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Unequal Protection

The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

by Thom Hartmann

320 pages, Rodale Press, April 2004, Paperback

Was the Boston Tea Party the first WTO-style protest against transnational corporations? Did the Supreme Court sell out America's citizens in the nineteenth century, with consequences lasting to this day? Is there a way for American citizens to recover democracy of, by, and for the people? Thom Hartmann takes on these difficult questions and tells a startling story that will change your understanding of American History.

Praise for Unequal Protection

"If you wonder why the corporate world constantly lurches from malaise to oppression to governmental corruption and back, Unequal Protection reveals the untold story. Beneath the success and rise of American enterprise is an untold history that is antithetical to every value Americans hold dear. This is a seminal work, a godsend really, a clear message to every citizen about the need to reform our country, laws, and companies." --Paul Hawken, author, Natural Capitalism

"This extraordinary book combines meticulous historical and legal research with a clear and compelling writing style to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt the incompatibility of corporate personhood with democracy, the market economy, and the well-being of society. Complete with a practical program for essential reform to restore the rights of real persons - including model legislation - it is essential reading and an invaluable reference work for every citizen who cares about democracy, justice, and the human future." -- David C. Korten, author, When Corporations Rule The World

"We thought it was only in science fiction that things created by humans could actually take over what is inherently our human heritage. But Thom Hartmann shows how we've already let that happen on a frightening scale - not in Frankenstein's monsters or Kubrick's creeping computer Hal - but in the corporations that present their friendly 'faces' to us as if we have nothing to fear from this ultimate usurpation of our rights as real humans." -- Ed Ayres, Senior Editor at Worldwatch and author, God's Last Offer

"Splendid! A powerful and cogent case for changing the corporate rules that motivate all CEOs to misbehave." -- Ernest Callenbach, author, Ecotopia

"If you wonder why and when giant corporations got the power to reign supreme over us, here's the story. Plus, Hartmann tell us what we need to do to regain our people's sovereignty." -- Jim Hightower

"Hartmann goes where no person has gone before - towards uncovering the true history of how corporations and the wealthy people behind them transformed our law and culture to usurp democracy. This book is an inspiration to all groups and communitites and explains why we must rethink our engagement in single issue struggles and move towards the assertion of direct, democratic control over corporations." --Thomas Linzey, Esq., Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

"Many consider Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address to be the penultimate statement of our nation's spiritual mission. It's climactic words resolve that 'government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.' But we are today allowing a rise of corporate dominance that is producing a 'government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.' Our government has lost track of its mandate to serve the public interest and seems increasingly to do the bidding of corporate interests. The consequences -- for human rights, social justice, public health, and the environment -- are catastrophic. How has this come to pass? And most critically, is there anything we can do about it? Unequal Protection is nothing less than an act of compelling and heroic sanity. It is THE book to read if you want to perceive corporate dominance clearly, become more able to stand in its way, and more able to uphold the true values of this nation." -- John Robbins, author The Food Revolution, and Diet For A New America

Quotes from Unequal Protection

"This book is about the difference between humans and the corporations we humans have created. The story goes back to the birth of the United States, even the birth of the Revolution. It continues through the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the 1780s, and reaches its first climactic moment 100 years later, after the Civil War. The changes that ensued from that moment continue into the 21st century, where the results continue to unfold. And very few citizens of the world are unaffected.

"In another sense, this book is about values and beliefs: how our values are reflected in the society we create, and how a society itself can work, or not work, to reflect those values."

. . .

"In Unequal Protections Iím visiting with you the stories of democracy and corporate personhood - ones whose histories I only learned in detail while researching this book. (Itís amazing what we donít learn in school!) Corporate personhood is the story that a group of people can get together and organize a legal fiction (thatís the actual legal term for it) called a corporation - and that agreement could then have the rights and powers given living, breathing humans by modern democratic governments. Democracy is the story of government of, by, and for the people; something, it turns out, that is very difficult to have function well in the same realm as corporate personhood. A new but highly contagious story

"Corporate personhood tracks back in small form to Roman times when groups of people authorized by the Caesarsí organized to engage in trade. It took a leap around the year 1500 with the development of the first Dutch and then other European trading corporations, and then underwent a series of transformations in the United States of America in the 19th Century whose implications were every bit as world-changing as the institutionalization of slavery and the oppression of women in the holy books had been thousands of years earlier.

"And, in a similar fashion to the Biblical endorsement of slavery and oppression of women, this story of corporate personhood - which only came fully alive in the 1800s - was highly contagious: it has spread across most of the world in just the past half-century. It has - literally - caused some sovereign nations to rewrite their constitutions, and led others to sign treaties overriding previous constitution protections of their human citizens. Giving birth to a new ďpersonĒ

. . .

"Under our current agreements, the new corporate person is instantly endowed with many of the rights and protections of personhood. Itís neither male nor female, doesnít breathe or eat, canít be enslaved, canít give birth, can live forever, doesnít fear prison, and canít be executed if found guilty of misdoings. It can cut off parts of itself and turn them into new ďpersons,Ē and can change its identity in a day, and can have simultaneous residence in many different nations. It is not a human but a creation of humans. Nonetheless, the new corporation gets many of the Constitutional protections Americaís founders gave humans in the Bill of Rights to protect them against governments or other potential oppressors:

  • Free speech, including freedom to influence legislation
  • Protection from searches, as if their belongings were intensely personal
  • Fifth Amendment protections against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, even when a clear crime has been committed;
  • The shield of the nationís due process and anti-discrimination laws
  • The benefit of the Constitutional Amendments that freed the slaves and gave them equal protection under the law.

