Friday, May 3, 2013

A Letter to the Editor—Debunking a Lincoln Quote

The letters column of our local McHenry County, Illinois daily paper is always a wonderland of misinformation, sputtering outrage, and personal axes to grind with occasional sanity thrown in.  To its credit, the paper is committed to publishing all letter submitted that conform to its strict word count limit and are not out-and-out libel, threatening or obscenity laced.  Those they reserve for the comment posted to articles and letters on line.  So that and a large reserve army of suburban Tea Party devotees, racists, and Christians who cannot grasp why the country isn’t governed by the Word of God even when they put those words into God’s mouth, guarantees a memorable letters column almost every day.
I used to respond to various wild claims or slurs about as often as permitted—once every 30 days.  But I’ve slacked off in recent years as I have other outlets for my own bloviations and I came to the conclusion that I was talking to an impervious brick wall.  The letters also often solicited anonymous phone calls, threatening unsigned letters, and at least once a rock thrown at my front window.  Not that I let that dissuade me.
Once in a while the letters offer up such a fat opportunity that I am compelled against my better judgment to respond.  Take this missive from Wednesday’s rag:
To the Editor:
Imagine how much better our country would be if we just truly understood what Abraham Lincoln said in these three short bits of wisdom:

1. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.

2. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.

3. You cannot help the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.

Remember, it is not about the 1 percent of Americans. It is not about the 99 percent of Americans.

It is about the 100 percent of Americans.

Frank Musial

Some pitches come in belt high over the center of the plate, as big and fat as a grape fruit aching to be sent over a distant outfield wall.  This is how I connected:

To the Editor:

In a recent letter Frank Musial of McHenry served up a quote from Abraham Lincoln, the one that begins “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”  It may sound familiar, but it was never uttered or written by the 16th President.  It is a total fraud.
The alleged quote actually came from Lincoln On Limitations a 1942 pamphlet by William J. H. Boetcker, a Presbyterian minister.  Although the publication contained some genuine Lincoln quotes, it also included 10 written by Boetcker himself and passed off as the Great Emancipator’s.  Scholars have scoured the well documented letters, speeches, and documents by old Abe and were unable to find anything remotely like it.  Boetcker was indulging in a late attack on the New Deal and trying to recast the first Republican president as a conservative businessman.
Over the years many folks of all political persuasions, right and left alike, have put words into Lincoln’s mouth in an attempt to shore up their own positions.  And being human, many of us fall hook, line, and sinker for those which confirm our own prejudices.
But Lincoln spoke and wrote quite plainly for himself.  He was the most gifted wordsmith among our national leaders, as well as the most beloved.
Those who try to equate the Civil War leader with the modern, far right Republican Party have to ignore the simple fact for his day and time Lincoln was a liberal,  as was his Party.  They were opposed by the conservatives of his day, both Southern Rebels and northern Democrats—the very people who mirror today’s Tea Party.
Patrick Murfin
Crystal Lake

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