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We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights

by Adam Winkler,
The San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 2018

Published in the 18th century, William Blackstone’s “Commentaries of the Law of England” became the most influential legal treatise in Anglo-American history. Among the important subjects addressed by Blackstone were the rights and duties of corporations, which he defined as “artificial persons.” According to Blackstone, corporations were financed and operated by private parties; they also had public purposes, as defined in the charters granted them by government, which might involve building a bridge, maintaining a road or providing insurance. Corporations had rights — to buy and own property, form contracts, sue and be sued. However, they did not have the same rights as individuals. Corporations, Blackstone wrote, could not commit treason, be imprisoned or swear oaths. And authorities could “inquire into and correct all irregularities that arise” when corporations “deviate from the end of their institution.”

 

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