Author Topic: 150 years ago today, Abraham Lincoln praised 'government of the people, by the people, for the people' – but the words were not his  (Read 598 times)

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Offline Cincinnatus

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I found this article to be quite interesting. It clarifies some history and shows once again how important the Bible is to Western culture and American principles.

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On November 19, 1863, at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln, weak and lightheaded with an oncoming case of smallpox, made a speech that lasted for just over two minutes, and ended with his hope “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.”

Those words have been quoted ever since as the supreme vindication of representative government. Indeed, they are often quoted as proof of American exceptionalism. But the words were not Lincoln’s. Most of his hearers would have recognised their source, as our generation typically does not. They came from the prologue to what was probably the earliest translation of the Bible into the English language: “This Bible is for the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” The author was the theologian John Wycliffe, sometimes called “the Morning Star of the Reformation.” Astonishingly, they had first appeared in 1384.

Wycliffe was perhaps the most arresting figure in the medieval English church. Philosopher, temperamental rebel, and heresiarch, he anticipated many of the doctrines of Protestantism. He opposed the selling of indulgences, rejected transubstantiation, and emphasised salvation by faith. He thought that priests should be allowed to marry, and that they should be accountable before the civil courts like everyone else. He rejected papal authority in England, arguing that the nation was bound instead to its own Crown and institutions.

Above all, and exceptionally for his time, Wycliffe believed in the centrality of the Bible. He taught that people should read the scriptures for themselves and not rely on the interpretation of priests and prelates. In his last years, he devoted himself to translating the Bible from Latin into English.

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” was, in Wycliffe’s mind, a concept with political, religious, and educational implications. If men and women were free to make up their minds on theological questions, they would also be better suited to independence in secular affairs. We can trade the association between civil and religious liberty, that was to become such a marked characteristic of the Anglosphere, right back to the fourteenth century.

Wycliffe's followers, a clandestine and largely lower-class movement known as the Lollards, formed an indigenous prelude to the Reformation. A Bible-based sect, they were limited by their lack of access to a printing press—the huge advantage enjoyed by the Lutherans who reached England in the 1530s. As A. G. Dickens, the historian of the English Reformation, put it, “Lollardy created an underground, and there awaited the appearance of liberators. When liberation finally came, it was compelled, like any underground resistance, to yield the leadership to regular armies with heavier and more modern equipment.”

One of their ideas, though, has survived to this day, namely the notion that freedom of conscience is inseparable from civil liberty, and that personal responsibility in spiritual matters implies individualism in secular affairs.“Government of the people, by the people, for the people”: in what other language would those words have been written – in what other tongue could they have been verbalised – in 1384?


http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100246622/150-years-ago-today-abraham-lincoln-praised-government-of-the-people-by-the-people-for-the-people-but-the-words-were-not-his/

I would bet that if Obama had known the source of that phrase he would have left it off his recitation as he did, "Under God".
We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid ~~ Samuel Adams

Offline happyg

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Interesting read. Obama has nothing in common with his favorite president.

Offline Cincinnatus

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Obama has nothing in common with his favorite president.

I have never believed Lincoln was his favorite President. I think he just says that for public consumption because of Lincoln's role in ending slavery. I would expect him to admire far more a Prez like FDR who accomplished great things just as he sees himself doing.
We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid ~~ Samuel Adams


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