The History of Corporations and Corporate Personhood in America

Given that I have ventured back into my questioning of the modern corporate structure in regard to Natural Law (and even the original intent of U.S. Constitution), I thought I might share a few sites with those who might be interested in why I question corporate personhood and corporations as property.  I hope you will find them as enlightening as I did:

Our Hidden History of Corporations in the United States

Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public, such as construction of roads or canals. Enabling shareholders to profit was seen as a means to that end. The states also imposed conditions (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these*:

  • Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.

  • Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.

  • Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.

  • Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.

  • Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.

  • Corporations could not make any political or charitable contributions nor spend money to influence law-making.


Rewriting history to justify greed


I found these pages especially helpful in understanding how corporate personhood came to be:

 Corporate Personhood

Why do corporations have the same rights as you?

The Hijacking of the Fourteenth Amendment

 Scalia Kills Corporate Personhood

Scalia, one of corporate America’s biggest friends on SCOTUS, just killed corporate personhood.

What other conclusion can you draw after reading Scalia’s assertion that the 14th Amendment only applies to slaves and not women or gays or–he doesn’t say it but it would follow logically–corporations?

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we’ve gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?
Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. … But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that’s fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don’t like the death penalty anymore, that’s fine. You want a right to abortion? There’s nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn’t mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it’s a good idea and pass a law. That’s what democracy is all about. It’s not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.

It was the Fourteenth Amendment, after all, that was used to grant railroad corporations the same rights as you and me. Here’s how Thom Hartmann describes it.

But in any case, before the Supreme Court the Southern Pacific Railroad argued in this case that the 14th amendment which says ‘no person shall be denied equal protection under the law’ should apply to them as a corporation. In other words, that as a corporation they should have rights under the constitution because the 14th amendment, when it was written to free the slaves in the 1870’s, the 14th amendment didn’t say ‘no natural person shall be denied equal protection under the law.’ Instead it says ‘no person.’ And for hundreds of years of common law we had this distinction between natural persons, you and me, and artificial persons: churches, governments, corporations.

29 thoughts on “The History of Corporations and Corporate Personhood in America

  1. Just answer one question. One which I asked before and you did not answer.

    Do you support Al Franken and his effort to try and overturn Citizens United ?

    • Don,

      I don’t know anything about it, so I can’t answer that question. However, if you are asking me whether or not I support corporations spending money to influence politics, then the answer is NO! Because a corporation cannot vote! But then, I suppose we should allow corporations — because they are people — to do whatever they want. So China should be allowed to set up shop and give Obama $trillion of our money to run his third campaign. After all, you can’t object without being a hypocrite because “corporations are people, too.”

      You and Utah and whoever else wants to can be as angry with me as you’d like, but I have noticed you refuse to answer my questions — and I even know why. What’s more, I believe you know why you won’t answer them as well.


  2. On posts about “Personhood” and Corporations……………. and you know nothing about Citizens United ???? You know nothing about THE LEADING spokeperson’s efforts in the….. “Corporations are not People”…. campaign….Al Franken ?????

    I think you have answered my… a lot of others’… Questions.
    You wondered above about finding some info enlightening….. I indeed find the following (Short) list of Progressive sites and sponsors of the “Corporations are not People” movement enlightening …….. A reading of their “philosphy” and “interpretation” shows a remarkable similarity to your arguments.

    -Patriots for Change…(self-described) a Porgressive voice in the Chagrin Valley that advocates for ECONOMIC and SOCIAL JUSTICE through EDUCATION and COMMUNITY ACTION.
    -Senator Chuck Shumer
    -Congressman Chris Van Hollen
    -Center for Public Integrity
    -Common Cause
    -Public Citizen
    -Progressive Democrats of Illinois
    -Move to Amend
    -Democracy in Action

    • Don,

      Guess what? I do not need the sites I posted or Frankin to tell me corporations are not people. All I need is my own observation of the world around me (i.e. natural law). Which is how I came to where I am on this issue without knowing anything about Frankin or the rest of the stuff you listed. What’s more, I know enough about logic to know that ANYONE can speak the truth. In this case, those sites DO list many truths about our founders’ positions on corporations, our early laws, the cases that led to corporations being considered people, etc. It would be fallacious of me to reject them because of who posted them. And you still ignore my questions.

