Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Lincoln Didn't Say Exactly

I stumbled upon this today - and thought I'd share - especially since the message is so relevant today.
  1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
  2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong
  3. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
  4. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
  5. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
  6. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
  7. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
  8. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
  9. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
  10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves.

This is a list of ten statements beginning with "You cannot .. ." that are popularly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, (1809 - 1865) Sixteenth President of the United States. They sound so wise and so much like things he would have said that they are frequently quoted and attributed to him in print.

But alas! Lincoln did not say these things. They were written in 1916 by the Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, a Presbyterian clergyman and pamphlet writer. In 1942, a group called the Committee for Constitutional Government gave out a great many leaflets entitled "Lincoln on Limitations" that contained on one side a real Lincoln quote and on the other side the 10 Boetcker statements. Boetcker was credited with his statements on the leaflet, but their proximity in print to one real quote by Lincoln, plus the title of the leaflet, led people to think that Lincoln had said the ten listed statements. They were repeated in many printed sources, and are still regarded by many as authentic Lincoln quotes. Carl Sandburg, Lincoln's most famous biographer, dismissed them as spurious.

  1. Boller, Paul F., Jr., and John George. They Never Said It: A Book Of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 82-84, 145.
  2. Kominsky, Morris. The Hoaxers (Boston: Branden Press, 1970), pp. 18 - 27."

(H/T Phil S. for bringing these quotes to my attention)