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Debunking Historical Myths:15 Fabled ‘Facts’ That Are Actually Pure Fiction

American history is rife with misconceptions, yet many people believe them without question. Perhaps our tendency to accept historical narratives unquestioningly stems from the inherent authority we ascribe to the past.

A user asked the forum, “What’s a widely believed American history “fact” that is misconstrued or just plain false?”. Let’s look at the top responses.

NATIONAL BIRD

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“Ben Franklin did NOT propose that the turkey should be our national bird.”

GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE CHERRY TREE

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“The whole “George Washington and the cherry tree” thing is a complete fable that somehow gets taught to children as a true story (at least it was when I was a kid).

I suppose not technically “American” history in the truest sense, but Christopher Columbus did not believe the Earth was flat. Educated people of that time would have known the Earth was round and even its approximate diameter.

That’s why the western sea route to India was believed to be impossible; because the distance was so long that no ship could carry enough provisions to make it. Christopher Columbus believed the distance was overestimated.”

LIFE EXPECTANCY

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“The thing that irritates me is the whole life expectancy thing. Life expectancy for an adult is way different than that for a child.

In 1900, the life expectancy was 47. It’s because so many kids died before they were 5. For an adult, life expectancy wasn’t too much different than now. If you made it to 40– you’d likely make it to 70.

If you made it to 60 years old in 1841 – you’d likely live until you were 74. Ten years improvement over the past 180 years.”

NOBLE SAVAGE CHARACTERIZATION

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“All variations of the Magical Native American or Noble Savage characterization of the native people.”

APPLE AND THE HALLOWEEN

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“There was never “a bunch of razors in apples given out on Halloween” – it was a single isolated incident committed by the father of the child who got the Apple.”

ROSA PARKS

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“That Rosa Parks “just got tired one day” and decided not to give up her seat. That it was spontaneous.

Rosa Parks was the secretary to the president of the local NAACP chapter, and her protest was planned in advance with the aid of out-of-state activists.

They replicated the protest of Claudette Colvin. The NAACP knew it would be effective, but Claudette was dark-skinned and a single mother at 17. Parks were much lighter skinned and slightly built, so they were thought to have better TV appeal for white, coastal audiences.

The entire thing was staged. Parks lied when she said it was spontaneous.”

AMERICAN FLAG

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“The American Flag is believed by historians NOT to be sewn by Betsy Ross.”

PONY EXPRESS MAIL DELIVERY

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“The Pony Express mail delivery service is romanticized in movies. In reality, it was an 18-month stopgap to get information about gold discoveries from SF to Missouri faster. It was replaced by the telegraph.”

US GOVERNMENT AND NATIVE AMERICANS

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“The US government didn’t kill Native Americans with smallpox blankets. That idea was largely based on a fraudulent academic paper a few decades ago. The only major incident that happened was by British forces during the French and Indian War.

To be clear, the US government did plenty of other terrible things – especially with Native Americans. Just not smallpox blankets.”

BENEDICT ARNOLD

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“Benedict Arnold was the best US general during the American Revolution. He won the Battle of Saratoga. This is the Battle that got the French to join the war. Without the French, the US would have lost. It’s why his treason is such a big deal. If he did not betray the US, there would be statues of him all over the country. There would be cities named Benedict.

He also got screwed over by Congress. His command lied and took credit for the Battle of Saratoga. Congress did not pay him either. George Washington was his biggest supporter. If Arnold had stayed and not betrayed the country, he would likely have been a future president.”

THE INDUSTRIAL ERA

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“That it was built by slaves. The industrial era exploited low-wage workers, and they realized it would be a lot cheaper if they just paid workers low wages rather than house a slave.”

DEPRESSION OF AMERICA

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“People think the Great Depression was the only Depression America ever had. When Jackson didn’t renew the charter for the Second Bank of the United States, all loans needed to be repaid, and those who didn’t have the money were foreclosed on, and real estate prices collapsed.

The effects weren’t felt until Van Buren was president. That’s why Van Buren was a one-term president. (He lost reelection because the economy was bad.)

There were other bank runs, 1873, 1893, 1907, probably more.”

INDEPENDENCE

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“That everyone in the 1770’s wanted independence from England.”

COLUMBUS DAY

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“It’s horrible that we celebrate Columbus Day. The moron accidentally found America; he was a slave trader and massacred tons of indigenous people.”

JAMES MADISON

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“James Madison was not the author of the US Constitution. National conservation is mostly an amalgamation of already existing state constitutions, so people were already used to the concepts.

Madison, like his friend Jefferson, was a politically savvy self-promoter who crafted the author’s story after the fact.”

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This article was originally published on Mrs. Daaku Studio.