A Conservative Wishtory of the United States

My friend Jack Hitt has a funny piece in The New Yorker listing misstatements about American history by conservative politicians, beginning with these doozies: 

1500s: The American Revolutionary War begins: “The reason we fought the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.”—Rick Perry

1607: First welfare state collapses: “Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”—Dick Armey

1619-1808: Africans set sail for America in search of freedom: “Other than Native Americans, who were here, all of us have the same story.”—Michele Bachmann

1775: Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”—Sarah Palin

1775: New Hampshire starts the American Revolution: “What I love about New Hampshire… You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world.”—Michele Bachmann

[Ed. note: One of these claims seems much closer to being true: see page 1336-38 of Property in Land].

Freakonomics Nation: can we produce an analogous list of historical misstatements by liberal pols? We’ll give out some Freakonomics swag to a clear winner or two. 

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  1. Dr. Van Nostrand says:

    Using Michele Bachmann quotes should be considered cheating

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  2. m says:

    Do misstatements about the recent past count?

    “I’ve now been in 57 states…” by Barack Obama.

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    • James says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • BW says:

        ‘humorous exaggeration’

        I nominate James for making Wishtory :)

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      • James Curran says:

        Actually, it was him realizing, that trips to three states were planned, but he had actually been to them yet..

        “I’ve now been in 50…um…47 states, with three to go.”

        In shifting the wording, mid-statement, the “forty” of “forty-seven” wasn’t vocalized enough to be heard.

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  3. Dan says:

    Well you can always start with president obama visiting 57 US States!

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  4. kip says:

    The Rick Perry example is an easy mistake to make, and implies nothing about his understanding of historical events. Most people know that the seventeen hundreds are *not* the seventeenth century, but most people also wouldn’t be able to determine in the middle of a speech if they need to add one or subtract one from the first two digits of the year to get the century number.

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  5. Matt says:

    Joe Biden: “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the princes of greed. He said, ‘look, here’s what happened.’”

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  6. Quin says:

    Just saw this in the Washington Times:

    “With the advance of Union forces, it brought a new day — that all persons held as slaves would henceforth be forever free,” Mr. Obama said.

    Actually, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in 10 Southern states who were, at the time, mostly beyond the control of the federal government. And the document didn’t free an estimated 500,000 slaves in four slave-holding border states — Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware — that were loyal to the Union. Slavery was ended in those states by various state and federal actions later on.

    Obama garbles U.S. history in human trafficking speech – Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/25/obama-garbles-us-history-human-trafficking-speech/#ixzz27VtBy3UL

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  7. Alan T says:

    For more on Jamestown, see Acemoglu and Robinson, “Why Nations Fail.” The Virginia Company, which financed the Jamestown settlement, expected the Jamestown settlers to enslave the natives and find gold, as the Spanish had done in South America. “The notion that the settlers themselves would work and grow their own food seems not to have crossed their minds. That is not what conquerors of the New World did.” After the winter of 1609-1610, in which all but 60 of the 500 settlers perished, the Virginia Company forced the settlers to farm the land, which the company owned: “Men were housed in barracks, and given company-determined rations. Work gangs were chosen, each one overseen by an agent of the company.” While it is true that the settlers did not own the land that they farmed, this sounds more like slavery than socialism. Finally, in 1618, the company gave each settler 50 acres of land, “and, in 1619, a General Assembly was introduced that effectively gave all adult men a say in the laws and institutions governing the colony. It was the start of democracy in the United States.”

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    • tmeier says:

      In medieval Europe it was considered wrong to hold co-religionists as slaves but alright to enslave people of other religions. This was true of both Muslims and Christians.
      The Spanish record in the New World was more mixed and complex than ‘enslave-the-natives-and-profit’. In principle they enslaved hostile non-christian natives they defeated but individual people being what they are there were plenty of lapses.
      The situation was similar with the first African slaves in Jamestown. Initially the Christian children of African slaves were not slaves but the statutes were soon changed. It’s probably in justification of the economic decision to keep the offspring of slaves in servitude Christian or not that the idea of racial inferiority crept into European culture. In ancient times people generally felt other peoples were inferior because of their culture, not their race.

      Irrationally justifying an injury done to another is a very potent psychological mechanism in all peoples.

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