We've all heard this phrase. But what does it really mean?

What does a Government of the People by the People and for the People really mean? We’ve all heard the saying, but have you ever distilled this phrase down to its actual definition?

Every four years our country goes through a kind of a mini crisis. Sometimes the crisis is greater than the time before and sometimes events run more smoothly. This mini-crisis is our country’s way of electing a new President. The reason it can be thought of as a mini-crisis is that the good, the bad and the ugly of political philosophy and ideology all make their way into the lexicon of our daily lives and force us to take sides against one another.

In the year immediately prior to the election, the country splits into wearing one of two colors, red or blue, Republican or Democrat. It seems as though we all get along relatively well over the course of the other three years, but that fourth year can end friendships, divide families and cause the block button on Facebook to work overtime, narrowing our friends list to only those who think like us. We chide one another’s belief systems, attack one another’s character, and hurl pretty severe insults at one another’s work ethic or lack thereof.

In today’s Internet age, we are more informed about politics, the foibles of our politicians, and the abuses of power by some (by no means all) of our police forces. We are also almost immediately aware of protesters, those arrested for alleged criminal behavior, and any variety of people who stand to be judged by the Internet mob.

Sitting in our living rooms watching television and engaging on social media makes us feel as though we know what we’re talking about when we form a severe opinion about someone without really knowing who they are and what they are about. With all of this knowledge we believe we have gathered, we cry out that stands must be taken, that our informed way of thinking is far superior to the thinking of the other side. We must not back down, because, after all, the other side is coming to annihilate our way of life.

Is anyone really coming to annihilate our way of life, though? If a gay couple next door gets married, will your children suddenly turn into Linda Blair in The Exorcist? If your neighbor on the other side goes to church three times a week and has a hunting rifle hanging in the back of his pickup truck, what is that to you?

There has been much talk and much written this year about whether our country is a Christian nation. Whether it is or it isn’t should not be the concern. The concern should be for our citizenry. The concern should be whether or not we are taking care of each other by creating opportunities for all to succeed. Our founding fathers did not intend for only some to have a shot at the pursuit of happiness, they meant all people. If all men are created equal, then all of us are, by virtue of birth itself, created with the right to expect a fair shot at living a life where that pursuit can be an ongoing way of life.

During this election cycle, it is quite probable you will hear countrymen on the right shout loudly that the government should be smaller; that they want the government out of their lives; that they don’t want the government telling them how to spend their money.

Who is this “government” they speak of? Does the “government” live on some offshore island somewhere, capriciously sending out its minions to carry out dastardly deeds against the citizens of its country? Is there a Death Star just out of our atmosphere from which storm troopers are sent to destroy all who are non-compliant? Or have we watched Red Dawn (the one with Patrick Swayze, not the remake with Thor) one too many times and believe the “government” is going to parachute into Washington State, gunning everyone down who doesn’t have a conceal carry?

What we seem to forget during the course of our everyday lives, and especially during the course of a presidential election year, is that the United States is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. When President Lincoln made his speech at Gettysburg, he was saying that our government is one taken from the people themselves. It is not a government taken from a class of aristocrats that claim heredity as a divine right to lord over the people. Our government is one that was created and is operated for the good of the people, not for a select few.

The rich can claim that they made their wealth by working hard, and it is very likely that they did. What’s in question, however, is who had to be stepped on and pushed aside in order for that wealth to be made? A government of the people, by the people, and for the people is one in which all have the same opportunities. That’s not to say that every one is equal, or that participation trophies should be passed out to make everyone feel good. It means that everyone gets the same shot. It’s not about feelings; it’s about opportunity, and equal opportunity is not what is happening in this country today.

Will a perfect existence ever be fully realized, where all people are treated as they were born, equal? It’s not likely possible. But what is possible is moving our governmental structure and policy away from stacking the deck for the rich and toward a playing field that is more even for everyone. We all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That means healthcare, jobs that pay enough to live on and a country where we can say what we want about politicians, police, and family members who refuse to get a job.


  1. Government is about regulating a system. It can provide stability by damping down extremes, or institute change when extreme measures are called for. Government of the people, by the people, for the people is democracy, where the people regulate themselves, for the general benefit. It’s that simple.

Leave a Comment