Corporate Shareholders Are Slave Owners!

You can own property, but you can’t own other people. Those who do own other people are slave owners. Those who are owned are slaves.

Corporations are people, ‘persons’ or ‘natural persons’ as they are usually referred to in court. They are owned by corporate share owners. Corporations are therefore slaves and must be liberated. And doing so is the great civil rights issue of our time.

All these statements are so obviously true that it is almost painful to have to explain, much less justify, them. But so warped has our thinking become in these matters, so cowardly when it comes to facing up to a possible disruption of an established economic order, that I’m obliged to do so here.

Corporations are born (incorporated) in a defined place at a defined time. Die (go bankrupt) the same way. Get married (merge). Beget offspring (spin-offs). Adopt (acquisitions). They borrow, loan, bequeath, give charity, get sued, hire, fire, own properties, and as that Citizens United Supreme Court decision made clear, they have the same right to free speech as any other person. Even Mitt Romney, who may soon be President of these United States, stated recently that “corporations are people.”

Such is the everyday proof of corporate personhood. Here’s the legal proof.

Since the Supreme Court’s Dartmouth College v Woodward decision in 1819, courts have upheld the view that corporations are “natural persons” (i.e. humans). Many other court decisions since that time have upheld this same view.

In perhaps he most direct statement of the court’s thinking on this matter, in a 1898 case the Chief Justice began oral argument by stating: “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all [every Justice] of the opinion that it does.” The same clarity was on view in a later case, Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania. Here the Court ruled (and not just in a note either) that: “Under the designation of ‘person’ there is no doubt that a private corporation is included…in the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Here’s what the Fourteenth Amendment itself says in regard to people (i.e. persons) who happen to be, as courts have often decreed, corporations: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And here’s what the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution says about having people — a term that so clearly includes corporations — as slaves: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Put it all together, especially the juxtapose of the Thirteen and Fourteenth Amendments and their interpretation at the highest judicial levels, and it seems almost impossible that any fair-minded person (homo sapien or homo corporatus) should not immediately call for the end of stockholder ownership of U.S.-formed corporations. But fair-minded aside, would the present-day Supreme Court step up on this issue?

Certainly it could. I mean, this is a court that has proven itself fearless with regard to the consequences of its rulings. Beyond this, turning corporate persons into freemen would be a perfect bookend to the court’s despicable 1858 Dred Scott decision that held African-Americans to be property and hence deserving of slavedom, by today turning entities (corporations), who a lot of people still consider mere property, into fully liberated citizens.

As for the supposed negative social consequences of such a ruling, fears that one’s sister, for example, might get it on with Yahoo or Facebook. Surely that’s her business. And in case you haven’t noticed, she probably already is.

Which brings us back to that old economic bugaboo. The fear that emancipating corporations from their slave owning stockholders would bring about economic disaster. In this regard I need only point back to this country’s own pre-Civil War history with slavery, when slaves were the largest single store of easily sold “property.” After not a single dollar in compensation was paid to slave owners after passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the American economy did not collapse. It thrived.

Freed corporations would also not suffer from lack of “guidance” by their former slave owning shareholders, or from the Simon Legrees of Wall Street endlessly demanding more and more for these shareholders at the expense of corporate workers and customers. Indeed, no longer obliged to skim off earned profits to pad the lifestyles of fat cat investors and Street sharks, the economy would certainly do very much better.

If the courts fail in this crusade, fail to immediately put on their big kid robes and risk established interest slings and arrows to do what plainly ought be done here, perhaps we need look elsewhere for a savior. Not a Clarence Darrow legal eagle to change legal minds, but a Charlton Heston-like figure doing the Moses thing to bring about the liberation.

I can visualize someone very like Heston, hair tastefully upswept and white-tinted, attired in flowing wine-dark robes, sporting domestically produced sandals on feet with festering corns the product of disdaining public transit, and a mighty staff that doubles as a snake that eats any three snakes pitted against it (my snake is bigger than yours — an argument that resonates especially well with young right-leaning males), standing on the steps of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, crying out to all within:

“Let Ford Motors Go!”

That’s what I’ve been visualizing of late. Are you having this vision, too?


To learn more about a quirky novel, a very unusual book of verse, and some Goldman Sachs satires from the author of this piece, hit one of these icons:

Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, art by Kay Wood ©2012           A Dyspeptic's Guide To Contemporary American Politics (In Verse) ©2012         The Chronicles Of Selig Cartwright, Goldman Sachs Washroom Attendant: Volume 1 by Michael Silverstien

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