Persistent American History Myths
Debunking Common U.S History Myths
An overview of common misconceptions about historical figures and historic events in American history - that is to say, United States History.
For some odd reason, it seems that history and myths often go hand and hand.
It is a rather strange phenomenon because important events in history are well documented, which makes them relatively easy to verify.
Despite the simplicity of being able to confirm a historical fact, there are still a couple of persistent myths about American history; here are a couple of the most prevalent and annoying history myths:
Historical Myths about George Washington
The Facts As We Know Them
We know many historical facts about George Washington.He was the first president of the United States, he served as a commander in the Contenental Army during the American Revolutionary War, his vice president was John Adams.
The first president of our country married a woman named Martha Custis, and George and Martha lived on a Virginia estate called Mount Vernon.
Furthermore, he chopped down his father’s cherry tree, he was a tall man who had wooden teeth, and he is the Father of our Country.
All of that is kosher, right?
Somewhere in our own history, probably during those carefree years of elementary school, we learned that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.
When Washington was questioned about the dastardly deed by his father, he proclaimed “I cannot tell a lie,” and he promptly confessed.
During those same gloriously ignorant primary school years, we also learned that the Father of our Country had wooden teeth.
Well, I’m sorry to murder some of the innocence of your youth, but we know for a fact that George Washington did not have teeth made of wood, and there is absolutely no historical evidence to support the existence of the cherry tree story.
I know, it is quite disheartening to think that George Washington might have actually been capable of telling a lie; but, it is what it is – or what it was.
Historical Myths about Christopher Columbus
The Facts As We Know Them
Everyone knows who Christopher Columbus was.He was an Italian explorer, He has a birthday holiday named after him (Columbus Day), he sailed the ocean blue in 1492 for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
Three of his ships were named The Nina, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria, and he believed the earth was flat.
Because he thought he was sailing to S.E. Asia, he mistook the Bahamas (San Salvador Isle) for The East Indies and named its inhabitants Indios (Indians), and Christopher Columbus discovered America – Duh!
OK, well, just slow down on the "duh’s" – a lot of those “history facts” are actually history myths.
First of all, Christopher Columbus does not have a birthday holiday named after him – Columbus Day is a celebration of the anniversary of his arrival in the Americas (October 12, 1492).
By the time Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” in 1492, he and many others had already known that the world was spherical from ancient Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemaeus (Ptolemy).
And finally, Christopher Columbus did not “discover” America, nor was he the first European to sail to North America – Lief Erikson and his fellow Norsemen would probably fight him to the death for the latter title.
Historical Myths about Abraham Lincoln
The Facts As We Know Them
Abraham Lincoln was one of the most beloved American Presidents in U.S. history, and his whole life is an open book of historical facts.
He was the 16th President of the United States, he was an unusually tall man, he was married to Mary Todd, and he was a humanitarian who started the civil war to put an end to slavery.
President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – and with that, he freed the slaves.
His life was cut short when he was shot and killed by an actor named John Wilkes Booth as he attended a play at Ford’s Theater.
Who doesn’t know all of that?
Surprise Surprise! Not all of the above Abraham Lincoln facts are accurate (c’mon, you ought to be used to this by now).
Abraham Lincoln was a great American President because he successfully reunified a badly torn country.
But, Abraham Lincoln was no William Lloyd Garrison (abolitionist), and he never had any plans to outlaw slavery in the interest of humanity.
The main purpose for the American Civil War was to save the Union, as demonstrated in the line he wrote to Horace Greely in 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it." Yep, that is what he wrote - he said it, and if he was alive now, he'd probably sat it again (I can't help loving Samuel L. Jackson).
Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation did not “free the slaves,” at least, not all of them.The proclamation freed the slaves from the states under which the Union had absolutely no control.
Concluding Word about Myths and History
To be fair, these history myths seem to be losing steam over the years. However, I am writing this article because someone I know actually believed in one of these myths, and argued with me to the death about its validity.
I blame part of the misconceptions on the tendency of earlier historians to glorify American history heroic figures.
You know how it goes... growing up, we all thought that the cowboys were good and the Indians were bad because they were so blood thirsty.
Well, any reasonable human being would be blood-thirsty if someone came into their home, raped and killed their wives and daughters, massacred their sons and fellow countrymen, and then forced them to live in tiny, hostile regions of their own territory.
The other part is probably due to the common practice of history teachers to willfully transform History into the most boring, monotonous subject ever – which in turn, makes History students go off into fantasy land as soon as their teacher begins to open his/her mouth.
What do you think?