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Corporations. Once our servants now our masters.

PrettyGurl18 2012/06/15 14:00:23
When American colonists declared independence from England in 1776, they also freed themselves from control by English corporations that extracted their wealth and dominated trade.

After fighting a revolution to end this exploitation, our country's founders retained a healthy fear of corporate power and wisely limited corporations exclusively to a business role. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society.

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.

For 100 years after the American Revolution, legislators maintained tight controll of the corporate chartering process. Because of widespread public opposition, early legislators granted very few corporate charters, and only after debate. Citizens governed corporations by detailing operating conditions not just in charters but also in state constitutions and state laws. Incorporated businesses were prohibited from taking any action that legislators did not specifically allow.

States also limited corporate charters to a set number of years. Unless a legislature renewed an expiring charter, the corporation was dissolved and its assets were divided among shareholders. Citizen authority clauses limited capitalization, debts, land holdings, and sometimes, even profits. They required a company's accounting books to be turned over to a legislature upon request. The power of large shareholders was limited by scaled voting, so that large and small investors had equal voting rights. Interlocking directorates were outlawed. Shareholders had the right to remove directors at will.

In Europe, charters protected directors and stockholders from liability for debts and harms caused by their corporations. American legislators explicitly rejected this corporate shield. The penalty for abuse or misuse of the charter was not a plea bargain and a fine, but dissolution of the corporation.

In 1819 the U.S. Supreme Court tried to strip states of this sovereign right by overruling a lower court's decision that allowed New Hampshire to revoke a charter granted to Dartmouth College by King George III. The Court claimed that since the charter contained no revocation clause, it could not be withdrawn. The Supreme Court's attack on state sovereignty outraged citizens. Laws were written or re-written and new state constitutional amendments passed to circumvent the Dartmouth ruling. Over several decades starting in 1844, nineteen states amended their constitutions to make corporate charters subject to alteration or revocation by their legislatures. As late as 1855 it seemed that the Supreme Court had gotten the people's message when in Dodge v. Woolsey it reaffirmed state's powers over "artificial bodies."

But the men running corporations pressed on. Contests over charter were battles to control labor, resources, community rights, and political sovereignty. More and more frequently, corporations were abusing their charters to become conglomerates and trusts. They converted the nation's resources and treasures into private fortunes, creating factory systems and company towns. Political power began flowing to absentee owners, rather than community-rooted enterprises.

The industrial age forced a nation of farmers to become wage earners, and they became fearful of unemployment--a new fear that corporations quickly learned to exploit. Company towns arose. and blacklists of labor organizers and workers who spoke up for their rights became common. When workers began to organize, industrialists and bankers hired private armies to keep them in line. They bought newspapers to paint businessmen as heroes and shape public opinion. Corporations bought state legislators, then announced legislators were corrupt and said that they used too much of the public's resources to scrutinize every charter application and corporate operation.

Government spending during the Civil War brought these corporations fantastic wealth. Corporate executives paid "borers" to infest Congress and state capitals, bribing elected and appointed officials alike. They pried loose an avalanche of government financial largesse. During this time, legislators were persuaded to give corporations limited liability, decreased citizen authority over them, and extended durations of charters. Attempts were made to keep strong charter laws in place, but with the courts applying legal doctrines that made protection of corporations and corporate property the center of constitutional law, citizen sovereignty was undermined. As corporations grew stronger, government and the courts became easier prey. They freely reinterpreted the U.S. Constitution and transformed common law doctrines.

One of the most severe blows to citizen authority arose out of the 1886 Supreme Court case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Though the court did not make a ruling on the question of "corporate personhood," thanks to misleading notes of a clerk, the decision subsequently was used as precedent to hold that a corporation was a "natural person."
From that point on, the 14th Amendment, enacted to protect rights of freed slaves, was used routinely to grant corporations constitutional "personhood." Justices have since struck down hundreds of local, state and federal laws enacted to protect people from corporate harm based on this illegitimate premise. Armed with these "rights," corporations increased control over resources, jobs, commerce, politicians, even judges and the law.

