In his March 22 op-ed, “Leave it to Neil,” Dana Milbank well summed up Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch’s testimony in his Senate confirmation hearings as that of “a folksy sycophant.” Mr. Gorsuch’s touted brilliance slipped a bit in his reference to “government of the people, by the people, for the people” as a declaration from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. He was corrected by a Democratic senator, who noted that it was part of the Gettysburg Address.
Lincoln evidently borrowed the now-famous three-part phrase. In 1384, John Wycliffe wrote in the prologue to his translation of the Bible, “The Bible is for the Government of the People, by the People, and for the People” (Familiar Quotations by John Bartlett, 1951 edition). Bartlett cites Theodore Parker using this phraseology in a sermon in Boston’s Music Hall on July 4, 1858, noting that Lincoln’s law partner William H. Herndon visited Boston and returned to Springfield, Ill., with some of Parker’s sermons and addresses. Herndon wrote that Lincoln marked with pencil the portion of the Music Hall address “Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, by all the people, for all the people.”
At Gettysburg, Lincoln enshrined the people’s rule in the fervent pledge that, “under God,” this democracy “shall not perish from the earth.”
James A. Langley, Washington