Corporate Power Grab Historical Timeline
The version of the browser you are using is no longer supported. Please upgrade to a supported browser.Dismiss

View only
Start DateEnd DateHeadlineTextMediaMedia CreditMedia CaptionMedia ThumbnailTypeTag
2/23/2013Corporate Rights and Power Historical Timeline From the Ultimate Civics "Organizing for Change" manual and the "Rethinking Democracy" high school curriculum.Video posted by FluxRostrum<a href="" title='Corporate Power Grab Historical Timeline , on Youtube'>Corporate Power Grab Historical Timeline </a>title
1/1/1776Revolutionary War begins
1/1/1789*The US ConstitutionThe writers of the Constitution were very interested in protecting their property. Without using the words “slave” or “slavery,” they made slavery legal and institutionalized it. “No person held in Service or Labour in one State,… escaping into another, shall… be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” [Art. 4, Sec. 2]
1/1/1791*Bill of RightsThe first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were adopted to protect We the People from excesses of government. At this time, We the People meant only white males who owned property and were over 21 years old. The states decided how much property must be owned to qualify to vote or run for office. (New Jersey women who met property and residency requirements could vote when the Constitution was ratified, but the state revoked that right in 1807.)
1/1/1803*Marbury v. MadisonThis case established the concept of judicial review. The Supreme Court ruled that they were Supreme and Congress did not contest it. This gave them the power to make law, a duty assigned exclusively to the Congress in the Constitution. “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers…” [Art. 1, Sec. 8]
1/1/1819*Dartmouth College v. WoodwardA corporate charter is ruled to be a contract and can’t be altered by government. The word “corporation” does not appear in the Constitution: This ruling gives a corporation standing in the Constitution. It made it difficult for government to control corporations, so states began to write controls into the charters they granted.
1/1/1857Dred Scott v. StanfordSupreme Court decides that Americans of African descent are not citizens; that they have no standing and could not sue in federal court; and that Congress lacked authority to ban slavery in U.S. territories – lands not yet states. Slaves are “not citizens of any state” and “have no rights a court must respect.” Instead of settling the slavery question, the ruling increased tensions.

The ruling made the Missouri Compromise of 1821, an act of Congress, unconstitutional; triggered the financial panic of 1857 in northern states invested in westward expansion; divided the Democratic Party along sectional lines; encouraged Southern secessionists; and strengthened the Republican Party.

