The 10 Greatest Myths About Unsolved American History

The Farmer’s Alliance and other populist groups integrated new technology into harvesting, formed cooperatives to defend against crop price fluctuations and paved the way for progressive politicians like William Jennings Bryan, above. (If you dig this time period, check out Charles Postel’s Populist Vision.)

6. The Civil War Was a Moral Fight Over Slavery

We’re getting into murky waters here, so I’ll be brief.

It is a gross oversimplification to say the Civil War was the result of a moral imperative to end slavery. What else was going on? The South’s economy was inextricably tied to free labor, the Compromise of 1850 had promised that new states could decide on slavery, a population imbalance favored the North, and, to boot, Lincoln was elected without being on the ballot in many southern states. You do the math.

7. The Middle Class Was Born in the 1950s

It’s hard to deny the blossoming of America’s economy after WWII. But the creation of a middle class had begun three generations prior, in the late 19th century, as post-bellum industry carried the U.S. into a new level of international economic prowess. During the Second Industrial Revolution (loosely, 1870-1914) the price of consumer goods fell, overall wealth increased and access to education skyrocketed.

Recognizable middle class social indicators — an organ in the parlor, for example — became chic and expected for families that had escaped poverty.

8. America Was Isolationist Between the World Wars

In the 1920s and ‘30s America pat itself on the back for staying out of international conflict — and for the most part, the world bought it. But while we were abstaining from European squabbling, Latin America got the full brunt of our “Big Stick.”

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