American Council of Trustees and Alumni commissioned a study on historical literacy among college graduates, and the results were not encouraging. Americans have scarcely improved since a frightening 1999 poll that prompted a congressional resolution to overhaul higher education history requirements.
And while debunking individual myths can’t solve the problem, it’s not a bad appetizer for anyone curious about our compelling (and often stymieing) history. Here’s a list of the 10 biggest myths in American history.
1. America Was Settled For Religious Freedom
The grade-school textbook version of early New Englanders nearly always mentions religious freedom as their impetus to seek new lands. But while Puritans sought refuge from the Church of England’s oppression, they in turn oppressed all non-Protestants in the New World, including Puritans advocating separation of church and state, such as Rhode Island founder Roger Willams.
2. The American Revolution Pitted David Against Goliath
The American fight for independence seems to fit flawlessly into the “oppressed people shrugging off a tyrant” narrative. But while indictments like taxation without representation were unequivocally justified, the American colonies in 1776 were by no means weak.
Britain had administered America loosely — and with poor Parliamentary oversight —and such self-sufficiency had created both a strong colonial economy and a predilection for independence long before the war. As historian Theodore Draper pointed out in “A Struggle For Power,” the colonies had initially been populated by private trading companies, setting a firm foundation of self-interest above the crown.