REAL Democracy History Calendar – January 30 – February 5

January 30 

1976 – U.S. Supreme Court declares money is equivalent to speech in Buckley v. Valeo [424 U.S. 1]

U.S. Supreme Court rules 5-4 in landmark decision that political money is equivalent to speech. This major ruling greatly expanded 1st Amendment “”free speech”” protections to include financial contributions to candidates and political parties. The decision opened the door to major increases in political campaign contributions (or investments).

January 31 

1865 – 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enacted

Slavery is abolished in the U.S. (except in prisons). This Amendment changed Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution. People are no longer deemed “property.” Two decades later, however, , the court will rule the reverse also to be true — that property organized as a corporation is a legal “person.”

1938 – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in dissent says “person” in the 14th Amendment doesn’t include the corporation

Dissenting in Connecticut General Life Ins. v. Johnson(303 U.S. 77) Justice Black states: “I do not believe the word “person” in the 14th Amendment includes corporations…[n]either the history nor the language of the Fourteenth Amendment justifies the belief that corporations are included within its protection.”

2001 California legislators oppose North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in an open letter to US Trade Representative

“We are concerned…that as presently administered, the NAFTA and the WTO agreements diminish the sovereignty of states…and…shift decision-making power from elected officials to unelected international trade officials…[W]e, as California legislators, find it problematic to be told by remote and unelected trade officials the paradigms or standards we must apply in writing environmental and public health laws for the people of our state…[S]uch decisions are best made by elected officials in accessible and democratic fora.”


February 1

1872 – Birth of Alexander Meiklejohn, philosopher and educator

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.”

1902 – Birth of Langston Hughes, American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist

“I swear to the Lord, I still can’t see, Why Democracy means everybody but me.”

February 2

1819- Supreme Court declares a corporate charter is a contract in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (17 U.S. 518), protected by the Contracts Clause of the Constitution

The New Hampshire legislature wished to convert the private Dartmouth College into a public university by changing its charter, or license, which had been originally issued by the King of England. The legislature believed that education was too important to be left to private interests; thus, the school needed to become publicly accountable. The Supreme Court sided with the College’s trustees, stating a corporate charter is a contract, not to be altered under the Constitution’s Contracts Clause.

The word “corporation” does not appear in the Constitution. The Court’s decision transformed a corporate charter issued by a government as a mere privilege into a contract that a government cannot alter. The ruling gave corporations standing in the Constitution. Governments had greater difficulty controlling corporations. States began to include specific limitations into charters they granted.

February 3

1870 – States ratify the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race

Black males gain the right to vote. “The right of citizens…to vote shall not be denied or abridged…on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

2016 – “The Conservative Case for Campaign-Finance Reform” by Richard W. Painter published in the New York Times

“Why should conservative voters care? First, big money in politics encourages big government…

“Campaign contributions also breed more regulation…

“Social conservatives and faith-based voters should care about big money in politics because it drowns out their voices on issues from abortion and euthanasia to gambling and pornography…

“Our campaign-finance system is also a national security risk…

“All this is a betrayal of conservative values…

“More important, the system is a betrayal of the vision of participatory democracy embraced by the founders of our country…

February 4

1793 – Passage of the Fugitive Slave Act 

The law (as well as a similar one adopted in 1850) was passed to expand constitutionally embedded property rights of slave owners (Art 1, Sec 4). The “return servants clause,” after all, defined people as property. Those Acts paid cash rewards from public funds for each slave captured, prohibited slaves from defending themselves in court, and prevented slaves being tried by juries.

1887 – Formation of the first regulatory agency, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) – a “sheep in wolf’s clothing” 

The ICC was designed in response to public demands for fair rates and to prevent rate discrimination by railroad corporations. It and subsequent regulatory agencies, however, were established chiefly to protect corporations from the public.

Prominent RR barons supported the ICC’s creation. Charles F. Adams (later President of the Union Pacific Railroad Co.) stated, “What is desired…is something having a good sound, but quite harmless [purpose], which will impress the popular mind with the idea that a great deal is being done, when, in reality, very little is intended to be done.”

So rather than have the public fundamentally control and define corporate actions via charters and/or create or expand public ownership of basic services, regulatory agencies were established. They have become the major target/distraction of activist opposition to corporate actions.

Corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris calls them “Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing.” Her excellent description of the history is at

February 5

1900 – Birth of Adlai Stevenson II, Democratic Party Presidential candidate

“The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal…is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.”

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