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Personhood (Timeline)

A Brief History of Corporate Personhood

First of all, history tells us alot. You have to put it into the context of the time, and feelings of the people. It was a religious time, and most every influentual person was a god fearing man/woman. Many of our Founding Fathers were Christian-Deists, and were “enlightened” by the Spanish Inquisition, and the powerful control that the Church held over the British Government for centuries. With that in mind, they set out to form a more perfect Union of States, independent, and self-governing. One of the biggest fears colonists had during the founding of this country, was the power and control of the East India Company, and powerful they were.

You can not look at this issue with todays thinking. We can take history in its proper context, and enhance our outlook of what happened over time, and find the true essence of what really happened. With that said, here is what happened in the timeline.

The British East India Company started in 1600, to control the trades in the far east, for silk, indigo dyes, cotton, tea and opium. They became a huge monopoly backed by the British government. The wealth and power they acrued made them a force to recon with, even the British government had little control from so far away. Of course England got rich too. These are the reasons our Founding Fathers feared such power, and wanted restrictions placed on corporations.

 It should be understood that the term ‘artificial person’ was in long use, and was in principle distinct from any contention that corporations have the rights of natural person. ’Artificial person’ was used because there were certain resemblances, in law, between a natural person and corporations. Both could be parties in a lawsuit; both could be taxed; both could be constrained by law. In fact the corporations had been called artificial persons by courts in England as early as the 16th century because lawyers for the corporations had asserted they could not be convicted under the English laws of the time because the laws were worded “No person shall….”

Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780)
was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Blackstone’s legacy and main work of note is his Commentaries. Designed to provide a complete overview of English law, the four-volume treatise was repeatedly republished in 1770, 1773, 1774, 1775, 1778 and in a posthumous edition in 1783.

The Rights of Persons
From Blackstone’s Commentaries (chap. I of Book I):

Persons also are divided by the law into either natural persons, or artificial. Natural persons are such as the God of nature formed us: artificial are such as created and devised by human laws for the purposes of society and government; which are called corporations or bodies politic.

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.

The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act for a variety of reasons, especially because they believed that it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. He apparently did not expect that the protestors would choose to destroy the tea rather than concede the authority of a legislature in which they were not directly represented.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which, among other provisions, closed Boston’s commerce until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that legally established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution.[1] Its drafting by the Continental Congress began in mid 1776 and an approved version was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777. The formal ratification by all 13 states was completed in early 1781. Even if not yet ratified, the Articles provided domestic and international legitimacy for the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe and deal with territorial issues and Indian relations. Nevertheless, a perceived weak government created by the Articles became a matter of concern for key nationalists and in 1789 the Articles were replaced with the U.S. Constitution. It provided for a much stronger national government with a chief executive (the president), courts, and taxing powers.

The political push to increase cooperation among the then-loyal colonies began with the Albany Congress in 1754 and Benjamin Franklin‘s proposed intercolonial collaboration to help solve mutual local problems themselves; the Articles of Confederation would hold some resemblance to it. Over the next two decades some of those basic concepts would strengthen and others would weaken, particularly the degree of deserved loyalty to the crown. With civil disobedience resulting in coercive and intolerable acts, and armed conflict resulting in being proclaimed rebels and outside the King’s protection, any loyalty remaining shifted toward independence and how to achieve it. In 1775 with events outpacing communications, the Second Continental Congress started acting as the provisional government to run the American Revolutionary War and gain their collective independence.

It was an era of constitution writing—most states were busy at the task—and leaders felt the new nation must have a written constitution, even though other nations did not have them. During the war Congress exercised an unprecedented level of political, diplomatic, military, and economic authority. It adopted trade restrictions, established and maintained an army, issued fiat money, created a military code, and negotiated with foreign governments.[2]

To transform themselves from outlaws into legitimate belligerents, the colonists needed international recognition for their cause and foreign allies to support it. In early 1776, Thomas Paine argued in the closing pages of the first edition of Common Sense that the “custom of nations” demanded a declaration of American independence, if any European power were even to mediate a peace between the Americans and Great Britain. France and Spain in particular could not be expected to aid those they considered rebels against another monarch. Foreign courts needed to have American grievances laid before them persuasively in a “manifesto” which could also reassure them that the Americans would be reliable trading partners. Without a declaration, Paine concluded, “[t]he custom of all courts is against us, and will be so, until, by an independence, we take rank with other nations”[3]

The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. The first three Articles of the Constitution establish the three branches of the federal government with checks and balances to support a separation of powers: a legislature, the bicameral Congress; an executive branch led by the President; and a federal judiciary headed by the Supreme Court. The last four Articles frame the principle of federalism. The Tenth Amendment confirms its federal characteristics.

The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in eleven states. The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times and its principles are applied in courts of law by judicial review.

The Constitution guides American society in law and political culture. It is the oldest charter of supreme law in continuous use, and It influenced later international figures establishing national constitutions. Recent impulses for reform center on concerns for extending democracy and balancing the Federal budget.

