William John Henry Boetcker (1873–1962) was a religious leader and well-known public speaker in turn-of-the-century America. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, and was later ordained a Presbyterian minister in Brooklyn, NY, soon after his arrival in the United States as a young man.
Boetcker originally published the “Ten Cannots” in 1916 in a leaflet entitled “Lincoln on private property.” One side of the leaflet had words by Abraham Lincoln, the other side had the “Cannots” that Reverend Boetcker had written. Variations of the leaflet were later republished and widely disseminated, leading many to misattribute the “Ten Cannots” to Abraham Lincoln.
There are several minor variants of the wording, but a commonly accepted version is below:
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
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.
And, you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.
In addition to the “Ten Cannots” Boetcker is also the author of this passage:
“That you may retain your self-respect, it is better to displease the people by doing what you know is right, than to temporarily please them by doing what you know is wrong.”