Dred Scott and his family were emancipated in May 1857, after 11 years of legal battles, when his owner’s widow moved and married a Massachusetts abolitionist.
1/1/1861Civil War begins
1/1/186513th AmendmentCongress abolishes slavery in the U.S. and any place subject to its jurisdiction. This amendment changed the Constitution, Art. 4, Sec. 2.
1/1/1868*14th AmendmentCongress recognizes black males as citizens of the USA: “...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
1/1/187015th AmendmentCongress recognizes black males have the right to vote. “The right of citizens... to vote shall not be denied or abridged... on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
1/1/1872Susan B. Anthony casts first woman’s voteSusan B. Anthony casts first woman’s vote at polls justifying her right to vote on the 14th Amendment. The case never went to the Supreme Court, but she was found guilty in a lower court.
1/1/1874Minor v. HappersettWomen argued that under the 14th Amendment equal protection clause, the U.S. Constitution established that their right to vote could not be denied by the state. The Supreme Court rejected this stating that the 14th Amendment was only intended to apply to black males.
1/1/1877Great Railroad Strike of 1877Rail workers across the nation went out on strike in response to a 10-percent pay cut. “The power of money has become supreme over everything. It has secured for the class who control it all the special privileges and special legislation, which it needs to secure its complete and absolute domination. … This Power must be kept in check. It must be broken or it will utterly crush the people.” (The New York Sun, quoted in Philip S. Foner, The Great Labor Uprising of 1877, p. 7.)
1/1/1884Union Pacific Railroad StrikeThe Knights of Labor was the largest American labor organizations in the 1880s. The Knights promoted the social and cultural uplift of the workingman, rejected Socialism and radicalism, demanded the eight-hour day, and promoted the ethic of sovereign free people with inalienable human rights. This strike was its greatest victory, but lost membership and popular support when the Haymarket Riot two years later turned violent.
1/1/1885Great Southwest Railroad StrikeOver 200,000 railroad workers conducted an unsuccessful strike against railroads owned by Jay Gould, one of the most ruthless industrialists of the day. The failure of the strike led directly to the collapse of the Knights of Labor and the formation of the American Federation of Labor.
1/1/1886Haymarket MassacreIt began as a rally in support of workers. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed the public meeting. Extreme tensions between working and business class people fueled the tragedy that ensued. The Haymarket Massacre is widely considered significant for the origin of international May Day observances for workers.
1/1/1886American Federation of Labor FoundedThe AFL and its predecessor are best known for organizing the most durable union federation in U.S. history, providing an effective approach for improving wages, hours and working conditions of its members.
1/1/1886*Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific RailroadThough the court did not rule on whether “corporate persons” were considered persons under the 14th Amendment, the decision subsequently was cited to affirm that a “corporate person” was entitled to equal protection under the law. Justices have since struck down hundreds of local, state and federal laws enacted to protect people from corporate harm based on this illegitimate premise.
1/1/1894Pullman and Great Northern StrikeA nationwide conflict between labor union and railroads erupted when some 3,000 Pullman workers called a wildcat strike in response to pay cuts. The strike halted traffic west of Chicago. The American Railway Union, the nation’s first industry-wide union, launched a boycott in solidarity. The New York Times described the strike as “a struggle between the greatest and most important labor organization and the entire railroad capital” that involved some 250,000 workers in 27 states at its peak. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 six days after the strike ended when President Grover Cleveland and Congress made appeasement of organized labor a top priority.
1/1/1896Plessy v. FergusonSupreme Court rules that state laws enforcing segregation by race are constitutional if separate accommodations are equal. Black males effectively lost 14th Amendment rights and much access to the “white world.” Plessy legalized “Jim Crow” laws.
1/1/1896*Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. ChicagoThis case marked the first time that the Court applied a specific provision of the Bill of Rights – the “just compensation” requirement of the 5th Amendment – to the states. This approach set the stage for further usurpation of other Bill of Rights provisions by “corporate persons.”
The federal and state power of eminent domain was later expanded to include local governments or a private person or corporation authorized to exercise functions of public character.
1/1/1905Lochner v. New York“Lochner” became shorthand for using the Constitution to invalidate government regulation of the corporation. From 1905 until the mid 1930s the Court invalidated approximately 200 economic regulations, usually under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.
1/1/1906*Hale v. HenkelCorporations get 4th Amendment “search and seizure” protection. Dissenter Justice Harlan wrote: “...the power of the government, by its representatives, to look into the books, records and papers of a corporation of its own creation, to ascertain whether that corporation has obeyed or is defying the law, will be greatly curtailed, if not destroyed.”
1/1/1907*Hunter v. PittsburgSupreme Court sanctions Dillon’s Rule, maintaining that municipalities have no rights that are not specifically granted by the state legislature. Dillon’s Rule is used in 39 states to divest people of local governing authority and to preempt people from adopting laws to protect health, safety, welfare, and the environment from corporate assaults permitted by state.
1/1/191317th AmendmentCongress decides that the U.S. Senate is elected by the people, instead of appointed by state governments.
1/1/1917U.S. enters World War I
1/1/1919*Dodge v. Ford Motor Co.Michigan Supreme Court says, “A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stock-holders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end.” “Stockholder primacy” is established: by law, corporations exist to make money for their shareholders. This is still the leading case on corporate purpose.
1/1/1920*19th AmendmentCongress finally recognizes women’s right to vote after 75 years of struggle. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
1/1/1922*Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. MahonCorporations get 5th Amendment “takings clause”: “...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” A regulation is deemed a “takings” because the cost of complying with safety, health, and environmental laws decreases corporate profits.
1/1/1933Louis K. Liggett Co. v. LeeThe people of Florida passed a law that levied higher taxes on chain stores. The Supreme Court overturned the law citing the due process and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the Interstate Commerce clause.
Justice Brandeis dissents: “The prevalence of the corporation in America has led men of this generation to act, at times, as if the privilege of doing business in corporate form were inherent in the citizen; and has led them to accept the evils attendant upon the free and unrestricted use of the corporate mechanism as if these evils were the inescapable price of civilized life, and hence to be borne with resignation. Throughout the greater part of our history a different view prevailed.”
1/1/1935National Labor Relations Act
1/1/1941U.S. enters World War II
1/1/1947Taft-Hartley ActCorporations are granted “free speech” in the union certification process, usurping the worker’s right to “freedom of association” and greatly weakening the Labor Relations Act of 1935.
1/1/1954*Brown v. Board of EducationPublic schools cannot be racially segregated. Often said to have overturned Plessy. Supreme Court recognizes that separate is not equal.
1/1/1963U.S. ground troops in Vietnam War
1/1/1964*24th AmmendmentPoll taxes, which were used to keep Blacks and others from voting in some states, were abolished. “The right... to vote ... shall not be denied... by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
1/1/1970sSeries of laws to protect the environment, worker safety, and public healthExamples are the Clean Water Act, the Clean Water Act (amendments), The Toxic Substances Control Act, The U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, The Eastern Wilderness Act, The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (amended), The Endangered Species Act, The Marine Mammal Protection Act, The Resource Recovery Act, the first Fuel Economy Standards for cars, and The Occupational Safety & Health Act. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed.
1/1/1971Powell MemoCorporate backlash to control 1960s and 1970s popular movements for social and environmental reforms, perceived as an “attack on the American free enterprise system.
1/1/197126th AmendmentCongress changes voting age from 21 to 18 years of age. Congress ratified the amendment in four months under pressure from students to recognize that if 18-year-olds could be drafted into military service, they should be allowed to vote.
1/1/1973Roe v. WadeSupreme Court rules that state statutes against abortion are vague and infringe on a woman’s 9th and 14th Amendment rights to privacy. Abortion is legalized in the first trimester of pregnancy.
1/1/1976*Buckley v. ValeoThe Supreme Court rules that political money is equivalent to speech. This ruling made contributions to candidates or parties a constitutionally protected right of free speech.
1/1/1978*First National Bank of Boston v. BellottiThe First Amendment is used to overturn state restrictions on corporate spending on political referenda. The Court reverses its longstanding policy of denying such rights to non-media business corporations. This precedent is used, with Buckley v. Valeo, to thwart attempts to remove corporate money from politics.
Dissent by Justices White, Brennan, Marshall: “...the special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only our economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process... The state need not allow its own creation to consume it.” Rehnquist also dissented: “The blessings of perpetual life and limited beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere.”
1/1/1986*Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. Public Utilities CommissionSupreme Court decided that PG&E was not required to allow a consumer advocacy group to use the extra space in their billing envelope, upholding the corporation’s right not to speak and protecting the corporation’s “freedom of mind.” Dissenting Justices Rehnquist, White, Stevens: “To ascribe to such entities an ‘intellect’ or ‘mind’ for freedom of conscience purposes, is to confuse metaphor with reality.”
1/1/1996*International Dairy Foods Association v. AmestoyU.S. Appeals Court, Second Circuit, overturns Vermont law that required GMO labeling of state dairy products containing bovine growth hormone. Court applies corporate right not to speak to political & commercial speech, and to statements of fact & opinions; this eliminates truth in labeling, ads & campaigns. Ruling grants corporations the right to silence people’s right to know – an inalienable right under the 1st Amendment.