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were the first constitution of the United States of America.[1] The problem with the United States government under the Articles of Confederation was, in the words of George Washington, “no money”.[2]

Congress could print money, but by 1786, the money was useless. Congress could borrow money, but could not pay it back.[2] No state paid all of their U.S. taxes; Georgia paid nothing. Some few paid an amount equal to interest on the national debt owed to their citizens, but no more.[2] No interest was paid on debt owed foreign governments. By 1786, the United States would default on the dates the principal came due.[2]

On February 21, 1787, the Articles Congress called a convention of state delegates at Philadelphia to propose a plan of government. Unlike earlier attempts, the convention was not meant for new laws or piecemeal alterations, but for the “sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation”. The convention was not limited to commerce; rather, it was intended to “render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.” The proposal might take effect when approved by Congress and the states.[10]

The Constitutional Convention began deliberations on May 25, 1787. The delegates were generally convinced that an effective central government with a wide range of enforceable powers must replace the weaker Congress established by the Articles of Confederation.

All agreed to a republican form of government grounded in representing the people in the states. For the legislature, two issues were to be decided, (1) how the votes were to be allocated among the states in the Congress, and (2) how the representatives should be elected. The question was settled by the Connecticut Compromise or “Great Compromise”. In the House, state power was to be based on population and the people would vote. In the Senate, state power was to be based on state legislature election, two Senators generally to be elected by different state legislatures to better reflect the long term interests of the people living in each state.

It was within the power of the old congress to expedite or block the ratification of the new Constitution. The document that the Philadelphia Convention presented was technically only a revision of the Articles of Confederation. But the last article of the new instrument provided that when ratified by conventions in nine states (or 2/3 at the time), it should go into effect among the States so acting.

Then followed an arduous process of ratification of the Constitution by specially constituted conventions. The need for only nine states was a controversial decision at the time, since the Articles of Confederation could only be amended by unanimous vote of all the states. However, the new Constitution was ratified by all thirteen states, with Rhode Island signing on last in May 1790.

The Founding Fathers Did Not Want Large Corporations

When the United States gained its independence in 1776, there were 336 corporations in the United States, but most had been chartered by state governments for specific public works projects. The Founding Fathers, still mindful of the crushing power once wielded by the East India Company, severly limited the power of corporations and never would have dreamed of nor allowed the trans-national behemoths we see today. In fact, the original limitations seem laughable when we consider our modern corporations:

1) Corporate charters were granted for fixed periods of time, usually between 10 and 40 years.
2) Corporate charters could be promptly revoked for violations of law or for causing public harm.
3) Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose
4) Corporations could not own property that was not essential to the fulfilling of their chartered purpose.

5) Corporations could not own stock in other corporations.
6) The personal assets of corporate shareholders were not protected from the consequences of corporate behavior.

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring it “unconstitutional“.[1][2] The landmark decision helped define the boundary between the constitutionally separate executive and judicial branches of the American form of government.

Although the power of judicial review is sometimes said to have originated with Marbury, the concept of judicial review has ancient roots. The idea that courts could nullify statutes originated in England with Chief Justice Edward Coke‘s 1610 opinion in Dr. Bonham’s Case, 8 Co. Rep. 107a. That decision arose under a statute of Parliament enabling the London College of Physicians to levy fines against anyone who violated their rules. The College accused a doctor of practicing without a license and fined him accordingly. Coke found that their statutory powers violated “common right or reason” because “no person should be a judge in his own case.”[10]

The U.S. Supreme Court stated Bonham’s Case did not set a precedent in the United States to make common law supreme over statutory law:

[N]otwithstanding what was attributed to Lord COKE in Bonham’s Case, 8 Reporter, 115, 118a, the omnipotence of parliament over the common law was absolute, even against common right and reason. The actual and practical security for English liberty against legislative tyranny was the power of a free public opinion represented by the commons.[11]

Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case dealing with the application of the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution to private corporations. The case arose when the president of Dartmouth College was deposed by its trustees, leading to the New Hampshire legislature attempting to force the college to become a public institution and thereby place the ability to appoint trustees in the hands of the governor. The Supreme Court upheld the sanctity of the original charter of the college, which pre-dated the creation of the State. The decision settled the nature of public versus private charters and resulted in the rise of the American business corporation.[1]

Slavery in the United States was a form of slave labor which existed as a legal institution in North America for more than a century before the founding of the United States in 1776, and continued mostly in the South until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865 following the American Civil War.[1] The first English colony in North America, Virginia, acquired its first Africans in 1619, after a ship arrived that carried a cargo of about 20 Africans.[2][3] The practice established in the Spanish colonies as early as the 1560s was expanded into English North America.[4]

 Slave labor was in demand in the areas where there was good-quality soil and climate for large plantations of high-value cash crops with labor-intensive cultivation, such as tobacco, cotton, sugar, and coffee. By the early decades of the 19th century, the overwhelming majority of slaveholders and slaves were in the southern United States. By the Civil War, most slaves were held in the Deep South, where they were engaged in a work-gang system of agriculture on large plantations; two-thirds worked on cotton. They were directed by a supervisory class called overseers, usually white men. 

