1808 – Congress abolishes African slave trade
While no new slaves were imported to the U.S., existing slaves remained, and of course black children continued to be born into slavery. Slavery would not end in the U.S. for all except prisoners until the abolitionist movement and the Civil War terminated the “peculiar institution” with the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.
1817 – Second National Bank of the U.S. opens
The Second National Bank (like the First National Bank before it) was chartered (or licensed) by Congress, even though most corporations at the time were chartered by the states. Charters defined what corporations could and could not do. As such, they were democratic tools used by the public to control or define corporations.
While called “national,” the Bank was not public but actually a commercial/corporate bank with the power to issue money directly (just like the First National Bank). The Bank issued initially 20 times more money than it had in reserve as loans. This led to financial speculation and large corporate profits. A year later, it stopped issuing loans, resulting in a severe contraction of the money supply, which led to massive bankruptcies, and the Panic of 1819. President Andrew Jackson believed the bank was a political and economic threat to the nation. He vetoed a bill in 1832 renewing the bank’s charter.
1882- Incorporation of the Standard Oil Trust
John D. Rockefeller, head of the Standard Oil Corporation, and his associates combined their separate but related companies under a single group of “trustees” to form the nation’s first “trust,” a single organization which consolidated economic power, amassed enormous political leverage and granted Rockefeller considerable personal control as the trustee who owned the most shares. The trust model was repeated in other industries. It led to passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890.
1793 – Birth of Lucretia Mott, Quaker feminist and abolitionist
Mott co-organized the first national Women’s Right Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. The gathering was advertised as “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.”
1883 – Birth of Clement Attlee, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and the Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955
“Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking.”
Democracy requires listening…and hearing…not just talking. That’s real discussion.
1774 – Birth of William M. Richardson, New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice, who opposed Dartmouth College’s claim to Constitutional protection under the Contracts Clause
Following the American Revolution, democratic legislators in New Hampshire sought to convert private Dartmouth College into Dartmouth University, and thereby make it publicly accountable. The College trustees objected, claiming their charter with the King of England was actually a contract and protected by the Constitution’s Contracts Clause (“No State shall…pass any…Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts….”). The state legislature claimed it was not valid since the King no longer ruled and that legislators had the power to issue and revoke charters.
Writing for the majority in defense of the state legislature, Richardson stated it would not serve the public interest, “…to place the great public institutions, in which all the young men, destined for the liberal professions, are to be educated, within the absolute control of a few individuals, and out of the control of the sovereign power – not consistent with sound policy, because it is a matter of too great moment, too intimately connected with the public welfare and prosperity, to be thus entrusted in the hands of a few. The education of the rising generation is a matter of the highest public concern, and is worthy of the best attention of every legislature…We are therefore clearly of opinion, that the charter of Dartmouth College, is not a contract, within the meaning of this clause in the Constitution of the United States).”
The College appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the College in Dartmouth College v. Woodward in 1819 — the first time corporations are granted constitutional protections.
1855 – Birth of King Camp Gillette, author of “The Human Drift,” which advocated for one corporation to run all industry
In “The Human Drift,” Gillette presents a futuristic society where all industry should be taken over by a single corporation owned by the public, and where everyone in the US should live in a giant city called Metropolis powered by Niagara Falls. A later book, World Corporation (1910), presented a specific plan for this vision. He offered Theodore Roosevelt the presidency of the company, with a salary of one million dollars.
2012 – The article, “Granting Corporations Bill of Rights Protections Is Not ‘Pro-business'” is posted on the American Independent Business Alliance website
“Two of the three broad-based national business organizations submitting amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in Citizens United v FEC at the U.S. Supreme Court argued against allowing corporations to engage in direct electioneering.
“The American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA) says such a change would badly harm the majority of America’s independent businesses. AMIBA’s brief to the U.S. Supreme Court…argued that even with present limitations on corporate political power, large corporations have converted their economic power into political favors that consistently harm small businesses. The tendency of powerful corporations to lobby for lawmakers to erect or sustain barriers to entry is another problem acknowledged by conservatives and progressives alike. To enlarge corporate political power further, AMIBA’s brief notes, would both harm the political process and undermine genuine market competition.
“The Committee for Economic Development brief argues giving corporations the ability to dominate electoral campaigns would, in reality, harm many companies by subjecting them to an endless series of shakedowns by politicians. ‘Each corporation,’ states the brief, ‘would be helpless to get out of the political game, fearful of losing out in the economic marketplace to competitors that were willing to play ball.'”
1919 – Death of former US President Theodore Roosevelt, critic of corporate political contributions
In 1905, he stated: “All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law; directors should not be permitted to use stockholders’ money for such purposes; and, moreover, a prohibition of this kind would be, as far as it went, an effective method of stopping the evils aimed at in corrupt practices acts. Not only should both the National and the several State Legislatures forbid any officer of a corporation from using the money of the corporation in or about any election, but they should also forbid such use of money in connection with any legislation save by the employment of counsel in public manner for distinctly legal services.”
1782 – Bank of North America opens
This was the first private commercial bank of the United States, chartered under the Articles of Confederation. Congress voted to transfer their authority to issue money to the Bank when it approved its charter. Why did Congress willingly give up their money power? The public argument was that the business of finance could not be competently conducted by a public body (Congress) — only by a small number of private financiers. The first head of the Bank was Robert Morris, then the richest merchant in America.
1919 – US Suffragetts organize “Watchfire for Freedom” for 19th Amendment – burn speeches of President Wilson
“The National Woman’s Party devised a new tactic to pressure for the adoption of a suffrage amendment to the Constitution. Members would gather with copies of the president’s speeches on issues relating to democracy and burn them in urns outside public buildings, including the White House. With a banner implying that the resident was a hypocrite, women outside the White House burned a speech Wilson had given on his grand tour of Europe.”