The 10 Cannots

Words The Government Should Live By

Posted: August 23, 2014

Twenty-one years ago, in mid-August 1993, an orthopedic surgeon named George White penned a simple yet clear missive to The Winchester Star, the DN-R’s sister paper to our north, outlining a sound philosophy for how men should think that applies not just to Americans in their everyday lives, but as well to the elected officials with whom we entrust the public weal. We repeat this piece each year as a reminder.

Without a doubt, these credos remain as vital today as they did last year, or 21 years ago, or 121 years ago. The first series of guidelines — we call them “The 10 Cannots” — are attributed, as Dr. White reminded us, to Abraham Lincoln. Whether or not Mr. Lincoln actually uttered them is subject to question. But even if Honest Abe is not responsible for these tenets, he should be. They are worthy of his clear vision and uncluttered mind.

Even in this era of Big Government — which hopes to grow even more, given the arc of this current administration in Washington — they remain the classic common-sense formula for good governance. We thought you would like to read these enlightened words once more:

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 by tearing down big men.

4. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.

5. You cannot lift the wage-earner by pulling down the wage-payer.

6. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.

7. You cannot further the brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred.

8. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.

9. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative.

10. You cannot really help men by having the government tax them to do for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Just as these admonitions form a sound foundation for the governance of a people or nation, there also exists a series of rules — again, 10 in all — by which man can order and govern his own life. They are known collectively as “The Ten Commandments,” and, as with “The Ten Cannots,” it matters little who actually wrote them — though their author is generally attributed divine status.

Again, a quick review might serve as a healthy reminder as we seek an even path in a dizzying and uncertain age.

I. I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods put before me.

II. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

III. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

IV. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

V. Honor thy father and thy mother.

VI. Thou shalt not kill.

VII. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

VIII. Thou shalt not steal.

IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

X. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife ... nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

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