      Now, that said, anyone who thinks I am on the Progressives side has not bothered to actually read what I have written on this issue. I am not Teddy Roosevelt. I am not saying that I begrudge no man a fortune as long as he earns it fairly and uses it wisely. But a corporation is not a man. it is a fiction designed — as was pointed out by someone on your side of this issue — TO SHIELD THE INDIVIDUAL FROM LEGAL AND FINANCIAL RISK! Well, my friend, isn’t that the very definition of socialism: the spreading of risk and liability out among all rather than limiting it to the person(s) actually responsible?

      All I am looking to do is anchor our laws to the ideals and principles of our founding as best we can. That means we should not write them in a way that allows people to hide from their actions. And I seriously doubt this side of my position would hold much appeal for the Progressives — don’t you?

      • You came to the Issue with knowing about Frankin and what amounts to a HUGE National Campain ???

        Well …… musta s’lipped by’ somehow I guess. But ……. You nevertheless are of the same opinion as the Progressives on a Major Contemporary issue of the Day.

        Politics makes Strange Bed-fellows … as the saying goes.

        • Don,

          When have you known me to knowingly lie to you (or to anyone on the RNL)? No, I not only didn’t know about Franken, I didn’t know about this campaign. Nor did I know the sites I used are “anti-corporation.” I got off on researching the history of corporations in the U.S., found those sites and started tracking down their references. As far as I’ve been able to determine, they are accurate — especially since a lot of this comes from bad court rulings in the 1800’s that are still on the books and can still be found in the records. I have a pdf of one of the first cases somewhere…

          Now, again, I am not on the same side of the issue as the Progressives. I’ve been reading a bit on this anti-corporation campaign now that you’ve made me aware of it, and it seems its purpose is to destroy capitalism. Do you REALLY think that is my purpose? I hope not, because it would mean you haven’t been listening to me and/or you are intentionally denying me my position.

          My purpose is to strengthen the free market while — at the same time — recognizing that large corporations are a clear and present danger to individual rights and liberty and to the republican rule of law. As such, corporations are and should be in the rightful realm of public legislation and NOT that of “private property.” What’s more, I am in good company in holding to this opinion — at least, I consider it good company:

          “A right of property in moveable things is admitted before the establishment of government. A separate property in lands, not till after that establishment. The right to moveables is acknowledged by all the hordes of Indians surrounding us. Yet by no one of them has a separate property in lands been yielded to individuals. He who plants a field keeps possession till he has gathered the produce, after which one has as good a right as another to occupy it. Government must be established and laws provided, before lands can be separately appropriated, and their owner protected in his possession. Till then, the property is in the body of the nation, and they, or their chief as trustee, must grant them to individuals, and determine the conditions of the grant.”

          –Thomas Jefferson: Batture at New Orleans, 1812. ME 18:45

          “All the property that is necessary to a Man, for the Conservation of the Individual and the Propagation of the Species, is his natural Right, which none can justly deprive him of: But all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick, who, by their Laws, have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it, whenever the Welfare of the Publick shall demand such Disposition. He that does not like civil Society on these Terms, let him retire and live among Savages. He can have no right to the benefits of Society, who will not pay his Club towards the Support of it.”

          –Benjamin Franklin, letter to Robert Morris, 25 December 1783, Ref: Franklin Collected Works, Lemay, ed., 1

            • James,

              You are still making affirmative defenses for Bloomberg’s actions and for not calling those actions NAZI-like when they clearly meet the definition. At worst, mine is an opinion, but it cannot be a lie — again, by definition. It’s called basic logic, doc. You should try to learn the rules sometime.

              • Joe, I have not defended ANY of Bloomberg’s actions. And your “opinions” are presented as statements of fact–saying I agree with Bloomberg on issues where I have stated the opposite on this very site. If you’re not a liar, you at least have a bad memory.

  3. Citizens United was decided correctly (much to my dismay) by the Supreme Court, because it had previously determined that corporations are people. It was that earlier decision (I forget the name) that was decided wrongly, in my view — which puts me in the weird position of agreeing with Joe on yet another issue. On the plus side, that probably bothers him more than it does me. 🙂

    • No, James, it doesn’t. You’d be surprised if you held a correct understanding of who and what I am and why I believe the way I do. I speak from experience on this matter — a LOT of experience…

    • Amazing ….. You are Perhaps refering to Buckley vs Valeo. Nonetheless you got it wrong in its thesis and in the Burger Court’s decision.

