The history of the United States could be told as the story of who is and who is not a person under law. Women, poor people, slaves, and even corporations had long been considered persons for purposes of following the law. This is because early laws were written “No person shall . . .” Corporate lawyers had tried to avoid these laws by claiming corporations were not persons and therefore not required to follow the law. So it was decided that for purposes of following the law, corporations were persons. This allowed corporations to sue and be sued in court among other things. But corporations were not persons with rights in the law, and neither were women, slaves, indentured servants, or poor people. We know some of the ongoing story of human beings’ struggle to gain the rights of persons under law, but how did corporations gain these rights?
To understand the phenomenon of corporate personhood, we start by looking at the foundation of US law, the Constitution of the United States of America. This document was written by 55 gentlemen cleverly described by one historian as “the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed.” As some of the wealthiest, most privileged people in the new country, they were highly aware that their power had everything to do with how much property they owned — land, crops, buildings, personal goods, and, for most of them, property in the form of human beings, their slaves. As some of the best-educated men in the world, at least by European standards, they also knew a lot about democracy, and they understood what a threat the real thing represented to their personal power. The kind of democracy they prized and wrote about so eloquently could only be practiced by people like them — certainly not by the rabble. Many of them wrote and spoke at length about the inability of the common people to be self-governing.
So the word “democracy” appears nowhere in the Constitution. What they created was a republic designed to protect property, not people. This didn’t play very well with many people in the new United States — at least half of the population was very much opposed to the Constitution. They could see how much power it would take away from them, how much it would compromise the democratic ideals in the Declaration of Independence, and they wanted no part of it. But the Federalists who proposed the Constitution had the finances and the unity to promote their ideas strongly. After a lot of politicking they got the Constitution ratified — but only with the assurance that a Bill of Rights would be added to protect people from the abuses by the government that would be possible under the new system. So let’s look at the basic structure they created to protect property.
The Constitution only mentions two entities: We the People and the government. The people are on one side of a line, and we are sovereign and have individual rights. On the other side of the line is the government, which is accountable to the people and has specific duties to perform to the satisfaction of the people. We delegate some of our power to the government in order to perform tasks we want government to do. In a representative democracy, this system should work just fine.
The problem is that the phrase “We the People” is not defined in the Constitution. READ MORE...
Corporate personhood is the legal concept that a corporation may be recognized as an individual in the eyes of the law. This doctrine forms the basis for legal recognition that corporations, as groups of people, may hold and exercise certain rights under the common law and the U.S. Constitution. For example, corporations may contract with other parties and sue or be sued in court in the same way as natural persons or unincorporated associations of persons. The doctrine does not hold that corporations are flesh and blood "people" apart from their shareholders, officers, and directors, nor does it grant to corporations all of the rights of citizens.