"Even more, although they now have many of the same ďrightsĒ as you and I - and a few more - they donít have the same fragilities or responsibilities, either under the law or under the realities of biology.

"What most people donít realize is that this is a fairly recent agreement, a new cultural story, and it hasn't always been this way:

  • Traditional English, Dutch, French, and Spanish law didnít say companies are people
  • The U.S. Constitution wasnít written with that idea; corporations arenít even mentioned.
  • For Americaís first century, courts all the way up to the Supreme Court repeatedly said ďNo, corporations do not have the same rights as humans.Ē

"Itís only since 1886 that the Bill of Rights and the Equal Protection Amendment have been explicitly applied to corporations.

"Even more, corporate personhood was never formally enacted by any branch of the US government:

  • It was never voted by the public
  • It was never enacted by law
  • It was never even stated by a decision of the Supreme Court

"This last point will raise some eyebrows, because for a hundred years people have believed that the 1886 case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad did in fact include the statement ďCorporations are persons.Ē But this book will show that this was never stated by the Court: it was added by the reporter who wrote the introduction to the decision, called ďheadnotes.Ē And as any law student knows, headnotes have no legal standing.

"This book is about how that happened and what itís meant as events have unfolded. And, like most things that are bent from their original intention, there have been many far-reaching consequences that were never intended. Constitutional mechanisms that were designed to protect humans got turned inside out, so today they do a much better job of protecting corporations, even when the result is harm to humans and other forms of life."

. . .

"The essence of this book is the history of the corporation in America, its conflicts with democracy, and how corporate values and powers have come to dominate our world, for better or worse. Along the way over the past two centuries, those playing the corporate game at the very highest levels seem to have won a victory for themselves - a victory that is turning bitter in the mouths of many of the six billion humans on planet Earth. Itís even turning bitter, in unexpected ways, for those who won it, as they find their own lives and families touched by an increasingly toxic environment, fragile and top-heavy economy, and hollow culture - all traceable back to the frenetic systems of big business that resulted from the doctrine that corporations are persons.

"Corporations do much good in the world, and in my lifetime Iíve started more than a dozen corporations, both for-profit and non-profit. So itís important to say right up front that in this book Iím not advocating dismantling the modern business corporation. Itís a societal and business organizing system that has, in many ways, served us well, and has the potential to do much good in the future, along with other business systems such as guilds and partnerships.

"What I am suggesting, however, is that we should put corporations into their rightful context and place, as they had largely been until 1886. They are not human, even though they are owned and managed by humans. They are an agreement, not a living being. Corporations are just one of many methods humans can use to exchange goods, earn wealth, and create innovation; itís simply not appropriate that this single form should be granted ďpersonhoodĒ at a similar level to humans under the United States Constitution or that of any other nation that aspires to democracy."

Table of Contents of Unequal Protection

Part 1 The Nature of Community, Values, and Government
Chapter 1 The Values We Choose to Live by
Chapter 2 Banding Together for the Common Good: Corporations, Government, and the Commons
Part 2 From the Birth of American Democracy Through the Birth of Corporate Personhood
Chapter 3 The Boston Tea Party Revealed
Chapter 4 Jefferson's Dream: the Bill of Rights
Chapter 5 The Early Role of Corporations in America
Chapter 6 The Deciding Moment
Chapter 7 The Corporate Conquest of America
Chapter 8 Transnational Corporations: the Ghost of the East India Company Rises Again
Part 3 Unequal Consequences
Chapter 9 Unequal Uses for the Bill of Rights
Chapter 10 Unequal Regulation
Chapter 11 Unequal Protection from Risk
Chapter 12 Unequal Taxes
Chapter 13 Unequal Responsibility for Crime
Chapter 14 Unequal Privacy
Chapter 15 Unequal Citizenship and Access to the Commons
Chapter 16 Unequal Wealth
Chapter 17 Unequal Trade
Chapter 18 Unequal Media
Chapter 19 Unequal Influence
Chapter 20 Capitalists and Americans Speak Out for Community
Part 4 Restoring Democracy as the Founders Imagined
Chapter 21 End Corporate Personhood
Chapter 22 A New Entrepreneurial Boom
Chapter 23 A Democratic Marketplace
Chapter 24 Restoring the Global Dream of Government of, by, and for the People
Chapter 25 Our First Steps Forward
Postscript: A Message from A President of the United States
Revoking Corporate Personhood FAQ
Model Ordinances to Rescind Corporate Personhood
Constitutional Amendments for Each State

About Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartman is the author of more than a dozen books, an international relief worker and a psychotherapist, a former business and marketing consultant, and the founder and former CEO of seven corporations that have generated over a quarter-billion dollars in revenue. The father of three grown chiildren, he lives in central Vermont with his wife, Louise.

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