat.
George Washington is known as:
- The first President
- The "Father of our Country"
The original text of the constitution has since been modified by twenty-seven amendments, each of which is numbered, and takes the form of an addition to the existing text.
Rights and Responsibilities
The first ten amendments are known as "the Bill of Rights".
The first amendment prohibits the government from infringing on the right of residents in the US to:
- Establish or practice any religion, or no religion at all.
- Free speech.
- Freedom of the press.
- Peaceably assemble.
- Petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The final four items above are together known as "freedom of expression".
In addition, the constitution establishes:
- The right to bear arms.
US citizens are granted additional rights that do not apply to all residents, including:
- Running for federal office
- Voting in federal elections
And US citizens are additionally assigned responsibilities:
- Jury service
- Voting in federal elections
Voting in federal elections is thus established as both a right and a responsibility.
The pledge of allegiance declares loyalty to the US flag and the United States.
Ways for citizens to participate in their democracy include:
- Join a political party
- Help with a political campaign
- Join a civic or community group
- Give opinions to elected officials, such as calling Senators or Representatives.
- Publicly support or oppose an issue or policy.
- Run for office
- Write to a newspaper
When becoming a naturalized US citizen, the oath of allegiance declares one will:
- Give up loyalty to other countries
- Be loyal to the United States
- Obey the laws of the United States
- Defend the constitution and laws of the United States
- Serve in the US military (if the law demands it)
- Serve civil projects for the nation (if the law demands it)
All men resident in the USA must register for selective service (a list from which draftees are chosen should the need arise) between the ages of 18 and 26.
The last day to submit federal income tax forms is April 15th.
The enfranchisement and disenfranchisement of different groups has been a moral and political issue throughout United States history.
The original constitution did not explicitly specify who was able to vote, and states demonstrated considerable diversity in whom they did or did not grant suffrage. In particular, most states only granted the vote to white, male, property owners - about 6% of the population.
In the 1820s, attitudes and state laws shifted, to allow all white males to vote in most states, although some laws removing the poor's right to vote continued until the 20th century, and practices that disproportionately affect the poor's ability to vote continue today.
Several constitutional amendments successively modified who can vote, notably:
- The 15th Amendment of 1870, in the wake of the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, prevented the denial of voting rights based on a person's race. This was effectively interpreted to mean that men of any race could vote. However, states continued to prevent the majority of African Americans in the United States from voting, via Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and the like. Only later in the 20th century were these laws ruled unconstitutional.
- The 19th Amendment of 1920 allowed women to vote. However, in practice, women — who were rarely in control of independent sources of income — were usually still prevented from voting by the same discriminatory practices that prevented voting by poor or non-white men.
- The 24th amendment of 1964 prohibited using a poll tax to control who could vote in federal elections.
- The 26th amendment of 1971 lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. This was passed in response to Vietnam War protest, which noted that if draftees were considered old enough to be sent to fight, they should also be old enough to vote.
The following section was not part of the USCIS civics test. But I'm including it because it's clear that although the Declaration asserted "all men are created equal", subsequent laws and behavior has severely curtailed that assertion when it comes to issues such as being allowed to vote. So, who currently is, and is not, allowed to vote? Sometimes the best way to understand something is to trace its contours, by enumerating the exceptions.
Those who are currently legally denied the right to vote, for reasons that I personally find arguably understandable, are:
- Those aged under 18.
- Those deemed mentally "incapacitated" or "incompetent" by a conservatorship process.
- Illegal or undocumented immigrants (16 million people).
The following people are also legally denied the vote, for reasons that I personally find controversial or outright wrong:
- US Citizens and nationals who reside in the United States territories that are not States, such as Puerto Rico.
- Washington DC residents (718,000 people) have had the right to vote in presidential elections since 1961, but no congressional elections have been held there since 1801.
- Non-citizen residents of the United States such as myself (13 million people). This includes legal aliens in good standing, such as foreign spouses, asylum claimants and refugees, who might reside within the US, paying taxes, for years or decades. Contrast this with the United Kingdom, for example, where people in the similar category "with leave to remain" are able to vote.
- The homeless (580,000 people) are often excluded from voting by residency requirements, or by the inability to register without a mailing address or proof of identity.
- Current prisoners, in almost all states (5.5 million people). Some states impose a lifelong denial of voting rights to anyone with a previous felony record, which affects another 5.9 million people.
- US Citizens who have never established residence in the United States may be denied the vote by various states.
The above categories represent 28.8 million people, around 11 percent of the adult population, who currently have no legal right to vote for US government positions due to reasons I personally find controversial or wrong.
Susan B Anthony was a prominent activist for womens rights and civil rights.
Martin Luther King Jr. fought for civil rights, to try and provide equality for Americans of all races.
The United States has waged many wars, including:
18th Century Wars
- American Revolutionary War to free America from British rule.
- Cherokee-American wars
- Northwest Indian War
- Quasi-War (a naval war, allied with Britain, against France & Guadeloupe)
19th Century Wars
56 official wars, mostly resulting in the genocide or internment of various indigenous Native American nations. Sometimes the United States was allied with or fighting against Great Britain, and sometimes on the soil of other foes such as the Ottoman Empire and Morocco, China, Mexico, Spanish Florida, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Guam. Notable among these wars were:
- The War of 1812 against Great Britain
- The Mexican-American war, in the disputed former Mexican territories of Texas, New Mexico, California and regions of Mexico.
