"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
- --Thomas Jefferson, letter to to George Logan, 1816
"Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters."
--Grover Cleveland, 1888
As an aid to readers who want a deeper background on the path that brought us to the latest Supreme Court "free speech" decision that further enthrones corporations over individuals, I'd like to start posting various materials that I've run across.
The first is the essay below by Michael P. Byron, a Vietnam-era Navy vet who teaches Political Science at CSU San Marcos, as well as at Palomar, Mira Costa, and Mesa Colleges in San Diego.. He is the author of two books on the dynamics of the collapse of societies and was the Democratic Party’s candidate for the 49th Congressional District in 2002 and 2004. I reprint the essay in full, with Mike`s permission (any bolding or brackets are mine).
Jefferson Was Right
Most Americans don’t know it but Thomas Jefferson, along with James Madison worked assiduously to have an 11th Amendment included into our nation’s original Bill of Rights. This proposed Amendment would have prohibited “monopolies in commerce.” The amendment would have made it illegal for corporations to own other corporations, or to give money to politicians, or to otherwise try to influence elections. Corporations would be chartered by the states for the primary purpose of “serving the public good.” Corporations would possess the legal status not of natural persons but rather of “artificial persons.” This means that they would have only those legal attributes which the state saw fit to grant to them. They would NOT; and indeed could NOT possess the same bundle of rights which actual flesh and blood persons enjoy. Under this proposed amendment neither the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, nor any provision of that document would protect the artificial entities known of as corporations.
Jefferson and Madison were so insistent upon this amendment because the American Revolution was in substantial degree a revolt against the domination of colonial economic and political life by the greatest multinational corporation of its age: the British East India Company. After all who do you think owned the tea which Sam Adams and friends dumped overboard in Boston Harbor? Who was responsible for the taxes on commodities and restrictions on trade by the American colonists? It was the British East India Company, of course. In the end the amendment was not adopted because a majority in the first Congress believed that already existing state laws governing corporations were adequate for constraining corporate power. Jefferson worried about the growing influence of corporate power until his dying day in 1826. Even the more conservative founder John Adams came to harbor deep misgivings about unchecked corporate power. [Such an amendment would have applied only to the federal government; Jefferson was unsuccessful with this proposed item largely because many states already had already enacted very restrictive company laws.]
A few years after Jefferson’s unsuccessful attempt to incorporate this amendment into the Bill of Rights, the fourth Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Marshall, unilaterally asserted the Court’s right to judicial review in the seminal case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803. In practice this meant that the Supreme Court would have sole and unchecked power to determine what the Constitution meant. Jefferson was aghast. His fear lay in the knowledge that an unelected branch of government, one which is not subject to the will of the citizens, and is effectively immune from check by the two elected branches of government (Only one Supreme Court Justice has ever been impeached—none have ever been convicted and removed) was now solely responsible for determining the meaning of the Constitution. The meaning of the Constitution, and hence the very nature of our political system, was now in the hands of an un-elected and effectively uncontrollable body. “The Constitution has become a thing of wax to be molded as the Court sees fit” Jefferson lamented.
In 1886 Jefferson’s twin Constitutional nightmares collided in a train wreck which has effectively derailed true democracy in this nation and indeed across the globe as other nations have either copied our unfortunate example, or have fallen under the dominion of our multinational corporations—or both.. The precipitating event was the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This case is cited to the present day as having conferred the status of “natural” as opposed to “artificial” personhood upon American corporations. In fact the Supreme Court declined to rule on the issue. J.C. Bancroft Davis, the Clerk of the Court, an attorney, who curiously was also a former railroad company PRESIDENT, used his position to simply write this conclusion into the head notes which summarized the case. Ever since this fateful event; this sleight-of-hand rewriting of the Constitution, corporations have had the status of “actual” persons whose rights are fully protected by the Constitution. It was a coup against democracy which succeeded because there were no real external checks and balances on the Court, and because the Court itself chose not to act to repudiate Davis’ rewriting of the Constitution. The thing stood. Precedent was established. Jefferson’s “thing of wax” nightmare had come to pass.
