The Feasta Review, number 2



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James Bruges is the author of what is probably best brief introduction to sustainability issues, The Little Earth Book. He is a retired architect and lives in Bristol.

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Corporations and America's Founding Fathers

Unequal Protection

The rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights

Thom Hartmann
Rodale 2002
ISBN 1-57954-627-7 $15.95

review by James Bruges

American corporate law is based on a fraud. How did this come about and what can be done to reverse it?

Trade-dominance by the East India Company aroused the greatest passions of America's Founders - every schoolboy knows how they dumped the Company's tea into Boston harbour. At the time in Britain virtually all members of parliament were stockholders, a tenth had made their fortunes through the Company, and the Company funded parliamentary elections generously. Parallels with US political life today are hard to miss and the Founders must be weeping in their graves.

After independence, corporations received their charters from states and the charters were for a limited period, like 20 or 30 years, not in perpetuity. They were only allowed to deal in one commodity, they could not hold stock in other corporations, their property holdings were limited to what was necessary for their business, their headquarters had to be located in the state of their principle business, monopolies had their charges regulated by the state, and all corporate documents were open to the legislature. Any political contribution by a corporation was treated as a criminal offence. Corporations could, and often did, have their charters removed if the state considered that their activities harmed its people.

Railroad companies, opening up the interior, became the first monopoly corporations. They had traditionally been referred to as 'artificial persons' and when the Fourteenth Amendment gave all 'persons' equality before the law they desperately tried to claim that it applied not just to slaves but to them as well. They eventually succeeded with the Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad case.

Hartmann tried to find why this particular case had suddenly reversed eighteen years of consistent ruling by the Supreme Court that corporations did not have the rights of human persons. He found that textbooks only quoted the headnote not any details. He eventually unearthed the original records in Vermont only to find that the judge had specifically stated that the case did not relate to corporate personhood. The headnote had been written a year later by a person whose life had been with the railroads, but by then the judge was too ill to check it. This mistaken or fraudulent headnote is still used in court as a cornerstone of corporate law. It set the road to corporate tyranny.

Hartmann believes that reversing the Santa Clara case would be the first step to subjecting corporations once again to the control of the people. The federal government, each state, each township, could then regulate corporations to the benefit of its citizens and help local economies to flourish. Indeed, in California local governments have already passed laws that deny corporations the status of persons while in Pennsylvania some townships have forbidden corporations from owning or controlling farms in their communities. Hartmann ends the book with model ordinances to rescind corporate personhood.

I believe that this ties in with George Monbiot's suggestion that every corporation should be subject to mandatoryfair trade rules and have its licence to trade removed by a national government if its activities are considered to harm communities.

Continue to Brian Davey's review of Not by Money Alone, by Malcolm Slesser and Jane King
This book review is from
Growth:The Celtic Cancer,
the second Feasta Review. Copies of the Review can be ordered online from Green Books, priced at £9.95 plus postage and packaging.
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