The ‘Ten Cannots’ and ‘Seven National Crimes’

William John Henry Boetcker (1873–1962) was an ordained Presbyterian minister. He was a rock-ribbed conservative. This was before so many Presbyterian denominations went liberal.  In addition to his ministerial duties, “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.”

Boetcker is “best remembered for his authorship of a pamphlet entitled The Ten Cannots that emphasizes freedom and responsibility of the individual on himself.” It was originally published in 1916 and is often misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. “The mistake of crediting Lincoln for The Ten Cannots has been repeated many times since, notably by Ronald Reagan in his address to the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston.”

Boetcker’s worldview is very much up-to-date. Unlike so many ministers today, Boetcker believed that it was important to engage the culture, not only with action, but with memorable rhetoric. Here are his The Ten Cannots:

  • 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 developed a list entitled Seven National Crimes, possibly patterned after the Seven Deadly Sins, that if committed would inevitably lead to the end of everything the United States was built to be:

  • I don’t think.
  • I don’t know.
  • I don’t care.
  • I’m too busy.
  • I leave well enough alone.
  • I have no time to read and find out.
  • I am not interested.

“Never mind what others do,” Boetcker said. “Do better than yourself, beat your own record from day to day, and you are a success.” With the all-important 2012 election nearly upon us, we cannot rest for a moment. We must take Boetcker’s tried and true aphorisms to heart and act upon them.