We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights

We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights

by Adam Winkler

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A PBS NewsHour / New York Times "Now Read This" Book Club Selection

Finalist • National Book Award for Nonfiction

Finalist • National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

Finalist • California Book Award (Nonfiction)

Finalist • Silver Gavel Award (American Bar Association)

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

A Washington Post Notable Book of the Year

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Economist and The Boston Globe

We the Corporations chronicles the revelatory story of one of the most successful, yet least known, “civil rights movements” in American history.

We the Corporations chronicles the astonishing story of one of the most successful yet least well-known “civil rights movements” in American history. Hardly oppressed like women and minorities, business corporations, too, have fought since the nation’s earliest days to gain equal rights under the Constitution—and today have nearly all the same rights as ordinary people.

Exposing the historical origins of Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, Adam Winkler explains how those controversial Supreme Court decisions extending free speech and religious liberty to corporations were the capstone of a centuries-long struggle over corporate personhood and constitutional protections for business. Beginning his account in the colonial era, Winkler reveals the profound influence corporations had on the birth of democracy and on the shape of the Constitution itself. Once the Constitution was ratified, corporations quickly sought to gain the rights it guaranteed. The first Supreme Court case on the rights of corporations was decided in 1809, a half-century before the first comparable cases on the rights of African Americans or women. Ever since, corporations have waged a persistent and remarkably fruitful campaign to win an ever-greater share of individual rights.

Although corporations never marched on Washington, they employed many of the same strategies of more familiar civil rights struggles: civil disobedience, test cases, and novel legal claims made in a purposeful effort to reshape the law. Indeed, corporations have often been unheralded innovators in constitutional law, and several of the individual rights Americans hold most dear were first secured in lawsuits brought by businesses.

Winkler enlivens his narrative with a flair for storytelling and a colorful cast of characters: among others, Daniel Webster, America’s greatest advocate, who argued some of the earliest corporate rights cases on behalf of his business clients; Roger Taney, the reviled Chief Justice, who surprisingly fought to limit protections for corporations—in part to protect slavery; and Roscoe Conkling, a renowned politician who deceived the Supreme Court in a brazen effort to win for corporations the rights added to the Constitution for the freed slaves. Alexander Hamilton, Teddy Roosevelt, Huey Long, Ralph Nader, Louis Brandeis, and even Thurgood Marshall all played starring roles in the story of the corporate rights movement.

In this heated political age, nothing can be timelier than Winkler’s tour de force, which shows how America’s most powerful corporations won our most fundamental rights and turned the Constitution into a weapon to impede the regulation of big business.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780871407122
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 249,040
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

Adam Winkler is a professor at UCLA School of Law, where he specializes in American constitutional law. His scholarship has been cited by the Supreme Court of the United States and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New Republic, Atlantic, Slate, and Scotusblog.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Are Corporations People? xiii

Part 1 Corporate Origins

Chapter 1 In the Beginning, America Was a Corporation 3

Part 2 The Birth Of Corporate Rights

Chapter 2 The First Corporate Rights Case 35

Chapter 3 The Corporation's Lawyer 71

Part 3 Property Rights, Not Liberty Rights

Chapter 4 The Conspiracy for Corporate Rights 113

Chapter 5 The Corporate Criminal 161

Chapter 6 Property, Not Politics 191

Part 4 The Rise Of Liberty Rights For Corporations

Chapter 7 Discrete and Insular Corporations 231

Chapter 8 Corporations, Race, and Civil Rights 256

Chapter 9 The Corporation's Justice 279

Chapter 10 The Triumph of Corporate Rights 324

Conclusion Corporate Rights and Wrongs 377

Acknowledgments 397

Chronology of Corporate Rights 399

Notes 405

Credits 445

Index 449

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