Dred Scott (1795 – September 17, 1858), was an African-American slave in the United States who unsuccessfully sued for his freedom and that of his wife and their two daughters in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857, popularly known as “the Dred Scott Decision.” His case was based on the fact that although he and his wife Harriet Scott were slaves, he had lived with his master Dr. John Emerson in states and territories where slavery was illegal according to both state laws and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, including Illinois and Minnesota (which was then part of the Wisconsin Territory). The United States Supreme Court ruled seven to two against Scott, finding that neither he, nor any person of African ancestry, could claim citizenship in the United States, and therefore Scott could not bring suit in federal court under diversity of citizenship rules. Moreover, Scott’s temporary residence outside Missouri did not bring about his emancipation under the Missouri Compromise, which the court ruled unconstitutional as it would improperly deprive Scott’s owner of his legal property.While Chief Justice Roger B. Taney had hoped to settle issues related to slavery and Congressional authority by this decision, it aroused outrage and deepened sectional tensions. President Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and the post-Civil war Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenthamendments nullified the decision.

On March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney delivered the majority opinion. Taney ruled that:

  • Any person descended from Africans, whether slave or free, is not a citizen of the United States, according to the Constitution. (Note: Only 3/5ths of a state’s slave population total was counted in their population total. Contrary to popular belief, slaves were not counted as 3/5ths of a person for purposes of congressional representation. They were considered property in historic records. There were free blacks in several of the 13 states when the Constitution was written. Their number increased dramatically in the Upper South in the first two decades after the Revolution; for instance, by 1810, fully 10 percent of the population in the Upper South were free blacks, as numerous slaveholders manumitted their slaves in this period, inspired by Revolutionary principles of equality.[3])
  • The Ordinance of 1787 could not confer either freedom or citizenship within the Northwest Territory to non-white individuals.
  • The provisions of the Act of 1820, known as the Missouri Compromise, were voided as a legislative act, since the act exceeded the powers of Congress, insofar as it attempted to exclude slavery and impart freedom and citizenship to non-white persons in the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase.[4]

The Court had ruled that African Americans had no claim to freedom or citizenship. Since they were not citizens, they did not possess the legal standing to bring suit in a federal court. As slaves were private property, Congress did not have the power to regulate slavery in the territories and could not revoke a slave owner’s rights based on where he lived. This decision nullified the essence of the Missouri Compromise, which divided territories into jurisdictions either free or slave. Speaking for the majority, Taney ruled that because Scott was simply considered the private property of his owners, that he was subject to the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibiting the taking of property from its owner “without due process”. 

The American Civil War


The American Civil War (1861–1865), also referred to as the War Between the States or simply the Civil War, was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (“the Confederacy”); the other 25 states supported the federal government (“the Union“). After four years of warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederacy surrendered and slavery was outlawed everywhere in the nation. Issues that led to war were partially resolved in the Reconstruction Era that followed, though others remained unresolved.

Paul v. Virginia, 75 U.S. (8 Wall) 168 (1869), was a historic case in corporate law in which the United States Supreme Court held that a corporation is not a citizen within the meaning of the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Of greater consequence, the Court further held that “issuing a policy of insurance is not a transaction of commerce,” effectively removing the business of insurance beyond the United States Congress‘s legislative reach.

A committee was formed to write the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, on equal rights after the slaves were freed after the Civil War.


Former Railroad Lawyer, and Republican Senator from New York, Roscoe Conklin, when he was part of the Senate Committee that wrote the 14th Amendment in 1868, he intentionally inserted the word “person” instead of the correct legal phrase “artificial person” to describe who would get protections of the amendment. This was the “Time Bomb” that corporations wanted. After the “time bomb” was placed, Conklin left elective office to join in litigation on behalf of the railroads, with the goal of exploiting their carefully worded amendment in the face of the Supreme Court.
John A Bingham, Republican Congressmen of Ohio, and former Railroad Lawyer, worked in the House of Representatives on the 14th Amendment language, and placed the “Time Bomb” “person” instead of “artifical person” in the Congressional side of the bill. Once in, he too left elected office as did Conklin, to wait for the bomb to go off. Both Bingham and Conklin said very publicly, “We did it,” as the conspiracy theory was widely accepted, in those days.

Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885) was the 18th President of the United States (1869–1877) and military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction. Under Grant, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and effectively ended the war with the surrender of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.

During Reconstruction, General Grant implemented Congressional plans to reoccupy the South and hold elections in 1867, including black voters, which gave Republicans control of the Southern states. Enormously popular in the North after the Union victory, Grant was elected to the presidency in 1868. Reelected in 1872, he became the first president to serve two full terms since Andrew Jackson. As president, he effected Reconstruction by signing and enforcing civil rights laws and fighting Ku Klux Klan violence. Grant won passage of the Fifteenth Amendment; giving constitutional protection for African American voting rights. He helped rebuild the Republican Party in the South, an effort that resulted in the election of African Americans to Congress and state governments for the first time.

