By What Authority:

June 2001

By What Authority

Pawns, Queens and Corporations

The rights of the first amendment

Richard Grossman (June 2001)

The first amendment "does not intend to guarantee men freedom to say what some private interest pays them to say for its own advantage. It intends only to make men free to say what, as citizens, they think." — Alexander Meiklejohn, educator and philosopher 1872-1964

A state charters a corporation, or allows an out of state corporation to conduct business within its borders.

Instantly, like a pawn reaching the eighth rank and transformed into a queen in the game of chess, the human incorporators have at their command an agglomeration of property, a legal fiction, beyond the reach of the people of that state.

It's not just that "mercantile interests became a potent factor in the conservative counter revolution that led to the United States Constitution," as Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. put it, and that their agents wrote a plan of governance favoring property interests over human rights.2 It's also that Supreme Court justices have been amending this Constitution ever since.

These justices' decisions nullifying people's state and federal laws to define corporate bodies and set public policy have armed property with freedom of speech and assembly, due process of law, equal protection of the law.3

These judge-made amendments turned the already restricted mechanisms of representative democracy — lawmaking, elections, jurisprudence and education — into weapons for the corporate class. They denied people the ability to use elections, legislation, jurisprudence and education to write the nation's govern themselves.

The rules of chess define pawns as having limited motion. Once a pawn becomes a queen, however, it can dominate the whole board.

The powerful sounding words in state constitutions ("all political power is inherent in the people"), corporation codes, chartering mechanisms, old judicial charter revocations ("The life of a corporation is, indeed, less than that of the humblest citizen," NY State Court of Appeals, People v North River Sugar Refining Co., 1890), endless regulatory and administrative laws, July 4th oratory about democracy and ceaseless propaganda in general make it seem that we the people are in charge.

But the reality is that at the moment of their conception, corporations instantly become swaddled by the United States Constitution. Corporations become enabled and empowered by federal courts, privileged and protected by the world's superduper government.

A giant institutional creation of the state, which wields constitutional rights of persons backed by armed forces, by definition, exterminates the constitutional rights of natural persons. It liquidates people's right to self-governance.

When a state charters a corporation or allows an out of state corporation to do business within its jurisdiction, it authorizes a form of property to demolish the basic rights of citizens. This is so even though people's freedom of speech and assembly, people's right to be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures, people's right to a republican form of government, people's right to equal protection and due process of law, etc., are written into that state's constitution, and the US constitution.

The nation's basics rules direct the few to govern the many.

So a human person, or even a group of 500 or 5000 human persons, cannot compete with Fortune 500 business corporations and all their shill non-profit corporations when it comes to shaping ideas, judicial theory and people's education; when it comes to using elections and lawmaking.

When it comes to governing.

Who is responsible for such usurpations? Who must answer? Legislators, executives and judges, attorneys general and secretaries of state are to blame for corporate exterminations, demolitions, annihilations, slaughters, eradications, liquidations and extinctions of people's fundamental human rights, and of the species, places and biological systems which logically follow.

The Nuremberg laws established the principle that inhumane acts become crimes against humanity when "committed in a systematic way or on a large scale and instigated or directed by a government or by any organization or group." We can add: ...when committed or instigated or directed by a group created by government...endowed by government officials with rights and privileges...protected by the rule of law. On occasion when the Constitution and government enabled institutionalized harms — as with slavery, Jim Crow, warmaking, railroad and bank corporation usurpations, etc., — people and their organizations defied the Constitution, dissed the law, ridiculed those who preached and enforced it. Abolitionists, Populists, Suffragists, war resisters, civil rights demonstrators, Wobblies, unionists and anti-nukers challenged the authority of public officials to bestow special privilege and liquidate people's rights.

With slavery and Jim Crow, activists were able to change how enough people thought to change the Constitution and basic laws. (It took two centuries.) Suffragists invested nearly a century to change the Constitution with regard to voting, and then women spent another eighty years plying the 14th Amendment. Wobblies and unionists changed enough people to change a little law, antinukers to stop power plant construction, get the very limited atmospheric test ban treaty and stop the opening of radiation dumps, war resisters...

This work was always difficult, slow, painful, sometimes deadly. At its heart were people taking creative, often frequently unusual and what was defined as anti-social action designed to help other people SEE and UNDERSTAND what their culture had obscured or had certified as God's will and codified as legal. As public defiance and tumult grew, juries, editorial writers, comedians, public officials and leaders of institutions, even judges and some elected officials, were persuaded to break away from past orthodoxies and mythologies.

Populists, evolving a concentrated focus on ending corporate usurpation and on practicing authentic democracy, were not successful and were crushed. That took place a century ago. Against a backdrop of slave revolts and Abolitionist defiance of law, members of the Western Anti-Slavery Society grasped their challenge in 1847. Warning friends and allies, they declared it was "of the highest importance to guard against the mistake of supposing opposition to extension of slavery, or to the Fugitive Slave Law or the Dred Scott Decision, or any other incident of the Slave Institution, is necessarily opposition to the institution itself."

Today, it is of the highest importance for activists especially to guard against the mistake of supposing that opposition to corporate clearcutting, corporate toxic poisoning, corporate building of weapons of mass destruction, corporate genetic engineering of seeds and foods, corporate nuclear power, corporate deception, corporate redlining, corporate gouging of the poor, corporate control of elections, corporate writing of people's laws, corporate running of sweatshops, corporate control of information, entertainment and the press, corporate skewering of education, corporate negotiating and enacting global property rights agreements, or any other incident of rule by the corporate class, is necessarily opposition to rule by the corporate class itself. Our corporate culture+government has obscured, certified as God's will, and codified as legal, sweeping annihilations of human rights. Deliberate actions need to be taken to help people SEE and UNDERSTAND these corporate eradications of human rights, to define them as crimes against humanity.

Actions need to be undertaken to show people how public officials have unleashed upon our human and Constitutional rights a corporate holocaust.

In order to change how people think, in order to change the laws and constitutional doctrines the corporate class has imposed, more people need to see that this society is run by the corporate class.

Where are we the people to turn for remedies?

There is no one but us,

There is no one to send,

Nor a clean hand nor a pure heart

On the face of the earth, nor in the earth

But only us

A generation comforting ourselves

With the notion that we have come at an awkward time,

That our innocent fathers are all dead

— As if innocence had ever been —

And our children unfit, not yet ready,

Having each of us chosen wrongly,

Made a false start, failed,

Yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures

And grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved.

But there is no one but us.

There never has been.

-- Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm

  1. co-director, Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, PO Box 390, Milton Mills, NH 03852. ph: 603.473.8637; fax: 603.473.8657

  2. Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., The Colonial Merchants & The American Revolution, 1763-1776, NY: Frederick Unger Co., 1957, p. 606 (originally published in 1917)

  3. See, for example, Dartmouth College v Woodward (1819), Santa Clara v Southern Pacific RR Corp. (1886), First National Bank v Bellotti (1978), Buckley v Valeo (1976), NFTC v Massachusetts attorney general (the Burma law case - 2000), Chicago, Milwaukee & St Paul Railway Co v Minnesota (1890), In Re Debs (1895), Pollock v Farmers Loan and Trust Co (1895), Charles Smith v Mississippi (1896), Schenck v US (1918), Lochner v NY (1905), Virginia Board of Pharmacy v Virginia Citizens' Consumer Council, Inc., (1976), NJ v City of Philadelphia 1976), etc.