From a famous speech:

A government of the people, by the people, for the people

I believe the last part is clear (for the people). But what is the difference— in meaning— between of the people (it is a genitive form?) and by the people?

As for the question mark ("it is a genitive form?") I think there is no need to set it inside the parentheses.


"Of the people" refers to the government's composition. It's referring to the fact that the government is made up of people who come from the people.

"By the people" refers to who chooses those people who make up the government.

Essentially, it's saying that it's a government comprised of common people who were chosen by common people.

  • 1
    Thanks to the Supreme Court's interpretation of the meaning of "person" - it can be equally translated to "Of the lobbyists, by the PACS, for the corporations"... :-P – Michael Broughton Jan 6 '16 at 15:51
  • So, 'of the people' refers to government's officials, they may come from all citizen. – Rock Jan 6 '16 at 15:54
  • 3
    Yes, it's pointing to the fact that there is no nobility, no aristocracy, no house of lords, and no king. There is no special class ruling the country that is set apart from common people. As all people are just people, neither commoner nor noble, then all people lead, and by election, any person(s) can govern. – Benjamin Harman Jan 6 '16 at 16:11
  • I would disagree slightly in that "government by the people" means that it's "people" (i.e. common people) who are doing the governing (i.e. those in power are common people), and "of the people" means chosen by, and accountable to, the people. So your implications are entirely correct but I think different part of the sentence refer to different things. – DJClayworth Jan 6 '16 at 16:16
  • 1
    @BenjaminHarman: And 'by the people' means similar: all the citizens have active voting right (as regards government). – Rock Jan 6 '16 at 16:34

Of the people refers to the government's target, indicating what is governed.

Of the people is not really necessary, but emphasizes the rest of the sentence.

[B]y the people indicates that government was designated by the people. It refers to democracy.

[F]or the people indicates that the objective of the government is to improve common welfare.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.