A United States Congressional committee concluded in 1941, "The principal instrument of the concentration of economic power and wealth has been the corporate charter with unlimited power...."

Many U.S.-based corporations are now transnational, but the corrupted charter remains the legal basis for their existence. At ReclaimDemocracy.org, we believe citizens can reassert the convictions of our nation's founders who struggled successfully to free us from corporate rule in the past. These changes must occur at the most fundamental level -- the U.S. Constitution.

Thanks to our friends at the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) for their permission to use excerpts of their research for this article.
Please visit our Corporate Personhood page for a huge library of articles exploring this topic more deeply. You might also be interested to read our proposed Constitutional Amendments to revoke illegitimate corporate power, erode the power of money over elections, and establish an affirmative constitutional right to vote.
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Top Opinion

  • luvguins 2012/06/15 14:27:36
    luvguins
    +9
    If the GOP ever gets total power this country will become a fascist corporate dictatorship, and a return to the Gilded Age of 1896 with robber barons in charge, and serfdom for any people under them. Robber barons

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  • Narcole... PrettyG... 2012/06/15 15:05:00
    NarcolepticGoat
    +2
    Thank you! Much easier now :)

    I have vision issues.
  • PrettyG... Narcole... 2012/06/15 15:08:20
    PrettyGurl18
    +3
    You are welcome. For anyone, hit ctrl and + to make it bigger.
  • luvguins 2012/06/15 14:27:36
    luvguins
    +9
    If the GOP ever gets total power this country will become a fascist corporate dictatorship, and a return to the Gilded Age of 1896 with robber barons in charge, and serfdom for any people under them. Robber barons
  • #Justic... luvguins 2012/06/15 14:41:59
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +5
    We are well on our way to it right now. I've been saying for the longest their goal is to make SLAVES of all of us.
  • luvguins #Justic... 2012/06/15 15:11:19
    luvguins
    +6
    Corrupt capitalism sadly ignored by politicians sucking money from lobbyist's teats.
  • #Justic... luvguins 2012/06/15 15:18:43
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +5
    We need a politician with the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt to stand up to the robber barons. Dylan was on the money & I want my president to channel Teddy's spirit.

    We don't have "free markets" & the Republicans who speak about free market capitalism need to shut up. We are living with crony capitalism at its worst & that should be the rallying cry. That's why I identify with Occupy Wall Street.
  • luvguins #Justic... 2012/06/15 15:22:23
    luvguins
    +4
    Certainly is, and if the president really wants a legacy he should stop the lobbyists from bribing Congress, and get Citizens United repealed.
  • #Justic... luvguins 2012/06/15 16:04:32
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +2
    I think something is going to have to be done at the state end also. The CONS on the SCOTUS will make the lobbyists a free speech issue. AFAIC lobbyists should be considered terrorists. The havoc they have wreaked on our nation's economy from the monied interests they represent is blatant economic terrorism.
  • luvguins #Justic... 2012/06/15 16:59:55
    luvguins
    +5
    Yes, the states with GOP governors are just as bad, and now they and the legislatures are being bought with outside money also.
  • #Justic... luvguins 2012/06/15 17:38:18
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +2
    They certainly are my friend. Fortunately, they are NOT the majority when you count their #'s against the total of all our states.
  • Kozmo #Justic... 2012/07/03 20:28:40
    Kozmo
    May I suggest a cross of Teddy Roosevelt & Pierre Trudeau?
  • #Justic... Kozmo 2012/07/04 01:32:57
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +1
    I've heard that name before but don't know anything about Pierre Trudeau.
  • Kozmo #Justic... 2012/07/04 16:18:25
    Kozmo
    +1
    He was a Prime Minister of Canada from '68 to the 80's & was quite a character.

    "What consenting adults do in the bedrooms of the nation the State has no business in" is one of his quotes, regarding the non-persecution of homosexuality & contraception.

