Regular readers know we really don’t need any more proof that Americans are really poor at history and civics, but let’s throw some out there anyway.
A new study from Washington University in St. Louis involved asking people about the former president on the $10 bill. It’s a trick question. A former president isn’t on the $10 bill.
“Our findings from a recent survey suggest that about 71 percent of Americans are fairly certain that Alexander Hamilton is among our nation’s past presidents,” said Henry L. Roediger III, a human memory expert at Washington University.
Roediger has found over the years of doing this sort of thing that we’re pretty good at recognizing the names of the first few presidents and the last few presidents, but everything in between is a crap shoot.
The rate for correctly recognizing the names of past presidents was 88 percent, well above recall but far from perfect. Franklin Pierce and Chester Arthur were recognized less than 60 percent of the time. Hamilton was more frequently identified as president than several actual presidents, and people were very confident when saying he was president (83 on the 100-point scale).
The study identified three other prominent figures from American history that more than a quarter of those surveyed incorrectly recognize as past presidents, including Franklin, Hubert Humphrey and John Calhoun.
Perhaps more striking, nearly a third of those surveyed falsely recognized the common name “Thomas Moore” as someone who was once an American president.
Humphrey served as vice president and ran for president in 1968. It didn’t go well.
Franklin was a famous American involved in the events surrounding the founding of the country and served as ambassador to France. Calhoun was a senator and vice president for seven years.
For the record, there have been only 44 people elected president in this country, six fewer than the number of states.