On November 19, 1863, a speech was given by Abraham Lincoln that has become one of the most referenced speeches in history. The comments given on that day are referred to as the Gettysburg Address. In his remarks, President Lincoln stated that “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the Earth”. Although the origin of this statement is often disputed, I believe its content should be the focus. If we literally interpret the words of, by, and for, it is relatively simple to clarify the meaning of this statement. “Of the people” refers to the composition of our government. The fact is that the government is comprised of people who come from the people, like the elected officials who are usually your neighbors. Local government is not comprised of trained politicians but are people from the same walks of life as those they represent and face many of the same challenges.
The reference to “by the people” refers to the form of government we have in our city, county, state, and country that was formulated by the citizens. The government is run by the people THROUGH their elected officials. When we elect a senator, representative, or city council member, we authorize them to act on our behalf. “By the people” simply means we have the right to vote, and we choose those who represent us.
It is the statement “for the people” that creates the most controversy. When government acts for the people, its responsibility is to do what’s best for the citizens collectively. The definition of good is influenced by each of our experiences in life. Although disagreements often arise because of decisions that are made, it is important to remember that is it the form of government we have that gives us our freedom.
My intent is not to give a history lesson but to simply remind us how government should work. It is a good reminder for all of us. Hopefully, this subtle reminder will help us make sure that our form of government does not perish from the earth. Although our form of government is not perfect, it is the best there is.
The Fourth of July is rapidly approaching, and it is a good time to reflect on the many freedoms we have. We have the freedom of speech, the freedom to worship as we please, the freedom to assemble, and the right to petition the government. These are just a few of the freedoms and rights that we have. It is my hope that as we celebrate the founding of our great country, we will consider the role government plays in protecting our freedoms, and we will be actively engaged in making sure government is by the people and for the people.
A simple way to be engaged is to attend the city’s budget open house on June 8th, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Senior Citizens center. I hope to see you there!