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When it was created, the American form of government was an experiment. Only once before in the 6000+ year history of western civilization had people tried an egalitarian form of government, and that experiment - in Athens almost 2400 years ago - died out when its people were conquered by Alexander the Great.
The crux of the experiment was the idea that people could govern themselves without kings, popes, wealthy feudal lords, or warlords.
Thus, government would be made of, by, and for the people and not for any particular special interest group other than the people.
In order for the experiment to work, it was necessary that humans be given unique and special rights and powers - the powers and rights of personhood, guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere in the Constitution. (It took us almost two hundred years to extend them to minorities and women, but the model/archetype/idea, at least, was in place.)
But then something bizarre happened.
In 1886 the court reporter of the U.S. Supreme Court claimed that the court had ruled that "corporations are persons" in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case. If you read the case itself, you find that in fact the court ruled no such thing. But the reporter wrote it up in the headnotes of the case - not a legal document, but only a commentary on the case - and subsequent generations of corporate attorneys claimed it was so. Over time, it became so.
The consequences of this were tremendous.
Corporations are legal fictions created with the sole purpose of being a vehicle for the aggregation of wealth. They can live forever. They can change identity in a day. They can cut off parts of themselves and from them grow new selves. They can own others of their own kind. They don't need fresh air or clean water and don't fear illness or death.
Yet now, because of this misinterpretation of an 1886 Supreme Court case, corporations have the rights of "persons."
Corporations now have free speech rights (even though they are not voters or citizens), and can work to influence political campaigns and write laws. They have privacy rights and can deny OSHA and EPA inspectors access to their properties. They have 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination and double jeopardy. They have 14th amendment rights to equal protection under the law and can thus prevent local communities from " discriminating " against them in favour of small, local businesses.
The result of this legal error has been the virtual takeover of our political and legal processes by corporations. But some humans are working to take back government and return us to the intentions of this nation's Founders. The movement is to deny corporate personhood and restore human rights to humans.
Before 1886: When Only Humans Had Human Rights
After 1886: After the Corporate Theft of Human Rights
Rights and Privileges
Only humans were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and those human rights included the right to free speech, the right to privacy, the right to silence in the face of accusation, and the right to live free of discrimination or slavery.
While to this day unions, churches, governments, and small unincorporated businesses do not have "human rights" (but only privileges humans give them), corporations alone have moved into the category with humans as claiming rights instead of just privileges.
In many states, it was a felony for corporations to give money to politicians, political parties, or try to influence elections: They can't vote, so what are they doing involved in politics?!
Corporations claimed the human right of free speech, expanded that to mean the unlimited right to put corporate money into politics, and have thus taken control of our major political parties and politicians
States and local communities had laws to protect and nurture entrepreneurs and local businesses, and to keep out companies that had been convicted of crimes.
Multi-state corporations claimed such laws were "discrimination" under the 14th Amendment (passed to free the slaves) and got such laws struck down; local communities can no longer stop a predatory corporation.
Government, elected by and for We, The People, made decisions about how armies would be equipped and, based on the will of the general populace, if and when we would go to war. Prior to WWII there were no permanent military manufacturing companies of significant size.
Military contractors grew to enormous size as a result of WWII and a permanent arms industry came into being, what Dwight Eisenhower called "the military/industrial complex." It now lobbies government to buy its products and use them in wars around the world.
Corporations had to submit to the scrutiny of the representatives of We, The People, our elected government.
Corporations have claimed 4th Amendment human right to privacy and used it to keep out OSHA, EPA, and to hide crimes.
Corporations were chartered for a single purpose, had to also serve the public good, and had fixed/limited life spans.
Corporations lobbied states to change corporate charter laws to eliminate "public good" provisions from charters, to allow multiple purposes, and to exist forever.
Just as human persons couldn't own other persons, corporations couldn't own the stock of other corporations (mergers and acquisitions were banned).
Corporations claim the human right to economic activity free of regulatory restraint, and the still-banned-for-humans right to own others of their own kind.