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The wisdom of this traditional English legal institution found its way to America through Blackstone's , which was assiduously studied by lawyers of the founding generation and by many of the founders themselves.Understandably, the founders chose to preserve England's legal tradition in substantial form; for all the new things they created, the founders could not invent, by themselves, an entirely new system of legal principles.
The number of public corporations in the United States has been in decline for almost twenty years.
Alternative forms of organization, from LLCs and benefit corporations to Linux and Wikipedia, provide robust competition to traditional corporations, while short-lived, project-based enterprises that assemble supply chains from available parts are increasingly cost effective.
They're pointing out that, though corporations may not be natural persons — that is, discrete, individual human beings whose rights somehow originate in nature — corporations nevertheless are and should be entitled to certain legal and constitutional rights.
This is not to say that corporate rights operate in the same way as do the rights of natural persons.
Yet our understanding of corporate governance has not kept pace with the new organization of the economy and we continue to treat the public corporation with dispersed ownership as the default form of doing business.
Meanwhile, many of the corporations going public in recent years have abandoned traditional standards of corporate governance and give their founders extraordinary voting shares that effectively guarantee their control in perpetuity.It is therefore not surprising to find that Blackstone's understanding of corporations as legal persons were echoed by the great lawyers and jurists of the founding generation.In Alexander Hamilton's , James Wilson offered an even more complete restatement of Blackstone's account.Without the corporate form, an association of individuals could not make binding rules to govern its members or internal structure.Without certain rights, it could not hold property indefinitely as an association — the death of the association's members would mean the death of the association.They have been since the beginning of the American republic, making corporate personhood deeply rooted in our legal and constitutional tradition.When conservatives point out, as Mitt Romney notably did in his presidential campaign, that corporations are and should be considered people for certain purposes, they're pointing out what the left seems to have forgotten.Its roots stretch all the way back through the history of American law and deep into the English common-law tradition.That tradition was captured most comprehensively — and communicated to the American founders most forcefully — by William Blackstone's .Without granting corporations certain rights, individuals could not securely create an association that would have a life, an identity, and a mission that could continue from one generation to the next.Blackstone's account importantly teaches us that legal recognition of corporations is not limited to the for-profit kind.