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Speaking of bogus Lincoln quotations…

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In a PREVIOUS POST today, I dealt with a certain phony Lincoln quotation, one of countless such fictions attributed to our 16th president by conservatives trying to make some point or another.

One of my favorites (and one of the most popular) in this category is something called “Lincoln’s Ten Cannots.” It reads as follows:

You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.

In reality, Lincoln never said any such thing. The words were written by a preacher and pamphleteer, the Rev. William Boetcker — 51 years after Lincoln’s death.

But the truth of the matter probably will never stem the spread of this stuff under the label of Lincolnisms, especially in this age of the Internet.

On any given day, you can find the “Ten Cannots” on somebody’s blog or in somebody’s e-mail.  Just today, I found them HERE and HERE and HERE.

Some right-wingers use the Cannots as fodder against Barack Obama, a laughable irony considering that the Illinois senator has more in common with Lincoln than any of these ill-educated extremists.

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2 Comments

  1. Only SNuss could be this obtuse: This post is about a certain set of bogus Lincoln quotations, including this one: “You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.”

    SNuss responds with a comment in which he wrongly attributes to Lincoln this aphorism: “You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.”

    In short, SNuss didn’t carefully read the post, or he has the memory of a goldfish.

    But then SNuss also lacks the intellect to have recognized by now that the knock against Obama for the radio interview of seven years ago has been roundly refuted by at least three news organizations, as we see here:
    http://blogs.e-rockford.com/applesauce/2008/10/28/the-latest-mccain-drudge-fox-falsehood/

  2. Richard Pinney

    One of the Boetcker “Cannots” turned up as a Lincoln quote in a letter to the Editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. These quotes end up in email signature lines and blogger tags like historical spam.

    Another mangled quote appeared in this letter, also currently littering the right wing blogosphere. The misquote goes like this:

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them” ~Thomas Jefferson

    What he actually wrote was: “If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence [sic] of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

    The “I predict” version makes it look like Jefferson saw the future and conservatives extend that to mean a future with liberals, Obama, socialism etc.

    In this same letter containing the oft-quoted bit about “wasting the labors of the people”, Jefferson wrote, presciently:

    “As men become better informed, their rulers must respect them the more. I think you will be sensible that our citizens are fast returning, from the panic into which they were artfully thrown, to the dictates of their own reason; and I believe the delusions they have seen themselves hurried into will be useful as a lesson under similar attempts on them in future.”

    I love the almost Shakespearean line, “the panic into which they were artfully thrown”

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