Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 2.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Fragment on Government [1]

[April 1, 1854?]

Government is a combination of the people of a country to effect certain objects by joint effort. The best framed and best administered governments are necessarily expensive; while by errors in frame and maladministration most of them are more onerous than they need be, and some of them very oppressive. Why, then, should we have government? Why not each individual take to himself the whole fruit of his labor, without having any of it taxed away, in services, corn, or money? Why not take just so much land as he can cultivate with his own hands, without buying it of any one?

The legitimate object of government is ``to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves.'' There are many such things---some of them exist independently of the injustice in the world. Making and maintaining roads, bridges, and the like; providing for the helpless young and afflicted; common schools; and disposing of deceased men's property, are instances.

But a far larger class of objects springs from the injustice of men. If one people will make war upon another, it is a necessity with that other to unite and cooperate for defense. Hence the military department. If some men will kill, or beat, or constrain others, or despoil them of property, by force, fraud, or noncompliancePage  222 with contracts, it is a common object with peaceful and just men to prevent it. Hence the criminal and civil departments.


[1]   NH, II, 182-83. This fragment is obviously related to the companion piece supra. No trace of the original document or a copy remains in the Lincoln papers.