Why do we say "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"?

Well-Known Expressions

Government of the people, by the people, for the people

Meaning:

.

Background:

Most readers will be aware of this phrase from President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address in November 1863:

... But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

But Lincoln did not originate the expression. For example, in an 1850 speech to a New England Anti-Slavery Convention, Theodore Parker, an American preacher and social reformer, declared:

"...There is what I call the American idea...This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness' sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom..."

Parker might have heard the expression from others such as British politician Benjamin Disraeli who expressed the sentiment in Vivian Grey (1826):

"...all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people and for the people all springs, and all must exist."

Or politician Daniel Webster, who in a speech to the Senate in 1830 said:

"...It is, Sir, the people's Constitution, the people's Government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that this Constitution shall be the supreme law. We must either admit the proposition or dispute their authority."

A number of sources point to the prologue to John Wycliffe's 1384 translation of the Bible as the original source; quoting him as saying:

This Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People.

Wycliffe (c.1320-1384) was an English theologian and early proponent of reform in the Catholic Church. In 1384 he published what was possibly the first English translation of the complete Bible. Portions had been translated previously but there appears to be no firm evidence of a complete translation before Wycliffe.

However, while Wycliffe's intention in translating the Bible into English was so that it could be more widely read, it is unclear whether these words are actually to be found in his prologue. BookBrowse carried out some fairly cursory keyword searches on the modern translation at en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Wycliffite_Prologue and was unable to find a match.

Alphabetical list of expressions

Challenge yourself with BookBrowse Wordplays

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Dark Horses
    Dark Horses
    by Susan Mihalic
    Dark Horses is a shocking, heart-pounding debut; it's both a coming-of-age novel and an unflinching ...
  • Book Jacket: Best Laid Plans
    Best Laid Plans
    by Gwen Florio
    When starting a series, first impressions are key. Introducing a sympathetic or relatable ...
  • Book Jacket: Last Night at the Telegraph Club
    Last Night at the Telegraph Club
    by Malinda Lo
    Author Malinda Lo takes readers to Chinatown, San Francisco in 1954, where 17-year-old Lily Hu is ...
  • Book Jacket: No One Is Talking About This
    No One Is Talking About This
    by Patricia Lockwood
    If anyone knows the ins and outs of living online, it's Patricia Lockwood. Before her stellar memoir...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Smalltime
    by Russell Shorto

    Family secrets emerge as a best-selling author dives into the history of the mob in small-town America.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    The Northern Reach
    by W.S. Winslow

    A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the stories we tell and the burden of those we hide.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Narrowboat Summer
by Anne Youngson
From the author of Meet Me at the Museum, a charming novel of second chances.
Win This Book!
Win Band of Sisters

Band of Sisters
by Lauren Willig

"A crackling portrayal of everyday American heroines…A triumph."
— Fiona Davis

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W T's Life T's H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.