Civic Literacy Curriculum
Section 7 | Geography, Symbols, and Holidays
The United States of America is both a geographic place and a political community. America has been blessed with geographic advantages. Compared to other parts of the world, it has had generally peaceful relations with the two countries on its borders, Canada and Mexico, in addition to having two oceans — the Pacific to the West and the Atlantic to the East — helping guard it from external threat.
The United States is also a political community, one most clearly embodied in the Constitution but also found in important traditions and symbols, including the US flag, the national anthem, Independence Day, and the Statue of Liberty.
Section 7.1 Geography
Q119: What is the capital of the United States?
The Constitution does not establish where the federal capital would be, but Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 did insist that it be a distinctive place. For one, it could not be part of a state (which is why it does not have congressional representation, which is reserved only for states).
Q120: Where is the Statue of Liberty?
Édouard de Laboulaye, a French republican, abolitionist, and admirer of America, proposed that the French people contribute a statute to commemorate America’s achievements in maintaining a free government and in ending slavery at the conclusion of the Civil War. (The broken chains at the statue’s feet symbolize this).
Q128: Name the two longest rivers in the United States.
These two rivers have played a large role in the development of the nation. Without access to them, it’s pretty likely that the U.S. would be far smaller – and another nation (or nations?) might own everything west of the Mississippi.
Q129 +130: Between Two Oceans
As many have observed throughout history, the United States of America has additional protection in the form of the two oceans on either side of it, the Atlantic to its east and the Pacific to its west.
Q131: Name one U.S. territory.
In addition to the 50 states and the federal District of Columbia, the United States has several territories. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are found to the southeast, in the Caribbean Sea, while Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands are in the Pacific Ocean. Except for American Samoa, residents of all of these have been gradually extended U.S. citizenship by Congress.
Q132: Name one state that borders Canada.
The territory that eventually became the United States was far from the only British colony in the New World. To the north were other British territories, including former French lands, ceded to the British at the end of the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in America). Despite the hopes of Americans, the people of these territories chose to remain loyal to the British government in Canada; indeed, many former Americans who remained loyal to the British crown moved there.
Q133: Name one state that borders Mexico.
Like its neighbor to the north, Mexico is a federal and constitutional republic, technically the United Mexican States or United States of Mexico, and is made up of 32 states.
7.2 Symbols and Holidays
Q121 + 122: The American Flag
The very first American flag was the Grand Union Flag, which had the 13 red-and-white stripes we know today but the canton (the corner) was the British ensign. The stripes represented the colonies while the ensign a connection to Britain. This was used before the colonies formally declared independence and were instead fighting to maintain what they understood as British liberties, though whether that is the reason for the design is unclear.
Q123: What is the name of the national anthem?
O! Say can you see by the dawn’s early light? What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Q124: The Nation’s first motto was “E Pluribus Unum.” What does that mean?
America’s first motto was “E pluribus unum,” a Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one.”
Questions 125, 126, 127 + 128: American Holidays
There are ten national holidays in the United States today. They are also known as “federal holidays” or “bank holidays” because on those days, most federal offices are closed, including banks and the Post Office.