President Grant faced financial scandals in most federal departments during his two terms in office.[162] Some historians have emphasized Grant’s responsibility for the corruption, while others have considered this exaggeration, and stress Grant’s establishment of Civil Service reform and abolishment of the moiety system.[162] Grant’s inability to establish personal accountability among his subordinates and cabinet members facilitated many scandals. Although personally honest with money matters, Grant was weak in his selection of subordinates, and even pardoned several convicted officials after they had served only a few months in prison. [163]

The Robber Barons Against Americans
In 1873, another major economic crisis took place, setting off a great depression. Yet, economic crises, while being harmful to the vast majority of people, increasing prices and decreasing jobs and wages, had the effect of being very beneficial to the new industrialists and financiers, who use crisis as an opportunity to wipe out competition and consolidate their power.
In 1877, a nation-wide railroad strike took place, infuriating the major railroad barons, particularly J.P. Morgan, offered to lend money to pay army officers to go in and crush the strikes and get the trains moving, which they managed to accomplish fairly well. Strikes took place and soldiers were sent in to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Indiana, with the whole city of Philadelphia in uproar, with a general strike emerging in Pittsburgh, leading to the deployment of the National Guard, who often shot and killed strikers. When all was said and done, a hundred people were dead, a thousand people had gone to jail, 100,000 workers had gone on strike, and the strikes had roused into action countless unemployed in the cities.[12] Following this period, America underwent its greatest spur of economic growth in its history, with elites from both North and South working together against workers and blacks and the majority of people:
They would do it with the aid of, and at the expense of, black labor, white labor, Chinese labor, European immigrant labor, female labor, rewarding them differently by race, sex, national origin, and social class, in such a way as to create separate levels of oppression – a skillful terracing to stabilize the pyramid of wealth.[13]
The bankers and industrialists, particularly Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Mellon and Harriman, saw enormous increases in wealth and power. At the turn of the century, as Rockefeller moved from exclusively interested in oil, and into iron, copper, coal, shipping, and banking (with Chase Manhattan Bank, now J.P. Morgan Chase), his fortune would equal $2 billion. The Morgan Group also had billions in assets.[14] In 1900, Andrew Carnegie agreed to sell his steel company to J.P. Morgan for $492 million.[15]
Public sentiment at this time, however, had never been so anti-Capitalist and spiteful of the great wealth amassed at the expense of all others. The major industrialists and bankers firmly established their control over the political system, firmly entrenching the two party system through which they would control both parties. Thus, “whether Democrats or Republicans won, national policy would not change in any important way.”[16] Labour struggles had continued and exacerbated throughout the decades following the Civil War. In 1893, another economic depression took place, and the country was again plunged into social upheaval.
The Supreme Court itself was firmly overtaken by the interests of the new elite. Shortly after the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution to protect newly freed blacks, the Supreme Court began “to develop it as a protection for corporations,” as corporate lawyers argued that corporations were defined as legal ‘persons’, and therefore they could not have their rights infringed upon as stipulated in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court went along with this reasoning, and even intervened in state legislative decisions which instead promoted the rights of workers and farmers. Ultimately, “of the Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before thee Supreme Court between 1890 and 1910, nineteen dealt with the Negro, 288 dealt with corporations.”[17]

The Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873) were the first United States Supreme Court interpretation of the relatively new Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It is viewed as a pivotal case in early civil rights law, reading the Fourteenth Amendment as protecting the “privileges or immunities” conferred by virtue of the federal United States citizenship to all individuals of all states within it, but not those privileges or immunities incident to citizenship of a state.

Properly known as Slaughter-House Cases, the decision consolidated three similar cases:

  1. The Butchers’ Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company
  2. Paul Esteben, L. Ruch, J. P. Rouede, W. Maylie, S. Firmberg, B. Beaubay, William Fagan, J. D. Broderick, N. Seibel, M. Lannes, J. Gitzinger, J. P. Aycock, D. Verges, The Live-Stock Dealers’ and Butchers’ Association of New Orleans, and Charles Cavaroc v. The State of Louisiana, ex rel. S. Belden, Attorney-General
  3. The Butchers’ Benevolent Association of New Orleans v. The Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company

Note: Corporations were not included in these protections.

Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113 (1877),[1] was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with corporate rates and agriculture. The Munn case allowed states to regulate certain businesses within their borders, including railroads, and is commonly regarded as a milestone in the growth of federal government regulation.

In Munn v. Illinois, the Supreme Court decided that the Fourteenth Amendment (because Munn asserted his due process right to property was being violated) did not prevent the State of Illinois from regulating charges for use of a business’ grain elevators. Instead, the decision focused on the question of whether or not a private company could be regulated in the public interest. The court’s decision was that it could, if the private company could be seen as a utility operating in the public interest.

Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment cannot be used to protect corporations from state law. They did not actually rule on personhood.

