Abraham Lincoln’s closure to his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address, a speech of merely two minutes, is thought by many to be a purely American concept. It ends with the phrase “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Most of us studied this as a pivotal concept of American government. Well, I hate to disappoint you, but President Lincoln borrowed the words. They actually belonged first to theologian John Wyciffe, an English Protestant reformer, and were written in 1384.
The words were part of a prologue to one of the earliest translations of the Bible from Latin into English. The Bible was translated into the common language of the people for the following purpose: “This Bible is for the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” Wycliffe believed the people should read the scriptures for themselves and not be told what the scriptures said by either the priests or the government.
Empowered by this newfound access to the scriptures, Wycliffe believed men and women could and would make up their minds about theological issues. This would, in turn, free them to make independent decisions about secular-governmental issues as well. Civil and religious liberty are linked in concept and practice. Although the concept of individual accountability was not purely an American concept beautifully expressed by the American Constitution or an important American President, it has certainly been institutionalize in American thought and government.
As a new Congress is convened in Washington after an election where “the people” returned some to office and replaced others, we continue our process of self-government. The Mississippi Legislature also reconvenes for another session as we move towards another election cycle in our State. All those who serve us are a reflection of who we are as a nation. Even when we complain about government, we should remember it’s government we helped create, a unique exercise in freedom that you and I enjoy.
When you see one of our elected officials remember to thank these men and women for their service. Our government “for the people” will only be as good as those who “by the people” elect these representatives “of the people.” Individual liberty and individual responsibility expressed as our generation practices freedom. Practice leads to perfection. Maybe one day we will get it right.
Wayne Henson, CEO