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 Gettysberg 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."

But it is quite likely that they were all initially inspired by John Wycliffe's words in the prologue to his 1384 English translation of the Bible.

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's.

Alphabetical list of expressions

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