San Mateo County vs Southern Pacific Railroad (1882)

In one of these cases, San Mateo County v. Southern Pacific Railroad it was argued that corporations were persons and that the committee drafting  the 14th Amendment had in-tended the word person to mean corporations as well as natural persons. Senator Roscoe Conkling waved  an  un-known document in the air and then read from it in an attempt to prove that the intent of the Joint Committee was for corporate personhood. The court did not rule on corporate personhood, but this is the case in which they heard the  argument.

 And now the BIG ONE…….

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 U.S. 394 (1886) was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with taxation of railroad properties. The decision was instrumental in laying the foundation for modern laws regarding corporate personhood, ruling that the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause granted constitutional protections to corporations as well as to natural persons. For its opinion, the Court consolidated three separate cases:

The headnote

JC Bancroft Davis, the Court Reporter and former president of Newburgh and New York Railway

The decisions reached by the Supreme Court are promulgated to the legal community by way of books called United States Reports. Preceding every case entry is a headnote, a short summary in which a court reporter summarizes the opinion as well as outlining the main facts and arguments. Headnotes are defined as “not the work of the Court, but are simply the work of the Reporter, giving his understanding of the decision, prepared for the convenience of the profession.”[3]

The court reporter, former president of the Newburgh and New York Railway Company, J.C. Bancroft Davis, wrote the following as part of the headnote for the case:

“One of the points made and discussed at length in the brief of counsel for defendants in error was that “corporations are persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” Before argument, Mr. Chief Justice Waite said:The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”[4]

In other words, the headnote indicated that corporations enjoyed the same rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, as did natural persons.[5] However, this issue was not decided by the Court.

Before publication in United States Reports, Davis wrote a letter to Chief Justice Morrison Waite, dated May 26, 1886, to make sure his headnote was correct:

Dear Chief Justice, I have a memorandum in the California Cases Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific &c As follows. In opening the Court stated that it did not wish to hear argument on the question whether the Fourteenth Amendment applies to such corporations as are parties in these suits. All the Judges were of the opinion that it does.[6]

Waite replied:

I think your mem. in the California Railroad Tax cases expresses with sufficient accuracy what was said before the argument began. I leave it with you to determine whether anything need be said about it in the report inasmuch as we avoided meeting the constitutional question in the decision.[6]

C. Peter Magrath, who discovered the exchange while researching Morrison R. Waite: The Triumph of Character, writes “In other words, to the Reporter fell the decision which enshrined the declaration in the United States Reports…had Davis left it out, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pac[ific] R[ailroad] Co. would have been lost to history among thousands of uninteresting tax cases.”[7] At the same time, the correspondence makes clear that the headnote does reflect the Court’s thinking.

Author Jack Beatty wrote about the lingering questions as to how the reporter’s note reflected a quotation that was absent from the opinion itself.

Why did the chief justice issue his dictum? Why did he leave it up to Davis to include it in the headnotes? After Waite told him that the Court ‘avoided’ the issue of corporate personhood, why did Davis include it? Why, indeed, did he begin his headnote with it? The opinion made plain that the Court did not decide the corporate personality issue and the subsidiary equal protection issue.[8]

Senator John Sherman, Whig Party, in 1888, submitted Senate Bill No.1, “A bill to declare unlawful trusts and combinations in restraint of trade and production.” In promoting this bill, Sherman said that the people “are feeling the power and grasp of these combinations, and are demanding from every legislature and of Congress a remedy of this evil….Society is now disturbed by forces never felt before.” —John Sherman, Whig, of Ohio (brother of William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame. Was the primary author of the Sherman Anti Trust Act.

 Minneapolis & St. LouisRailroad v. Beckwith [1889]

  Supreme Court rules a corporation is a “person” for both due process and equal protection.

It is contended by counsel as the basis of his argument, and we admit the soundness of his position, that corporations are persons within the meaning of the clause in question. It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., 118 U. S. 394, 118 U. S. 396, and the doctrine was reasserted in Pembina Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania, 125 U. S. 181, 125 U. S. 189. We admit also, as contended by him, that corporations can invoke the benefits of provisions of the Constitution and laws which guaranty to persons the enjoyment of property, or afford to them the means for its protection, or prohibit legislation injuriously affecting it.

We will consider the objections of the railway company in the reverse order in which they are stated by counsel. And first, as to the alleged conflict of the law of Iowa with the clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ordaining that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. That clause does undoubtedly prohibit.

John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil Trust; Tesimony was heard before Congress from a small businessman named Harlan Dow, that when he tried to market kerosene in West Virginia in competition with Standard Oil, the railroads raised their prices to him for transporting his product. He tried to survive by shipping his kerosene in his own horse drawn wagon, but in response to this, Standard Oil cut their prices to consumers in the area where Dow was trying to sell it. “I stopped the wagon and it has been idle in the stable ever since.”

