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Kelsey Sena Tamakloe
By Kelsey Sena Tamakloe August 5, 2021

A pro-capitalism quote misattributed to Abraham Lincoln resurfaces

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  • The quote comes from the Rev. William J.H. Boetcker’s "Ten Cannots."

Two years and 11 days ago, a social media post brought forth upon Facebook another quote falsely attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

The July 25, 2019, post pairs an image of Lincoln with a quote suggesting that the Great Emancipator was also a devout capitalist. It says:

"You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away people’s initiative and independence. You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its news feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Facebook.)

"Lincoln never said such one-sided things about capital or labor," said James Cornelius, editor for the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association.

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The words are from the Rev. William J.H. Boetcker, an ex-clergyman and conservative public speaker from Pennsylvania. They’re published in his 1916 pamphlet "Inside Maxims," better known as "Ten Cannots." (The quote that appears on Facebook and elsewhere excludes a few of the cannots.)

The quote has been misattributed to Lincoln several times before. In 1988, then Vice President George H.W. Bush did so in a speech before the Bucks County, Pa., Chamber of Commerce, and former President Ronald Reagan made the error in his speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention.

The likely reason for the mixup: In 1942, the Committee for Constitutional Government, a right-wing organization, published a leaflet called "Lincoln on Limitation." On the front, the leaflet contained real quotes from Lincoln, but on the back, it contained the quote from Boetcker. Careless readers assumed the quote was linked to Lincoln. 

Cornelius said it was common for people to use Lincoln’s name "to bring more attention to themselves." 

"I do not know if Boetcker himself, or conceivably some newspaper editor, put these into (Lincoln’s) mouth," Cornelius said, "but they have circulated as ‘real’ for 100 years now, with no sign of disappearing." 

We rate this claim False. 

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A pro-capitalism quote misattributed to Abraham Lincoln resurfaces

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