- The American Civil War.
- The Spanish-American war.
The Civil War
The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 was fought between the United States and the Confederacy of Southern States, over the issues of whether slavery was to remain legal in the Southern States, upon which many southern white livelihoods and businesses depended. This is sometimes framed as an academic disagreement about "States Rights" to self-government, but I personally find it hard to interpret that as anything other than a disingenuous fig leaf.
Abraham Lincoln lead the Northern states to victory in the Civil War, and is praised for saving or preserving the Union. He presided over the Emancipation Proclamation which ostensibly freed the slaves, although many still suffer from ongoing repercussions and outright racism even up to the present day.
20th Century Wars
31 official wars, some against outstanding Native American nations, others in diverse locations such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Russia, Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Lebanon, Cambodia, Grenada, Libya, Iran & Persian Gulf, Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Somalia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Haiti, and Serbia.
Notable amongst these were:
- World War I, during which the president was Woodrow Wilson.
- World War II, against Germany, Japan and Italy, during which the president was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Eisenhower was a general in this war, and subsequently went on to become President.
- Korean War
- Vietnam War
- Persian Gulf War
During the Cold war, the main concern of the United States was communism.
21st Century Wars
11 thus far, including Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Iraq.
The constitution grants the federal government power to:
- Print money.
- Declare war.
- Raise an army.
- Make treaties.
The states are granted power to provide:
- Protection in the form of police.
- Fire departments.
- Schooling and education.
- Driver's licenses.
- Zoning and land use.
The government defined by the constitution is divided into three branches:
- The executive branch is formed by the President and their administration.
- The legislative branch is formed by Congress.
- The judicial branch is formed by the courts.
The separation of powers between these three branches forms a system of checks and balances that prevents any one part of government from becoming too powerful.
The President leads the executive branch. They sign bills into law, and have veto power over new laws. They are the Commander in Chief of the military. Presidents are elected for four year terms, in a vote that takes place in November.
The President appoints a Cabinet of advisors. If the President cannot serve, succession falls to the Vice President, and then to the Speaker of the House.
Other cabinet-level positions include Attorney General, and Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defence, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, the Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, the Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.
The President is currently Joseph Robinette Biden Jr (Democratic).
The Vice President is currently Kamala Harris (Democratic).
The Speaker of the House is currently Nancy Pelosi (Democratic).
Congress makes federal laws.
It comprises two parts:
- The Senate.
- The House of Representatives.
The Senate comprises two senators from each state, yielding 100 total senators. Each senator represents the entirety of their state. Senators are elected for six year terms.
The House of Representatives
Each state is divided into a number of congressional districts, the number of which depends on the population of the state. Each district sends a single representative to the House, whose job is to represent the people of their specific district. Currently, this yields a total of 435 representatives. Representatives are elected for two year terms.
The Judicial branch
The courts review and explain laws, resolves disputes, and decides whether laws contravene the constitution.
The "rule of law" states that every individual, no matter how highly-placed, must obey the law, as must the government itself.
The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court, which comprises nine justices, lead by Chief Justice John Glover Roberts Jr.
States, Territories, and Geography
The United States of America contains 335 million people, of whom around 261 million are adults. The regions of the country comprise:
- 50 States (the 48 contiguous States, plus Hawaii and Alaska)
- Washington DC, the capital city and federal district (690,000 people).
Plus other territories:
- American Samoa (43,000 people).
- Guam (169,000 people).
- Northern Mariana Islands (56,000 people).
- Puerto Rico (3,286,000 people).
- United States Virgin Islands (87,000 people).
For comparison, the least populated state, Wyoming, contains 581,000 people.
The Pacific Ocean is on the West Coast of the United States, while the Atlantic ocean is on the East Coast.
The two longest rivers within the United States are the Missouri and the Mississippi.
The Statue of Liberty is on Liberty Island, in New York Harbour, on the Hudson River near the south end of Manhattan in New York City.
States that border Canada are: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska.
States that border Mexico are: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
The flag has 50 stars to represent the 50 states, and 13 stripes to represent the initial 13 colonies.
The national anthem is The Star-Spangled Banner.
Independence Day is celebrated every July 4th. Other national holidays are:
- New Year's Day
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- Presidents' Day
- Memorial Day
- Independence Day
- Labor Day
- Columbus Day
- Veterans Day
My State, Minnesota
The capital of Minnesota is St Paul.
The current Governor of Minnesota is Tim Waltz.
The current senators for Minnesota are:
- Amy Klobuchar (Democratic)
- Tina Smith (Democratic)
The current representative for my district, the first congressional district of Minnesota, is Jim Hagadorn (Republican).
The economic system of the United States is a capitalist, free market economy.
The two major political parties in the US are the Democratic and Republican parties.
On 11th September 2001, terrorists attacked the United States by crashing commercial passenger airliners into the Pentagon in Virginia near Washington DC, and the twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroying them and killing almost 3,000 people.