Cartoon of John D Rockefeller walking a tightrope, with a wheelborrow full of money.The Standard Oil Trust was clearly in violation of the new law, and of state laws that mirrored it. Six days after the state of Ohio ruled his trust an anticompetitive monopoly that violated the law, John D. Rockefeller announced on March 10, 1892 that his Standard Oil Trust would be dissolved into separate companies. By then, federal and state prosecutions of trusts were underway nationwide. When Standard Oil Trust was dissolved, 37 companies sprang up to fill the void.

Noble v.UnionRiverLogging [1893]

 For the first time corporations have claim to the Bill of Rights. The 5th Amendment says: “…nor  be  deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

 Lochner v.New York[1905]

“Lochner” became shorthand for using the Constitution to invalidate government regulation of the corporation. It embodies the doctrine of “substantive due process.” From 1905 until the mid 1930s the Court invalidated approximately 200 economic regulations, usually under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

Hale v. Henkel  [1906]

 Corporations get 4th Amendment “search and seizure” protection.  Justice Harlan disagreed on this point: “…the power of the government, by its representatives, to look into the books, records and papers of a corporation of its own creation, to  ascertain whether that corporation has obeyed or is defying the  law, will be greatly curtailed, if not destroyed.”

 Armour Packing Co. v.U.S.  [1908]

 Corporations get 6th Amendment right to jury trial in a criminal case. A corporate defendant was considered an “accused” for 6th Amendment purposes.

Trade Unions sprang up against the big corporations 1912, telling workers they had rights. They fought and won, a 10 hour work day, the elimination of child labor laws, safety requirements in the work place, higher wages, pension packages, and grievence representation. With Unions, a strong middle class emerged. Ordinary people joining together to make a difference. Many times a Union worker would represent thousands of people in labor negociations, against teams of corporate lawyers. Notice which side the soldiers are on, the corporation.

In the first year of the Woodrow Wilson administration, the corporations reacted by trying to use the same law—the Sherman Anti-Trust Act—to get unions outlawed. They essentially argued that if it were illegal for corporations to conspire or form monopolies for their own benefit, then it should be illegal for human persons to do the same in the form of unions.

When corporations started using the Sherman Anti-Trust Act against unions, going against the spirit of an act that was passed to protect the average person from excessive corporate power, the U.S. Congress passed the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914 at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson. It specifically outlawed tying together multiple products, price discrimination, corporate mergers, and inter-locking board of directors. The Clayton Act also mandated the creation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC’s original job was to control corporate wrongdoing, and it still carries that mission.

U.S.enters World War I  [1917]


 Dodge v. Ford Motor Co. [1919]

 Michigan Supreme Court says, “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stock-holders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end.” “Stockholder primacy” is established. This is still the leading case on corporate purpose.

 Pennsylvania Coal Co. v.Mahon   [1922]

 Corporations get 5th Amendment “takings clause”: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” A regulation is deemed a takings.

Through the Roaring Twenties, little was done to enforce these various acts by the corporate friendly administration of Calvin Coolidge (“the business of America is business”) and Herbert Hoover. Seven years after the onset of the Great Depression, however, Franklin D. Roosevelt again began to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and it was pretty much law of the land from that time until Ronald Reagan was elected president.
Legislation was being pushed through state legislatures right and left granting corporations human and superhuman powers. In the state of Ohio, for example, Senate Bill No 8 “became effective on March 8, 1927, amending over 70 statues and enacting more than 50 others” It repealed the “single purpose” requirements of incorporation, streamlined the processes, insulated corporate owners and managers from personal liability for corporate wrongdoing, and, in an sweepingly phrased provision, enabled Ohio corporations to “perform all acts,” both within and outside the state, that could be performed by a natural person.
 Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee [1933]

 The people of Floridapassed a law that levied higher taxes on chain stores. The Supreme Court overturned the law citing  the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment  and  the  Interstate Commerce clause.

In 1936, the Robinson-Patman Act was passed, which made price discrimination illegal in an attempt to revive the Sherman Anti-Trust Act: It is still law, yet it is largely ignored today. And in 1950, the Celler-Kefauver Antimerger Act (another attempt to update and re-empower the Sherman Anti-Trust Act) was passed: It, too, is still law, and yet largely ignored.

Since 1950, no legislation of any consequence has passed that would put corporate power or personhood under the control of the people and their democratically elected government, and most of the earlier laws have been watered down substantially.

Grosjean  v. American Press Co.   [1936]

 A newspaper corporation has a 1st Amendment liberty right to freedom of speech that would be applied to the states through the 14th Amendment. The Court ruled that the corporation was free to sell advertising in newspapers without being taxed. This is the first 1st Amendment protection for corporations.

U.S.enters World War II   [1941]


Taft-Hartley Act  [1947]

 Corporations are granted “free speech” in the union certification process, usurping the worker’s right to “freedom of association” and greatly weakening the Labor Relations Act of 1935.

U.S.ground troops in Vietnam War   [1963]

See v. City of Seattle  [1967]

  Supreme Court grants corporations 4th Amendment protection from  random  inspection by fire department. The Court framed  the question in terms of “business enterprises,” corporate or other wise. An administrative warrant is necessary to enter and inspect commercial premises.