[Allow me to explain briefly the device of the perversion wrought by the Supreme Court, which Byron fails to address. Corporations - which are essentially all creatures of the states, and not the federal government - received Constitutional "personhood" status was through the Equal Protection clause o the Fourteenth Amendment, which Amendment profoundly altered the Constitution. The Constitution and Bill of Rights had restricted the federal government's authority against states and citizens, but did not regulate the relationship between states and their own citizens (and citizens of other states). But the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment, with the purpose of protecting freed slaves, directly limited the authority of state governments over their own citizens via the Privileges and Immunities clause (essentially making the Bill of Rights binding on the states as well); in addition, for the purpose of protecting both citizens and noncitizens (such as the many Chinese in California). The Equal Protection clause mandated that all persons be given the equal protection of each state's laws. It is this clause that the extremely powerful and wealthy railroad companies - creatures of states - managed to turn into a weapon of the federal government against states, by the proposition that corporations, being recognized as artificial "persons" having a legal status independent of their shareholders, should also be treated as "persons" with Constitutional rights under the the Fourteenth Amendment. The subsequent case history of the Equal Protection clauses show a few cases regarding freed slave and minorities, with federal courts permitting states to treat minorities very shabbily, but a vast majority of cases brought by railroads and other corporations, strictly protecting corporations from unequal treatment..]
Consider the implications: Actual flesh and blood persons are indeed all roughly equal in overall attributes. But a corporation can possess MILLIONS of times greater resources than does any “natural” person, or even a group of such persons. Neither labor unions, nor any other category of “special interest” group possesses this attribute of personhood and so they too are fundamentally and intrinsically unable to compete against corporate “persons.”
To make a long and sad story short: The concentrated power of corporate persons has overwhelmed our democratic system. The unsound decisions of our unchecked and unbalanced Supreme Court have handed the “keys to the Kingdom” over to our corporate overlords. An analogy with an AIDS infection is instructive: After 1886, our democratic “immune system” resisted Davis’ corporate personhood infection of our national body politic by deploying the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Progressive Movement, the Labor Movement, and the New Deal. All of these bought time. But now, in the era of global mega-corporations, after a long struggle, our “democratic immune system” is finally being overwhelmed. Democracy, rule of, by, and for the people, is dying in America.
Contemporary America is a nation almost wholly under the dominion of plutocratically wealthy, corporate quarterly-profit über alles overlords. A seamless web of corporate power connects our multinational corporations with our mass media—now almost wholly owned by a handful of mega-corporations. This military-industrial-media complex largely determines which politicians will and will not get elected. Thus they control the government. They control access to money as well as determine how a candidate will be presented to the viewers. The very policies that our “elected” officials are “allowed” to espouse are rigorously circumscribed: Remember Clinton’s national healthcare proposals? Our media will never tell us that every other developed nation on Earth has universal health care for their citizens. Arguably, our corporate media has seen to it that the average American is as brainwashed as is say, the average citizen of North Korea. Our primary role in this atrocious system is simply to consume. We are consumers, corporate subjects, not citizens. Under this materialistic system our lives are devoid of deep meaning as we are conditioned to work ever harder and go ever deeper in debt to accumulate ever more useless junk as though if we just piled up enough of this crap we would somehow, magically, become happy.
What is to be done? Let’s open our eyes and admit that the emperor has no clothes. Let’s admit that our democratic, constitutional, system was derailed more than a century ago. Until we return power to the hands of flesh and blood citizens EXCLUSIVELY, until corporations are summarily striped of “personhood”, until this legal obscenity is abolished, we can have no real freedom, democracy cannot flourish. Furthermore, to ensure that the will of the people is respected and reigns supreme, all members of our federal judiciary must face periodic reelection by the citizens—just as is the case for our judiciary here in California. Until and unless these things come to pass we cannot be a free people. Because we are fundamentally NOT a free people, because our ability to act and to build freely upon our inspirations is constrained by corporate forces beyond our present control, we cannot live up to our full potentials as human beings. Once these goals are accomplished there shall be such an explosion of innovation in economic and political and scientific entrepreneurship as to make Periclean Athens seem timid. It’s up to each of us to act NOW. Freedom itself hangs in the balance.