In celebration of Lincoln's birthday, I suggest putting an accurate label on a literary fraud that has been circulating in his name for some 40 years.
It's a document called "The Ten Points," and the tone suggests Horatio Alger rather than Abraham Lincoln. For years the Library of Congress has been trying to tag this item as the fake that it is. But it keeps turning up, reprinted time after time.
"The publishers have a point of view and they will capitalize on Lincoln's name for their own ends," said Dr. Roy P. Basler who, before his retirement, was chief of the manuscript division of the library.
Is it intentional deception? That's not clear. But at least it demonstrates the familiar truth that once in print, even the grossest forgery will tend to be repeated endlessly by naive editors.
In what the Library of Congress calls the text "most frequently used," these are the Ten Points:
"1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
"2. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
"3. You cannot help small men up by tearing big men down.
"4. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
"5. You cannot lift the wage-earner up by pulling the wage-payer down.
"6. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
"7. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
"8. You cannot establish sound social security on borrowed money.
"9. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence.
"10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves."
Papers published by the manuscript division of the library trace the "points" to the writings of one Rev. William John Henry Boetcker of Erie, Pa. Boetcker was born in 1873, eight years after Lincoln died.
Much of the misattribution seems to stem from the booklet, "Inside Maxims, Gold Nuggets Taken From the Boetcker Lectures," published in 1916. According to the Library, it "contains several maxims which bear a strong resemblance to Points 2,3,4 and 10."
"Furthermore," the Library's research showed, "the Ten Points were published under the title 'Warning Signs on the Road to Prosperity', on the outside back cover of 'Investor America' for February 1940, with no attribution of authorship. This periodical . . . bore on the front cover a photograph of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.
"Subsequently, the maxims which had gained considerable popularity both in the business and social worlds were reprinted . . . and before long they were appearing in the Congressional Record, in newspapers, in house organs, official documents, and periodicals, and on Christmas cards."
In 1948, Galen Drake broadcast the text of a variant called "Ten Things You Cannot Do," published by the Royle Forum in Paterson, N.J., as the work of Lincoln.
The library has occasionally had help in its campaign to correct the error. In 1962, the monthly "Lincoln Lore," published in Fort Wayne, Ind., made a valiant a clever attempt in which it published the "points" with authentic, relevant Lincolnisms under each in boldface type.
The effort has been a losing one. If history is a guide, the points are likely to appear again this year in the publications of patriotic groups and veteran's organizations -- placed there by unwary editors who received it from well-meaning but misled readers of other journals.
The library's research paper concludes on a plaintive note: "There seems to be no way of overtaking the rapid pace with which the mistaken identity has been spreading."