Exactly 240 years ago the United States Founding Fathers declared independence from the British Empire, and agreed to an arrangement of the thirteen colonies to become a federation. On July 4th, 1776, they signed the Declaration of Independence.
Most of the reasons for the American Revolution were financial, with the heavy tax burden levied by King George of England likely at the top of the list. A close second was the gouging done by European corporations of the day, Notably the Dutch East India Trading Company and the Hudson's Bay Company. Their shenanigans were not so different from their modern progeny.
Strikingly, along with building a democracy of sorts, our forefathers were attempting to limit corporate influence in this new nation as well.
[From ReclaimingDemocracy.org] "After fighting a revolution to end this exploitation, our country's founders retained a healthy fear of corporate power and wisely limited corporations exclusively to a business role. Corporations were forbidden from attempting to influence elections, public policy, and other realms of civic society.
Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public, such as construction of roads or canals. Enabling shareholders to profit was seen as a means to that end. The states also imposed conditions (some of which remain on the books, though unused) like these*:
Corporate charters (licenses to exist) were granted for a limited time and could be revoked promptly for violating laws.
Corporations could engage only in activities necessary to fulfill their chartered purpose.
Corporations could not own stock in other corporations nor own any property that was not essential to fulfilling their chartered purpose.
Corporations were often terminated if they exceeded their authority or caused public harm.
Owners and managers were responsible for criminal acts committed on the job.
Corporations could not make any political or charitable contributions nor spend money to influence law-making.
For 100 years after the American Revolution, legislators maintained tight control of the corporate chartering process. Because of widespread public opposition, early legislators granted very few corporate charters, and only after debate. Citizens governed corporations by detailing operating conditions not just in charters but also in state constitutions and state laws. Incorporated businesses were prohibited from taking any action that legislators did not specifically allow. States also limited corporate charters to a set number of years. Unless a legislature renewed an expiring charter, the corporation was dissolved and its assets were divided among shareholders."
Sadly, since the 1800s corporations have grown and infiltrated our lives in every way, and not for the better. As much as the American Revolution was about self-governance, it was also about redefining the role of corporations.
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