  Ross v. Bernhard   [1970]

 Corporations  get 7th Amendment right to jury trial in a civil  case. The Court implies that the corporation has this right because a shareholder in a derivative suit would have that right.

Buckley v. Valeo   1976]

  The Supreme Court rules that political money is equivalent to speech. This ruling expanded the First Amendment’s protections to include financial contributions to candidates or  parties.

U.S. v. Martin Linen Supply   [1976]

 A corporation successfully uses the 5th Amendment to protect itself against double jeopardy to avoid retrial in an anti-trust case.

Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council  [1976]

 The Supreme Court protects commercial speech. Advertising is now free speech.

 First National Bank ofBoston v. Bellotti  [1977]

 The First Amendment is used to overturn state restrictions on corporate spending on political referenda. The Court reverses its long standing  policy of denying  such  rights  to non-media business corporations. This precedent is used, with Buckley v. Valeo  to thwart attempts to remove corporate money from politics.

 Marshall v. Barlow  [1978]

 This case gave corporations the 4th Amendment right to require OSHA to produce a warrant to check for safety violations.

Reaganomics, the “Trickle-down economics” model that was championed by President Ronald Reagan, was the Corporations best friend. Along with Reagan’s no enforcement of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, corporations had their taxes reduced, Union’s were despised by the Reagan Administration, and the Middle Class has been in a downward spiral ever since. When Reagan fired the PATCO workers, Air Traffic Controllers, when they went On Strike, every Union in the nation should have stood up to the President, but they didn’t…..and they regret that now.

Right-to-Work Laws sprang up in southern states, and in western rural states, which are normally red states. Allowed under provisions of the federal Taft–Hartley Act, which prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers that make membership, payment of union dues, or fees a condition of employment, either before or after hiring, which would require the workplace to be a closed shop.

Proponents of right-to-work laws point to the Constitutional right to freedom of association, as well as the common-law principle of private ownership of property. They argue that workers should be free to join unions and to refrain, and thus sometimes refer to non-right-to-work states as “forced unionism” states.

Opponents argue right-to-work laws create a free-rider problem,[11][12] in which non-union employees (who are bound by the terms of the union contract even though they are not members of the union) benefit from collective bargaining without paying union dues.[11][13]

The AFL/CIO union argues that because unions are weakened by these laws, wages are lowered[13] and worker safety and health is endangered. For these reasons, the union refers to right-to-work states as “right to work for less” states[14] or “right-to-fire” states, and to non-right-to-work states as “free collective bargaining” states. Non-Union members, are still respresented in grieveinces by Union Contractors, without paying dues. Unions feel, if they want to work for less, fine, don’t expect Union benefits. 

 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Public Utilities Commission  [1986]

 Supreme Court decided that PG&E was not required to allow a consumer advocacy group to use the extra space in their billing envelope, upholding the corporation’s right not to speak and protecting the corporation’s “freedom of mind.”

 Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce [1990]

 Supreme Court upholds limitations on corporate spending in candidate elections. First Amendment rights can be infringed if the state has a compelling interest.

 International Dairy Foods Association v. Amestoy   [1996]

 Supreme Court overturns aVermont law requiring the labeling of all products containing bovine growth hormone. The right not to speak inheres in political and commercial speech a like and  extends  to statements of fact  as well as statements of opinion.

Corporations start massive lay-offs, for cheap foreign labor. 48,000 manufacturing jobs leave for China and India.

Now Corporations Claim The “Right To Lie”

While Nike was conducting a huge and expensive PR blitz to tell people that it had cleaned up its subcontractors‘ sweatshop labor practices, an alert consumer advocate and activist in California named Marc Kasky caught them in what he alleges are a number of specific deceptions. Citing a California law that forbids corporations from intentionally deceiving people in their commercial statements, Kasky sued the multi-billion-dollar corporation.

Instead of refuting Kasky’s charge by proving in court that they didn’t lie, however, Nike instead chose to argue that corporations should enjoy the same “free speech” right to deceive that individual human citizens have in their personal lives. If people have the constitutionally protected right to say, “The check is in the mail,” or, “That looks great on you,” then, Nike’s reasoning goes, a corporation should have the same right to say whatever they want in their corporate PR campaigns.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), 558 U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 876 (January 21, 2010), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment prohibits government from placing limits on independent spending for political purposes by corporations and unions. The 5–4 decision originated in a dispute over whether the non-profit corporation Citizens United could air a film critical of Hillary Clinton, and whether the group could advertise the film in broadcast ads featuring Clinton’s image, in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, commonly known as the McCain–Feingold Act in reference to its primary Senate sponsors.[2]

The decision reached the Supreme Court on appeal from a January 2008 decision by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The lower court decision had upheld provisions of the 2002 act, which prevented the film Hillary: The Movie from being shown on television within 30 days of 2008 Democratic primaries.[1][3]

