William J. H. Boetcker (1873 – 1962) was an American religious leader and influential public speaker.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, he was ordained a Presbyterian minister soon after his arrival in the United States as a young adult. He quickly gained attention as an eloquent motivational speaker, and is often regarded today as the forerunner of such contemporary “success coaches” as Anthony Robbins.
An outspoken political conservative, Rev. Boetcker is perhaps best remembered for his authorship of a pamphlet entitled The Ten Cannots. Originally published in 1916, it is often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. The error apparently stems from a leaflet printed in 1942 by a conservative political organization called the Committee for Constitutional Government. The leaflet bore the title “Lincoln on Limitations” and contained some genuine Lincoln quotations on one side and the “Ten Cannots” on the other, with the attributions juxtaposed. The mistake of crediting Lincoln for having been the source of “The Ten Cannots” has been repeated many times since, most notably by Ronald Reagan in a speech he gave at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston. There are several minor variants of the pamphlet in circulation, but the most commonly-accepted version appears 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.
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