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

Steven Jamar stevenjamar at gmail.com
Wed Feb 21 07:11:46 PST 2007


Fun question.  When just hear it, it makes good sense; when you parse
it, it becomes more difficult.  Lots of things are like this.

At the risk of being a bit too course, here-- lose the philosopher's
cap and put on the rhetoritician's.  This speech was crafted as a
speech, not as a philosophical argument. So you get the rhythm of the
three words emphasized by the almost mystical power of 3-time
repetition, with a slight change of emphasis by changing the leading

I like the "of" as a generative or belonging-to kind of thing -- is
organically of us, not apart from us.  It is also by us -- we actually
do it.  And it is for us -- for our benefit, not the king's.


On 2/21/07, rjlipkin at aol.com <rjlipkin at aol.com> wrote:
>       The phrase "government of the people, by the people, and for the
> people" periodically eludes my understanding.  I'm talking about elementary
> understanding, nothing sophisticated, nothing theoretical, nothing
> pertaining to scholarship. I'm in one of those periods now.  And so I turn
> to my sisters and brothers on this List for a Civics One tutorial. Here's
> the difficulty.
>         Let's start with the easiest phrase (I think): "for the people."
> This phrase refers to the purpose of government. Right? Government is
> designed not to aggrandize kings, priests, or aristocrats, but for all the
> people in the polity.
>         The first two elements of government--"of the people and by the
> people"--give me trouble. The first presumably means that the government is
> made up of the very same people the fruits of government are for. Is that
> right?  If it is, then what does "by the people mean."  If it means the
> government is also run by the people, then precisely how do the first two
> phrases differ? If the government is made up of the people, then it should
> follow that it also is run by the people unless there is some sort of a
> distinction between government being of the people and the daily operations
> of government which can be outsourced to a private corporation  which runs
> the government in question.
>         One final point: I am in earnest. The entire phrase puzzles me. Its
> meaning seems so obvious. But when I start to analyze it, I cannot
> confidently draw the distinction. Thanks to all.
>  Bobby
>  Robert Jusitn Lipkin
>  Professor of Law
>  Widener University School of Law
>  Delaware
>  Ratio Juris: Contributor: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/
>  Essentially Contested America: Editor:
> http://www.essentiallycontestedamerica.org/
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Prof. Steven Jamar
Howard University School of Law

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