...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.
November 19, 1863
What does this famous phrase mean, "government of the people, by the people, for the people"? If taken along side the 9th and 10th amendments to the US Constitution (the document Lincoln was sworn to unhold):
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
1. "Government of the people" can honestly mean only one thing: individual self government.
2. "Government by the people" is that portion of governance that the people and the states can share with one another (a common defense, provided by the people themselves). Or it can mean individual self government as well.
3. And "Government for the people" must be that government which most importantly protects #1, the right and responsibility of individual self government.
There are those who say, at least in our day and time, that such a government has perished. I don't believe that, for as long as there is at least one person who is willing to govern himself, self government is not dead. The American Experiment in self government is not dead.
The US Constitution was written specifically to limit the sphere of federal government - a relatively tiny sphere at that - everything else was specifically reserved by the states and the people of the states. Hence the name United States of America. If something else was meant, they'd have called it the United State of America, or just America. Self-government is a God-given right and responsibility no matter the type of centralized government in place.
What a fantastic country we live in. Existence is being alive. Life is self-governance, most profitably executed according to the instructions provided by the author of life, God himself. Freedom to so govern oneself without oppression was bought and paid for by the lives of men and women who went before us (most notably Jesus Christ). The only way to honor those who gave their lives in this thing is to do everything in one's power to preserve it, not only for ourselves, but for our children, and for our children's children.
If you have given any part of your life in service to that end, my sincerest and most profound thanks goes to you.