The Supreme Court reversed the lower court, striking down those provisions of the McCain–Feingold Act that prohibited all corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and unions from broadcasting “electioneering communications.”[2] An “electioneering communication” was defined in McCain–Feingold as a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or thirty days of a primary. The decision overruled Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) and partially overruled McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003).[4] McCain–Feingold had previously been weakened, without overruling McConnell, in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2007). The Court did uphold requirements for disclaimer and disclosure by sponsors of advertisements. The case did not involve the federal ban on direct contributions from corporations or unions to candidate campaigns or political parties, which remain illegal in races for federal office.[5]

After the US elections, the future of campaign spending

The 2010 mid-term elections broke records in campaign spending, made possible in part by The Supreme Court’s ruling allowing unlimited corporate and union spending on political campaigns. But this year’s campaigns could be just a dress rehearsal for what is to come.

The dust is still settling from this week’s election as campaign analysts are pouring over the details of results. But one thing there’s universal agreement on is that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case—allowing unlimited donations from businesses and unions—ushered in a new era of outside spending. Where there’s disagreement is on whether that’s a good or a bad thing.

It’s no secret that every year political campaigns break all previous spending records. Back in 2006 a new record was set for a midterm election, with nearly $3 billion spent on congressional races. That broke the old record by more than $600 million. But this year more than $4 billion was spent.

Citizens United Fallout: Coalition Asks SEC To Order Corporate Disclosure Of Political Spending

  It used to be against the law for executives to spend funds from their massive corporate treasuries to directly influence elections. But two years ago this week, the Supreme Court declared such restrictions unconstitutional — and short of a constitutional amendment, it’s hard to get around that.

The Court never said corporations should be able to spend all that money in secret, however.

So on Thursday, a coalition of campaign reform and corporate transparency advocates called attention to their petition to persuade the Securities and Exchange Commission to require that corporations publicly disclose their political contributions.

“We need to know who’s influencing American elections,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), one of several backers of the petition, during a conference call with reporters. “We need to know who those corporate interests are and we need to know where they are from, so we can openly determine what they want.”

Of the SEC, Menendez said, “It’s the least they can do.”

In reaching its January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court “imagined and assumed” there were already robust reporting requirements for political spending, said Robert Jackson, a Columbia Law School professor and a chief author of the SEC petition. “We were dismayed to see the Supreme Court make that assumption because it’s not the case,” he said.

Tim Smith, senior vice president at Walden Asset Management, a socially responsible investment company, said members of the Corporate Reform Coalition — which include institutional investors managing $800 billion in assets, public officials, legal scholars and good government groups — “all share the fear that the U.S. democratic process is in danger of being bought and sold.”

The coalition’s goal is to “seek new checks and balances” in the wake of the Citizens United ruling, Smith said.

Immediately after that ruling, the widespread assumption was that companies would spend their money directly and therefore openly. But instead, corporations quickly found ways to make massive contributions behind a cloak of secrecy, funneling their spending through nonprofit groups that don’t have to publicly disclose their donors.

Overtly political nonprofits are supposed to operate under section 527 of the U.S. tax code, which explicitly requires them to publicly identify their donors. But the really big bucks are increasingly flowing through groups formed under section 501(c)(4) — ostensibly for “social welfare” groups — and section 501(c)(6) — for business associations.

Among the biggest political spenders in this election cycle, the Karl Rove-associated group Crossroads GPS has applied for 501(c)(4) status, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is organized under 501(c)(6).

The SEC already has many disclosure requirements, crafted to assure that shareholders have the data they need to make fully informed investment decisions. “The SEC’s disclosure rules have evolved over time in response to investor demands in many ways,” Jackson said.

The Corporate Reform Coalition argues that perhaps the most serious disclosure problem today is that the public isn’t getting information on corporate political spending conducted through intermediaries.

“Almost nothing is known about this kind of spending,” noted Jackson. Particularly when it comes to intermediaries that don’t have to disclose their donors, “we know nothing,” he said. “We know how much the Chamber of Commerce spends, for example, but we don’t know where it comes from — and this is a very considerable source of political spending.”

The coalition includes two state treasurers, who serve as fiduciaries to large public investments.

“It’s important as a shareholder to be aware of any conflict of interest or waste that might come from corporate political spending,” said Janet Cowell, the North Carolina treasurer.

“Today, corporations have the ability to spend heavily on political causes,” said Ted Wheeler, the Oregon treasurer. “However, corporations also have the ability to obscure that spending from their shareholders.” Wheeler added that the coalition isn’t trying to limit the spending by corporations: “They just oughta tell their owners about it,” he said.

And Adam Kanzer, a top manager at Domini Social Investments, raised the possibility that secret political donations are encouraging corruption, conflicts of interest and self-dealing, while distorting the market, to boot. Shareholders, he said, may be unwittingly over-investing in companies that spend a lot of money secretly currying favor with government officials and thus “are winning because the government is going easy on them” — not because they are the soundest.

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