To the editor: Last week a letter to the editor – “Hurt never helps someone” – quoted a list of sayings attributed to Abraham Lincoln. As I read the letter I decided that something did not pass the smell test. While I am not a Lincoln scholar, for a number of years my license plates had “Land of Lincoln” at the bottom, so I figure I have some standing in this matter.
I fired up the internet and within a minute learned that Lincoln was not the author of those maxims (Search Boetcker). They were written by The Reverend William John Henry Boetcker in 1916, more than 50 years after Lincoln’s death. Mr. Boetcker made his living by speaking publicly on behalf of employers and against workers organizing for their rights. The list became known as “The Ten Things You Cannot Do” and in 1942 they were printed on one side of a leaflet that had Lincoln’s actual sayings on the other. Apparently through confusion they were attributed to Lincoln even to the extent that President Reagan misquoted them to the Republican Convention in 1992. He certainly should have known better.
Now I am not so concerned with the misattribution of the quotes as I am with the spirit of the words. They are so clearly not the voice of Lincoln. Rather they are platitudes that get wheeled out and sanctified with Lincoln’s name when the privileged feel threatened by the lower classes. Where was the outrage last year when the Republicans passed a “tax cut” that redistributed more than a trillion dollars to the wealthiest citizens and to the large corporations? Where were those deficit hawks when the national debt was increased by more than a trillion dollars? The wealthy can buy political favor and have laws passed that benefit them. The poor and middle classes don’t have that political leverage. They must be ever vigilant that elected politicians are representing them.
There is famous quote long attributed to President Lincoln that is appropriate here: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
Actually there is no evidence that he ever said that. Still, if we are to misquote the man, at least those words more closely reflect his spirit. Better yet, Google “Lincoln quotes.” You may be pleasantly surprised.