      It UPHELD Federal LIMITS to campain Contributions…..and that spending Money to influence outcomes of elections was a Constitutionally protected form of Free Speech rights.

      AND, as to be expected, you got the Ctizens United case wrong as well …..

      The Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment. It found no compelling government interest for prohibiting corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make election-related independent expenditures. Thus, it struck down a federal law banning this practice and also overruled two of its prior decisions. Additionally, in an 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that the disclaimer and disclosure requirements associated with electioneering communications are constitutional.

      In BOTH cases the ruling was in FAVOR of Free Speech rights …. in essence saying Money applied to elections is a form of Free speech…..For All.

      Thank the Lord my Girls aren’t being taught by you.

      • “You are Perhaps refering to Buckley vs Valeo”

        And perhaps not. In fact, I was referring to Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific.

        “Money applied to elections is a form of Free speech…..For All”

        For all people (or corporations, which are considered to be people), as I understood it. I’m not a legal scholar, though, so I may have misinterpreted or misremembered that specifics of that decision.

        “Thank the Lord my Girls aren’t being taught by you.”

        One is forced to conclude that they’re being taught much by you, either.

        • My two comments above were to James … and I do feel Blessed that he isn’t teaching any of mine.

          None the less Charlotte and Harriet may lead to” hieghts within the Hierarchies” you never knew existed … ;- ) .

        • “Your argument from emotion is beneath you”

          You say that now because you’re on the other side, Joe. In fact, it is exactly how Donnie typically argues. Welcome to the dark side. 🙂

          • No, James, it isn’t how Don usually argues. I have found the breadth and depth of his knowledge of history to be much broader and deeper than mine and I admit to being envious of it. I have also found that, while he seldom makes an affirmative argument, he nearly always — until now — backs up his comments and assertions with a reference from that vast storehouse of information in his head. To be honest, you could learn a thing or two from him.

        • I haven’t made a Mistake Joe …. as someone wise has said ….Just because you say it….doesn’t make it so….. :> ) .

          • Don,

            Seeing how’s I am the one who knows my position, and that I KNOW it is NOT the same as the docs, I am rather uniquely suited to tell you — definitively, I might add — that yes, you most certainly have.

  4. Sayings of James……”Welcome to the dark side”. Truer words were never spoke by the Liberal Sith.

    At least you’re honest uhmm…”professor”.

    You Still got it wrong BTW.


    • “At least you’re honest ”

      That makes one of us on this thread–incidentally, the same one who has a sense of humor. 😉

      • Self-deception is a terrible thing to see St James … I’m sorry for you. BUUUUT someone has to play the Fool…..if it’s any concession , you do it so well ….. :> ) .

  5. “Self-deception is a terrible thing to see”

    Not really–the entertaining amount of it here displayed by you boys is about the only reason I drop in from time to time. I assume your nurse is keeping sharp objects away from you.

  6. Don: Since unions are corporations I guess you support their political contributions also? The idea is that none of them should be allowed to influence elections and the legislation before our government at all levels.

    • I would be comfortable if all the States had ….STRONG amd enforced….laws prohibiting such for BOTH.

      As it is Unions get a complete pass or a watered down version in 24 states …. I have read the restrictions ( and lack there of).

      I am decidedly ANTI-UNION BTW……..Historically I am Pro-Union up until about 1900.

  7. I think Joe is exactly right in this case. A corporation is not a person, to say so is the same as saying A is B. Some people own large parts of a corporation and so are appropriately rich. Let them spend their own money trying to create political change. But if they do so then we should know who they are so that people can inform their opinion of the policy they are advocating. Chances are that a filthy rich person is probably going to advocate policies that will make them even filthy richer, even if it makes the rest of us poorer.

    • If you are NOT including Unions ( including Public sector Unions ) in this comment then you are in effect supporting the Progressivist agenda… selective “Personhood to Unions “,which are Corpoartions Too…see Triper above. You are advocating exactly what the Socialists advocate and the reality in places like Cuba and Venezuela.

      If you mean Both Unions and Corporations EQUALLY and unequivically then there’s room to talk……If not then you are just promoting the leftist Agenda today.

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