    Richard Nixon called him an @-hole in public, when Pierre heard this, he remarked: "I've been called worse by better people".
  • #Justic... Kozmo 2012/07/04 18:02:57
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +1
    No wonder the name sounded so familiar. My "neighbor" across Lake Ontario & the St. Lawrence River.

    Nixon was such a butt munch. I was coming into adulthood when he was in the WH.
  • Kozmo #Justic... 2012/07/04 18:12:02 (edited)
    Kozmo
    +1
    You're about 8 years ahead of me in Age. Was undergoing Puberty when Watergate hit (but recall Dicky resigning). You could've been to Woodstock.
  • #Justic... Kozmo 2012/07/04 19:38:07
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +1
    I was 16 when Woodstock happened. No way my mother would have allowed me to travel there. You should have seen what I went through in getting her permission to take a Greyhound bus from Utica (my hometown) to Syracuse (which was the very next stop on their route) to visit friends.
  • prosper... luvguins 2012/06/15 18:10:54
    prosperhappily
    +5
    It's corporatism, not capitalism. We haven't had true capitalism in this country in a very long time.
  • luvguins prosper... 2012/06/15 18:12:29
    luvguins
    +3
    Exactly. All corporations committing corrupt capitalism.
  • Kozmo prosper... 2012/07/03 20:30:50
  • exhon2009 luvguins 2012/06/15 15:13:03
    exhon2009
    +2
    It was a republican, Teddy Roosevelt, that took on the trusts and robber barons at the turn of the century.
  • luvguins exhon2009 2012/06/15 15:16:45
    luvguins
    +6
    And Teddy would be a liberal now not allowed in today's GOP.
  • Lady Wh... luvguins 2012/06/15 19:07:43
  • Skeptikat luvguins 2012/06/16 02:23:20
  • luvguins Skeptikat 2012/06/16 03:25:45
    luvguins
    +3
    And the racist dixiecrat Democrats of yore are today's Republican party.
  • Skeptikat exhon2009 2012/06/16 02:31:10
  • Bingo's Faddah 2012/06/15 14:20:07
    Bingo's Faddah
    +5
    The really sad thing is that no lawyer will "take the case" if you try to bring any government member to court for not defending the Constitution. That's because they know why the Kennedy brothers and Dr. King were eliminated. The era of owning politicians (not just in the US) has reached it's high point.

    Now, what will Americans do about it?
  • prosper... Bingo's... 2012/06/15 18:12:14
    prosperhappily
    +1
    Probably nothing.
  • Bingo's... prosper... 2012/06/15 21:14:23
    Bingo's Faddah
    +1
    Yep. How things have changed!
  • #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT... 2012/06/15 14:19:39
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +6
    Our Founding Fathers were indeed wise men. We definitely need to go back to the days when corporate power was deliberately restricted by WE THE PEOPLE.
  • PrettyG... #Justic... 2012/06/15 14:27:32
    PrettyGurl18
    +4
    Amen to that!!
  • mk, Smartass Oracle 2012/06/15 14:12:17
  • #Justic... mk, Sma... 2012/06/15 14:21:19
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +3
    We need to go back to the biblical Golden Rule.

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
  • Kozmo #Justic... 2012/07/03 20:35:33
    Kozmo
    “Do NOT do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same.” ― George Bernard Shaw
  • PrettyG... mk, Sma... 2012/06/15 14:24:39
    PrettyGurl18
    +4
    Ain't that the truth!
  • Kozmo mk, Sma... 2012/07/03 20:34:07
    Kozmo
    +1
    Cynical but Topical.
  • mk, Sma... Kozmo 2012/07/03 20:36:27
  • #Justic... mk, Sma... 2012/07/04 01:35:37
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +1
    LOL, now that image is FUNNY!
  • mk, Sma... #Justic... 2012/07/04 01:39:23
  • #Justic... mk, Sma... 2012/07/04 06:16:53
    #Justice4Trayvon 629 BLOCKT CONS
    +1
    I'll take your word for it LOL!

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