„Free government is self-government. A government of the people by the people. The best government of this sort is that which the people think best.“

No. V, The House of Commons, p. 159
Cf the Gettysburg Address.
The English Constitution (1867)

Adopted from Wikiquote. Last update June 3, 2021. History
Walter Bagehot photo
Walter Bagehot42
British journalist, businessman, and essayist 1826 - 1877

Related quotes

Errico Malatesta photo

„The "government of all the people", if we have to have government, can at best be only the government of the majority.“

—  Errico Malatesta Italian anarchist 1853 - 1932

Neither Democrats, Nor Dictators: Anarchists (1926)
Context: The "government of all the people", if we have to have government, can at best be only the government of the majority. And the democrats, whether socialists or not, are willing to agree. They add, it is true, that one must respect minority rights; but since it is the majority that decides what these rights are, as a result minorities only have the right to do what the majority wants and allows. The only limit to the will of the majority would be the resistance which the minorities know and can put up. This means that there would always be a social struggle, in which a part of the members, albeit the majority, has the right to impose its own will on the others, yoking the efforts of all to their own ends.
And here I would make an aside to show how, based on reasoning backed by the evidence of past and present events, it is not even true that where there is government, namely authority, that authority resides in the majority and how in reality every "democracy" has been, is and must be nothing short of an "oligarchy" – a government of the few, a dictatorship. But, for the purposes of this article, I prefer to err on the side of the democrats and assume that there can really be a true and sincere majority government.
Government means the right to make the law and to impose it on everyone by force: without a police force there is no government.

Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood photo

„The old phrase, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"*, represents a true ideal. It is best for the people as a whole. It is even more clearly the best for the development of the individual man and woman. And since in the end, the character and the prosperity of the nation depend on the character of the individuals that compose it, the form of government which best promotes individual development is the best for the people as a whole.“

—  Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood lawyer, politician and diplomat in the United Kingdom 1864 - 1958

Quoting Abraham Lincoln
The Future of Civilization (1938)
Context: In some states of society it may even be that a form of dictatorship is necessary. No doubt in the hands of an able man it may possibly be more efficient than a democratic form of administration. But in the end, I am confident that a free government is best for free people. The old phrase, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people"*, represents a true ideal. It is best for the people as a whole. It is even more clearly the best for the development of the individual man and woman. And since in the end, the character and the prosperity of the nation depend on the character of the individuals that compose it, the form of government which best promotes individual development is the best for the people as a whole.

William Penn photo

„Let the People think they Govern and they will be Governed.“

—  William Penn English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, early Quaker and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania 1644 - 1718

337
Fruits of Solitude (1682), Part I

Thomas Jefferson photo

„The best government is that which governs least.“

—  Thomas Jefferson 3rd President of the United States of America 1743 - 1826

Motto of United States Magazine and Democratic Review. First used in introductory essay by editor John L. O'Sullivan in the premier issue (October, 1837, p. 6 http://books.google.com/books?id=HGtJAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA6&dq=%22governs+least%22). Attributed to Jefferson by Henry David Thoreau, this statement is cited in his essay on civil disobedience, but the quote has not been found in Jefferson's own writings. It is also commonly attributed to Thomas Paine, perhaps because of its similarity in theme to many of his well-documented expressions such as "Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one."
Misattributed
Variant: "That government is best which governs least"; reported in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 56

George Bancroft photo

„The best government rests on the people and not on the few, on persons and not on property, on the free development of public opinion and not on authority.“

—  George Bancroft American historian and statesman 1800 - 1891

"The Office of the People in Art, Government and Religion" (1835), p. 421
Literary and Historical Miscellanies (1855)

Lyndon B. Johnson photo

„Government is best which is closest to the people. Yet that belief is betrayed by those State and local officials who engage in denying the right of citizens to vote. Their actions serve only to assure that their State governments and local governments shall be remote from the people, least representative of the people's will and least responsive to the people's wishes.“

—  Lyndon B. Johnson American politician, 36th president of the United States (in office from 1963 to 1969) 1908 - 1973

1960s, Special message to Congress on the right to vote (1965)
Context: The essence of our American tradition of State and local governments is the belief expressed by Thomas Jefferson that Government is best which is closest to the people. Yet that belief is betrayed by those State and local officials who engage in denying the right of citizens to vote. Their actions serve only to assure that their State governments and local governments shall be remote from the people, least representative of the people's will and least responsive to the people's wishes.

Rudolph Rummel photo

„The more freedom a people have, the more unlikely the government will murder them. Democratically free governments do not murder their own people.“

—  Rudolph Rummel American academic 1932 - 2014

Source: The Blue Book of Freedom: Ending Famine, Poverty, Democide, and War (2007), p. 14

Wendell Berry photo
Winston S. Churchill photo
Stephen Colbert photo

„I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.“

—  Stephen Colbert American political satirist, writer, comedian, television host, and actor 1964

White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (2006)

Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay photo
Napoleon I of France photo

„A Government protected by foreigners will never be accepted by a free people.“

—  Napoleon I of France French general, First Consul and later Emperor of the French 1769 - 1821

Political Aphorisms, Moral and Philosophical Thoughts (1848)

Henry David Thoreau photo
Alan Moore photo
Thomas Jefferson photo

„When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.“

—  Thomas Jefferson 3rd President of the United States of America 1743 - 1826

First attributed to Jefferson in 1945, this does not appear in any known Jefferson document. When governments fear the people, there is liberty... http://wiki.monticello.org/mediawiki/index.php/When_governments_fear_the_people,_there_is_liberty...(Quotation), Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. It first appears in 1914, in [Barnhill, John Basil, John Basil Barnhill, Indictment of Socialism No. 3, Barnhill-Tichenor Debate on Socialism, http://debs.indstate.edu/b262b3_1914.pdf, PDF, 2008-10-16, 1914, National Rip-Saw Publishing, Saint Louis, Missouri, p. 34]
Misattributed
Variant: Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.

Abraham Lincoln photo

„The people will save their government, if the government itself will allow them.“

—  Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the United States 1809 - 1865

This quote is incorrectly quoted from Lincoln's Address to Congress on July 4, 1861 http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3508, in which Lincoln outlined the events that had led to the American Civil War and his views on the nature of the rebellion by the southern slave states. To suppress the rebellion Lincoln said that Congress must "give the legal means for making this contest a short and a decisive one; that you place at the control of the Government for the work at least 400,000 men and $400,000,000." And Lincoln remarked further: "A right result at this time will be worth more to the world than ten times the men and ten times the money. The evidence reaching us from the country leaves no doubt that the material for the work is abundant, and that it needs only the hand of legislation to give it legal sanction and the hand of the Executive to give it practical shape and efficiency. One of the greatest perplexities of the Government is to avoid receiving troops faster than it can provide for them. In a word, the people will save their Government if the Government itself will do its part only indifferently well".
Disputed

Andrew Jackson photo

„The people are the government, administering it by their agents; they are the Government, the sovereign power.“

—  Andrew Jackson American general and politician, 7th president of the United States 1767 - 1845

Quoted in The Many Faces of Alexander Hamilton https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Special:BookSources/0814707246: The Life and Legacy of America's Most Elusive Founding Father, Ambrose & Martin, NYU Press (2007), p. 32
1830s

Neamat Imam photo

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