REAL Democracy History Calendar – December 12 – 18

December 12

1745 – Birth of John Jay, first president of the Continental Congress and first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
“The people who own the country ought to govern it.”
Short, sweet and to the point by one of our original founding plutocrats.

1791 – First National Bank of the U.S. opens for business in Philadelphia
The federal government issued a 20-year charter to the bank in 1791 (very unusual at the time since most corporate charters, or licenses, were issued by states) to create the first national private bank. This was the first private institution empowered by the U.S. federal government to create paper money — with all the power and profit that goes along with it. The bank’s paper money was accepted for taxes. Eighty percent of its shares were privately owned, among these 75% were foreign owned (mostly by the English and Dutch). The bank was modeled on the Bank of England. Within two months of its creation, it flooded the market with loans and banknotes and then sharply shifted course and called in many of its loans. The result was the first U.S. securities market crash — what became known as the “Panic of 1792” – the first of many panics, recessions and depressions due to the private/corporate control of our money system. On January 24, 1811, the result was Congress voting to not renew the bank’s charter, thus dissolving the bank. During the first 50 years of the U.S., legislatures and courts routinely chose not to renew or revoke corporate charters, which were considered democratic instruments and used to control the actions of corporations.

December 13

2006 – Federal court overturns law banning corporate purchases of farmland
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in Jones v. Gale (470 F. 3d 1261, 1268) that Nebraska’s 1982 constitutional amendment prohibiting the purchase of farmland by non-family corporations was unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

2014 – Congressional funding bill shields financial corporations… and for the heck of it raises political contribution limits
Lobbyists for Citigroup Corporation literally wrote the “rider” slipped into the federal spending bill, which protects trillions of dollars of risky financial derivatives from crashing. If and when these casino bets (many on the price of oil continuing to rise) flop, the bettors don’t pay for the losses. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (that would be we taxpayers) does. Call it a “heads they win, tails we lose” scenario.  A second “rider” of the spending bill included a meteoric rise in allowable political investments/contributions from individuals to political parties. The degree of the increase wasn’t to keep up with inflation (at, say, 2-3%), but rather 8-fold– from $194,400 to $1.5 million over a two year election cycle.

December 14 

1799 – Death of George Washington, first President of the United States of America – need for coercive power
“We probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power,” said our first president.

According to historian Charles Beard in “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” Washington was probably the richest man in the colonies at the time of the Revolution.

1896 – Covington & L. Turnpike Road Co. v. Sandford (164 U.S. 578) Supreme Court decision – corporations are persons
The Court declared, “it is now settled that corporations are persons, within the meaning of the constitutional provisions forbidding the deprivation of property without due process of law, as well as a denial of the equal protection of the laws.”

December 15

1791 – Ratification of the Bill of Rights 
The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution were adopted to protect We the People from excesses of government and to affirm certain inalienable rights of human beings. At the time, however, We the People were only white males who owned property and were over 21 years old. Each state decided how much property must be owned to qualify to vote or run for office.

1986 – Justice William Brennan deliveres a prophetic Supreme Court opinion in Federal Election Committee v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc. (479 U.S. 238) – spending by corporations in elections may make them formidable power
“Direct corporate spending on political activity raised the prospect that resources amassed in the economic marketplace may be used to provide an unfair advantage in the political marketplace… The resources in the treasury of a business corporation…are not an indication of popular support for the corporation’s political ideas. The availability of these resources may make a corporation a formidable political presence, even though the power of the corporation may be no reflection of the power of its ideas.”

December 16 

1773 – Colonists stage Boston Tea Party to protest British Tea Act 
Parliament passed the Tea Act, which provided the East India Trading Company complete access to the colonies and exempted it from paying taxes to the colonies – increasing the profits to company stockholders, which included Parliament members and the King. This undercut colonial tea merchants who were required to pay taxes on tea.

Boston Tea Party participants saw themselves as anti-corporate protestors.  Their call for “no taxation without representation” was not one against paying taxes, but rather an insistence that every entity – including the East India Company – should pay their fair share.

December 17 

1964 – Death of Alexander Meiklejohn, Philosopher and Educator – who wrote on how the 1st Amendment and human freedom are threatened by dominant business enterprises
The 1st 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, what they believe, about the general welfare.”

“[I]nsofar as a society is dominated by the attitudes of competitive business enterprise, freedom in its proper American meaning cannot be known, and hence, cannot be taught. That is the basic reason why the schools and colleges, which are, presumably, commissioned to study and promote the ways of freedom, are so weak, so confused, so ineffectual.”

December 18

1882 – Death of Henry James, Sr. – on democracy
“Democracy is not so much a new form of political life as a dissolution and disorganization of the old forms. It is simply a resolution of government into the hands of the people…”

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