"Government of the people, by the people, and for the people"

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at yale.edu
Wed Feb 21 06:45:02 PST 2007

On Wed, 21 Feb 2007, Mark Tushnet wrote:

> Fred Shapiro's interpretation is plausible, but somehow opening the phrase
> with the thought that the point of government is to keep the people under
> control strips it of some of its majesty.  (And the effect is to give the
> people a subordinate place in two of the three phrases -- the other, as
> Bobby points out, is "for the people.")

I hesitate to argue with a scholar of Mark Tushnet's stature, but surely 
my interpretation is more than plausible, it's the only reasonable 
interpretation.  As Bobby pointed out initially, the triad makes no sense 
with his analysis of "of."  And Lincoln's words were clearly inspired by 
the previous formulation of Theodore Parker.  (See Herndon's _Life of 
Lincoln_.)  Parker's passage, which, according to Herndon, Lincoln marked
in the copy of _On the Effect of Slavery on the American People_ given to 
Lincoln by Herndon, read: "Democracy is direct self-government, over all 
the people, for all the people, by all the people."  "Over" makes clear 
that my reading of "of" is correct.  Lincoln must have chosen "of" as a 
synonym for "over," perhaps because it flowed much better.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS
   Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press
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