In describing our United States Government, we often hear people use the phrase “Of the People, for the People, and by the People”. It has a familiar ring, but from where did that saying originate? The Bible perhaps, or a movie? Does it make sense today to try to have such a government? Do We believe that is possible, and do We even want a government that reflects this sentiment?
These words are from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which was spoken by our sixteenth President 153 years ago. A century and a half may seem like a long time ago, but in terms of human history and world history, it is a blink of an eye. It bears noting, also, that the United States has been in existence for not much longer than that.
First let’s try to define who “The People” are. This phrase seems to imply a cohesive “People” who agree on…what?…a set of values?…a common goal?…or which “Lives Matter”? And, where do we find these united “People” to which this phrase refers? Look around you, listen to the news, eavesdrop around the water cooler at work – people are divided on nearly every issue. And that division is fostered by two powerful forces that we allow to drive our thinking: politics and media.
Politics and market-driven media outlets thrive when We are divided. When there is mistrust between neighbors we look to a higher authority to enforce our will on our fellow man via ever more taxes and regulations. When we’ve been separated from a sense of community we can only look to that higher authority to take care of us in a time of need or natural disaster. When the world feels out of balance and beyond our control we look to the “news” to help us make sense of it all. But, we have grown lazy and complacent.
We willingly segregate ourselves under false labels, and allow politicians to speak to us in terms of our skin color, our gender identity, and our socioeconomic status. We want our opinions pre-chewed and partially digested and passed to us like so many baby birds. And every time we tap into these sources, politics and media, their power and their influence grows, their wealth and market-share expands, and we become ever more influenced by this cycle of abdicating our personal responsibility instead of connecting in meaningful ways to our fellow man and woman. As author, Dennis Prager, has insightfully stated, “the bigger the government, the smaller the person.” We have only to do a Google search to find out who the politicians and the media outlets say We the People are…but, in many ways, we ourselves have forgotten.
At the time the words of the Gettysburg Address were spoken, the speech was delivered on a battlefield that had been bloodied by a terrible division of our nation. A division that was politically driven and rooted in a narrative of race disparity, and placed on the backs of citizens to fight out, brother against brother. Take a moment and think about current events in the US as we recall a portion of Lincoln’s words.
“Four score and seven years ago (a span of 87 years – referring to 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed) our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all (people) are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.
The brave (people), living and dead, who have struggled (through history, before us) here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but (the world) can never forget what they did here. “
But, to the contrary, it appears that we ARE forgetting – purposely, continually, generationally, and through education-based indoctrination. Forgetting, it appears, is en vogue.
President Lincoln continues,
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored (people) we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion (their lives) — that 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.” — Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
We take so much for granted, and I believe Lincoln was telling a cautionary tale. He was not saying, or even implying, that such a government wouldn’t perish, or couldn’t perish, but rather that we must “highly resolve” that it will not perish. In other words, it will take effort to prevent this way of governing from perishing. It will take greater effort to preserve it than the effort put into forgetting. And therein lies the challenge. Do we value remembering more than we value forgetting?
Lincoln challenged us to “highly resolve”- that is, to maintain a firm determination to do the work and live our lives in such a way as to honor those who have willingly sacrificed theirs. Thereby giving honor to the generations past, so that our values will benefit generations of the future. So, today, take steadfast and determined action, to be “the People” and become an educated and involved voter. Highly resolve to stay in touch with your elected officials, even if they weren’t the ones you voted for – especially if they weren’t the ones you voted for. Always look to the future with an eye to the lessons of history, and be ready to have your voice heard at every local, state, and federal election.
By doing so, you will have done your part to insure that this government which was conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal will continue to be of the people, by the people, for the people and that it shall not perish from the earth. Do your part…there is always something to for FOR or AGAINST. Figure out what that is for you and…vote!