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“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

James Madison, speech at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution (1788)

What is this "of"?

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That of is a possessive, but since it describes an action, the encroachments are performed by the agent that "possesses" them.

This use of of is similar to:

I watched the movements of his eyes.
I admired the strong strokes of the swimmer.

Here, the eyes are making the movements, so the movements "belong" to the eyes, they are their movements. Similarly, the strokes are performed by the swimmer, so they are her strokes.

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  • Those in power encroach on the freedom? – user2492 May 27 '14 at 6:08
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    Yes, that is what Madison is saying. His point was made to warn law-makers that many laws, instead of giving freedom, take away freedom, and that that process is the main reason why people are often not free. – oerkelens May 27 '14 at 6:16

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