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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/26/09

1886 - When The American Experiment Died

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Message Jon Faulkner

Americans have stood idly by, uninterested and unaware, while their freedoms have been taken from them. Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Madison and Franklin, among others, cautioned against corporate intrusion into government. A relatively scant 100 years after independence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in “Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad,” that corporations were human entities, and as such, enjoyed all the Constitutional privileges afforded to U.S. citizens. The experiment in Constitutional Democracy began unraveling at this point.

It was 1886, and Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, delivering the opinion of the court said "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."

How did Justice Waite’s Court, ostensibly endowed with the finest legal minds in the nation, rule that corporations were, in effect people, and so enjoy the same Constitutional rights and protections? How is it that a few old men, accountable to no one, can make decisions negatively effecting millions? Those old men opened the door to allow the corporate usurpation of government, and their decision signaled the end of representative government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. Already they have raised up a monied aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power (of money) should be taken away from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs." … Thomas Jefferson

That Chief Justice Waite’s Supreme Court decision still stands over a hundred years later is testament to the Founder’s insight that a free democracy must be zealously protected against those who would use it for their own ends. The Founders warned specifically that corporations would very likely prove the republic’s undoing. These warning’s, and they were many, were deliberately ignored by the Waite Court, and now the American people must demand that infamous decision be revisited with the view of striking it down.

The nation’s second bank, a behemoth that lent millions to businesses and state banks, had come up against its charter’s time limit. It was 1832 and Congress, mightily impressed with the bank’s success, voted to renew its charter. But President Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” vetoed the banks charter petition. Jackson was uneasy. He knew the bank favored its stockholders over ordinary Americans. He confided in friends that the bank was a “money power,” and would not hesitate to challenge the fledgling democracy in the interests of its own ends. The banks corporate charter expired four years after Jackson’s veto, and the bank closed its doors. The United States got along without a bank of any kind for the next 77 years when the Federal Reserve System was established.

Americans have lost sight of the fact that Congress, the President and Supreme Court, serve at the American people’s pleasure. Americans don’t recognize that it is they, and not Congress or the President, who have betrayed the nation. It’s all the politicians fault, or the fault of one party or another, they say. Every four years there’s a convulsive reaction that otherwise describes a presidential election. Roughly one fourth of qualified voters elect someone who has been foresworn to carry on the subterfuge that voters were given a choice.

Corporations see that only those who advance their interests are elected. In 2008 they spent $5.3 billion to install a President and Congress they like. McCain limited himself to public financing, while Obama did not. McCain’s $84 million during the last two months of the election, was dwarfed by contributions to Obama’s campaign, that added up to $779 million. Bill Schneider, a CNN political commentator said of public financing, "About a year ago, the polls asked people if they supported the idea that candidates and campaigns should be financed by taxpayer money ... and most persons said no.” As Loudon Wainwright wrote , “The skunk got squashed and there you are.”

The politicos, who take advantage of this situation, can’t be assigned all the blame. They are only providing a service, in a capitalist society, to those who can pay the most. Disinterested Americans are reduced to complaining about their wasted tax dollars which, from a corporate perspective, are not wasted at all. It is common knowledge that Congress is an extension of the corporate entity, and until campaign finance laws are enacted that have sharp teeth, it will remain as such. Such laws would not be needed if the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court revisited Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad.

Millions of Americans don’t connect the dots. Their infrastructure is neglected year after year because their tax dollars, which should be used to improve the lives of all Americans, are instead given away to corporations. America’s students meet in improvised classrooms and see their extracurricular activities cut back because investment in public education has been cut year after year. The U.S. Army Core of Engineers estimates there are 77,000 bridges in the U.S. that need immediate repair. Americans are told they can’t afford universal health care. That’s socialism they‘re told. Perhaps it’s time to evaluate socialism in comparison to parasitic corporations. Corporations are bottom feeders, and won’t hesitate to kick loose the corner stone of democracy, if there’s a profit in it.

The Founders had no way of anticipating that future generations would lack the will, or the interest, to preserve their republic. Prior to independence the colonies were united as one against the British. Brave men fought, knowing their blood would be spilled, but they died believing that future generations would benefit from their great sacrifice. The Founders were a group of intellectually renowned men who dreamed of a nation whose government was enabled by the governed. When lifeless corporations were given personhood, those American whose lives were lost to advance the cause of freedom, meant nothing.

The Founders were not clairvoyant. They were visionaries who knew in certainty that corporate power would, if not mercilessly restrained, prove the undoing of the republic. The die was cast over a century ago, and the only question left worth asking is, do enough Americans exist in this land, who have the courage to challenge the corporate government that has stolen the Founder’s dream that a nation of free men and woman are capable of self rule. Most Americans have learned they can’t look to the President or Congress to return their democracy to them.

In 2000 Chief Justice Rehnquist’s Supreme Court made a decision in Bush vs. Gore which, like Justice Waite’s decision, would have far reaching ramifications that would reverberate for many, many years. Neither Rehnquist, nor the other four justices who voted to install Bush into the presidency, have ever been held accountable. Bush, a war criminal whose Justice Department worked to erode the freedoms that Americans have as their birthright, refuses to so much as entertain the notion that he may have been wrong. When one man’s actions or decisions effect hundreds of millions, that man must be held accountable. If there is no accountability, there can be no responsibility, or justice. How can Americans trust their leaders if they are not responsible for their actions?

Corporations are not responsible either. They are without souls. They don’t love or hate. They have no honor or loyalty for country. They can’t be jailed or forced to perform community service. Forcing a corporation to write a check for wrong doing is the only way of punishing it. The owners and stockholders of corporations have pushed hard for tort reform. “Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad” gave corporations all the Constitutional rights and protections of ordinary Americans. Tort reform will give immunity from lawsuit to the owners and shareholders. When Congress passes tort reform laws corporations, and their stockholders, will be completely unaccountable for their actions.

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Jon Faulkner is a licensed Master Mariner. He has long considered the conservative republican mindset a form of mental illness. He lives in northern Maine.
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