March 2, 2015

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”


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.”
President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) 
       The closing words of his Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863 (as recorded in
the “Hay Copy” of the speech stored at the Library of Congress, one of five written versions)
       As noted in The Quote Verifier and other sources, Lincoln’s phrase “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is the best known use of the of/by/for the people formula, but Lincoln probably adapted his version from a similar phrase used in the 1850s by abolitionist preacher
Theodore Parker. During the early months of the Civil War, Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon gave the president a book of Parker’s sermons and speeches. It included a sermon titled “The Effect of Slavery on the American People,” which Parker delivered at the Music Hall in Boston, Massachusetts on July 4, 1858. In that sermon, Parker said: “Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.” According to Herndon, Lincoln marked those words in his copy before he wrote the Gettysburg Address. Parker had used a similar line in earlier sermons and speeches. For example, in a speech he gave in Boston on May 29, 1850, Parker defined democracy as “a government of all the people, by all the people, and for all the people.” However, the of/for/by the people formulation was not coined by Parker. Some older uses — and some later variations — are shown below.


“It is, Sir, 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.”
Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
       American lawyer, politician, orator and statesman
       Discussing the limitations of state’s rights and the supremacy of federal law in his
“Second Speech on Foote’s Resolution” in the U.S. Senate, on January 26, 1830.


“In my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such a manner as they should determine.”
Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861)
       American Democratic politician; Congressman for Illinois from 1843 to 1847
       A line used, ironically, in one of his famed debates with Lincoln, on
July 9, 1858 in Chicago


“All modes of government are failures. Despotism is unjust to everybody...Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and ochlocracies are unjust to the few. High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
       Irish writer, poet and wit
       In his essay
“The Soul of Man under Socialism,” first published in the Fortnightly Review, February 1891


“America is still a government of the naive, for the naive, and by the naive. He who does not know this, nor relish it, has no inkling of the nature of his country.”
Christopher Morley (1890-1957)
       American journalist, novelist, essayist and poet
       In his book
Inward Ho! (1923)


“We here want it stuck up straight for all to dig that these departed studs shall not have split in vain; that this nation, under the great swingin’ Nazz, shall ring up a whopper of endless Mardi Gras, and that the Big Law of you straights, by you studs, and for you kitties, shall not be scratched from the big race.”
Lord Buckley (1906-1960)
       American entertainer known for telling stories using the hipster slang of black jazz musicians and beatniks 
       The quote above is from
Lord Buckley’s “hipster version” of the Gettysburg Address


“The last time I checked, the Constitution said ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’  That’s what the Declaration of Independence says.” 
Bill Clinton 
       42nd President of the United States
       Comment made in remarks attacking conservative Republicans for being unreasonably anti-government, after his Second Presidential Debate with Sen. Robert Dole in October 1996. The statement generated news and snickers in the following weeks because Clinton was astoundingly wrong about the source. It comes from the Gettysburg Address and does not appear in either the U.S. Constitution or Declaration of Independence. Time magazine listed this Clinton quote as one of the
“most embarrassing historical gaffes” of 1996.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Famous Quotations Facebook page.

Related reading and viewing…

Copyrights, Disclaimers & Privacy Policy

Creative Commons License
Copyright © Subtropic Productions LLC

The Quote/Counterquote blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. Any duplicative or remixed use of the original text written for this blog and any exact duplications the specific sets of quotations collected for the posts shown here must include an attribution to and, if online, a link to

To the best of our knowledge, the non-original content posted here is used in a way that is allowed under the fair use doctrine. If you own the copyright to something we've posted and think we may have violated fair use standards, please let me know.

Subtropic Productions LLC and are committed to protecting your privacy. We will not sell your email address, etc. For more details, read this blog's full Privacy Policy.