Claim: Abraham Lincoln authored a list of maxims beginning with 'You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.'"
Example: [Collected via e-mail, August 2009]
Origins: One of author Ralph Keyes' axioms of misquotations is "Famous quotes need famous mouths," and the fulfillment of that need has, for the last several decades, put on the lips of Abraham Lincoln words that were not written until more than fifty years after Lincoln's death, penned by an obscure personage whose name is unknown to most living Americans.
The Rev. William John Henry Boetcker was a Presbyterian minister and notable public speaker who served as director of the pro-employer Citizens' Industrial Alliance, a position he held when, in 1916, he produced a booklet of "nuggets" from his lectures, which included maxims such as "We cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong" and "We cannot help the poor by kicking the rich." Boetcker's collection of maxims eventually crystallized as the list of ten now familiar entries (variously known as the "Industrial Decalogue," the "Ten Don'ts," the "Ten Cannots," "Ten Things You Cannot Do, "or the "American Charter") reproduced above:
* You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
* You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
* You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
* You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
* You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
* You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
* You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
* You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence.
* You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.
(The leaflet in question is usually claimed to be a 1942 publication by the Committee for Constitutional Government entitled "Lincoln on Limitation[s]," with the confusion in attribution coming about either because one version of the leaflet omitted Boetcker's
Once the runaway train of misattribution got rolling, there was no stopping it. As William Boetcker faded from public memory and Abraham Lincoln grew ever larger in American historical legend, few people had an interest or desire in setting the matter
Any chance of genuine history winning out over the faux version in this case was probably set back at least a generation when another
Keyes, Ralph. Nice Guys Finish Seventh. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. ISBN 0-06-270020-0. Schlesinger, Arthur Jr. "The History of Those Words Lincoln Never Said." The Washington Post. 28 August 1992 (p. A23). Smutny, Charles T. "Lincoln Never Said It." Chicago Tribune. 6 September 1965 (p. N16). Steers, Edward Jr. Lincoln Legends. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8131-2466-7 (pp. 91-92). Stein, Sharman. "Reagan Gives Lincoln Credit That's Not Due." Chicago Tribune. 19 August 1992. Zapel, Arthur R. "A Noble Misquotation." Chicago Tribune. 3 August 1958 (p. 16). Chicago Daily Tribune. "Summerfield Charged with 'Lincoln Hoax.'" 13 February 1954.