Press Releases | Historical Literacy

Congressional Resolution Calling for Restoring America’s Historical Memory

Senators Lieberman and Gorton and Representative Petri unveil Concurrent Resolution Regarding the Importance and Value of United States History, Citing Recent Survey by ACTA
June 27, 2000

WASHINGTON, DC—As the country prepares to celebrate the Fourth of July, members of the Senate and House—flanked by eminent historians from across the country—met to unveil a joint resolution calling on all Americans to restore their historical memory.

Introduced by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT), Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-WI) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the Concurrent Resolution “expresses the sense of Congress regarding the importance and value of United States history” and calls on boards of trustees, college administrators and state officials to strengthen American history requirements.

Citing a recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century, which found that 81% of seniors at top-rated colleges received a D or an F on a high school level American history questions, Lieberman stated that the “historical illiteracy of America’s college graduates is a serious national problem that should be addressed by the country’s higher education community.”

“Without a common civic memory and a common understanding of the remarkable individuals, events, and ideals that have shaped the nation,” said Lieberman, “we as a people risk losing much of what it means to be an American, as well as our ability to fulfill the fundamental responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.”

“We are introducing this resolution today to draw attention to the troubling historical illiteracy of our next generation of leaders,” said Petri. “As we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, it is particularly appropriate to emphasize our need to know U.S. history. Without that familiarity, we lack an understanding and appreciation of the democratic principles which define us and sustain us as a free people—namely, liberty, justice, tolerance, government by the consent of the governed, and equality under the law.”

“This resolution comes at a most opportune time,” said Jerry L. Martin, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and co-author of the ACTA report, Losing America’s Memory. “Confronted with the findings of ACTA’s report, boards of trustees across the county are beginning to take action. In recent months alone, the State University of New York, George Mason University and James Madison University have adopted American history requirements. Others are following suit and this Congressional action will surely provide added impetus to the movement to enhance standards and restore America’s memory,” said Martin.

Eminent scholars and historians from across the country also attended and emphasized the urgency of restoring America’s memory. “We Americans have a special need to understand our history, for our history is what makes us a nation and gives us our sense of nationality,” said Gordon Wood, professor of history at Brown University and board member of the National Council for History Education. “A people like us, made up of every conceivable race, ethnicity, and religion in the world, can never be a nation in the usual sense of the term,” said Wood. “Without some such sense of our history, the citizens of the United States can scarcely long exist as a united people.”

Also present were John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, James Rees, Director, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Jeffrey Wallin, president, American Academy for Liberal Education, and Paul Reber, Executive Director, Decatur House, National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Statements supporting the effort were provided by:

  • David McCullough, historian
  • Lynne V. Cheney, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Eugene Hickok, Secretary of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
  • Oscar Handlin, University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
  • John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History, The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  • Walter McDougall, Pulitzer-prize winning historian, University of Pennsylvania
  • Stephen Balch, President, National Association of Scholars
  • Michael C. Quinn, Executive Director, James Madison’s Montpelier
  • Theodore K. Rabb, chairman, National Council for History Education
  • Dr. Balint Vazsonyi, Director, Center for the American Founding
  • Candace de Russy, trustee, State University of New York
  • Thomas Egan, board chairman, State University of New York
  • James Rees, director, George Washington’s Mount Vernon
  • Marc Berley, president, Foundation for Academic Standards and Tradition

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is as national nonprofit organization of alumni and trustees dedicated to academic excellence, freedom and accountability. It has members from more than 200 institutions of higher education from across the country.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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