Lincoln's View of Government

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is counted among the great speeches. He reminded his audience of the purposes and roles of the government encapsulated in the phrase “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

To Lincoln, the government was a joint project among the people. Government was created, run and benefited the people. In the 19th century this view of government contrasted with the “Self-made Man” where individuals worked for their personal benefit, not for the people.

That contrast still exists. Are the goals of government related to all citizens or designed to aid specific individuals in reaching their goals?

Proper government enacts laws, builds railroads, canals and roads; and establishes things such as a currency, an education system, and other supportive systems to aid in the lives of all citizens. Lincoln stated that government is pro-active in providing an acceptable level of life. The Self-made Man philosophy argues that an acceptable level has to be earned by individual effort and prioritizes competition and not cooperation. The self-made man sees only his own gains, and that leads to division and selfishness.

Lincoln stressed reuniting a nation torn apart by competing in their self-interest. In the years following, the U.S. experienced great growth because democracy and citizenship work when the citizens take joint responsibility. Which road are we taking now? The road of self-interest and conflict or the road of cooperation and unity? The Democratic Party agrees with Lincoln. The nation is better when citizens work towards better lives for everyone.