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Presidential Tall Tales

Americans expect their leaders to be larger than life, a truth reflected in the tall tales we tell about them.

Published Feb 17, 2020

 (Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Wikimedia Commons

The young Abraham Lincoln earned the nickname "Honest Abe," we are told, by walking miles to repay a few cents a customer he had accidentally overcharged while working as a clerk in a village store.

George Washington, who would grow up to be the first president of the United States, famously admitted to his father that he had chopped down the latter's prized cherry tree, vowing, "Father, I cannot tell a lie."

While they don't rise to the level of historical facts, anecdotes such as these illustrate the moral qualities Americans attach to their most beloved national leaders. For good or ill, all presidents undergo a measure of mythologizing, a process that has continued right down to the present day. We hope this brief sampler whets your interest for a deeper exploration of the history and folklore of the U.S. presidency.

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David Emery is a Portland-based writer and editor with 25 years of experience fact-checking rumors, hoaxes, and contemporary legends.

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