Case represents conflicting claims under 1st Amendment: the community right-to-know under SARA Title III versus the corporate right to remain silent and not provide accurate, factual information. Case highlights the immoral arrangement of granting human rights to artificial entities.

Judge Altamari dissents: The… 1st Amendment, in its application to commercial speech, is to favor the flow of accurate, relevant information. The majority's [use] of the 1st Amendment to invalidate a state law requiring disclosure of information consumers reasonably desire stands the [1st] Amendment on its ear.
1/1/2001PATRIOT ActEnacted by Pres. Bush in the early stages of the “War on Terrorism” after the Sept. 11 disaster, the Act violates the civil liberties and privacy of individuals. It allows the government to spy on citizens by searching phones, financial records, and more to determine if someone is a terrorist. It authorizes indefinite detention without trial of non-U.S. citizens suspected of being terrorists until the “War on Terrorism” finished. Originally scheduled to expire, key provisions were renewed in 2011.
1/1/2003Nike v. KaskyThe Supreme Court heard arguments on whether purposeful untruths in advertising are protected political speech before sending the case back to a California court where it was settled in Kasky’s favor, finding that the state laws requiring truth in advertising had been violated. The question of whether the 1st Amendment gives a corporation the right to speak lies remains unsettled.
1/1/2010*Citizens United v. Federal Election CommissionSupreme Court enshrines corporate political spending on campaign advertisements as constitutionally protected of “free speech” as long as those communications are not formally coordinated with any candidate. The ruling overturned laws restricting corporate money in federal elections and reversed a hundred-year precedent of Congressional authority to regulate federal elections. Dissenting Justice Stevens wrote: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding… It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
1/1/2010* v. Federal Election CommissionU.S. District Court of Appeals extends Citizens United, decriminalizing money laundering. Independent-expenditure (Super) PACs could accept unlimited contributions from individuals as well as corporations and unions – without disclosing donor names.
1/1/2011Wal-Mart v. DukesSupreme Court rules that employees can only bring class action suits if there is proof a company has a policy of paying less to women or minorities. Statistics showing that a company’s female workers earn far less and get fewer promotions than men will not suffice.
“Proof” means actual paycheck stubs. Submitting “proof” subjects workers to harassment, intimidation, and job termination.
1/1/2011Occupy Wall StreetAccording to Yes! magazine’s book This Changes Everything, “The Occupy Wall Street movement names the core issue of our time: the overwhelming power of Wall Street and large corporations – something the political establishment and most media have long ignored. But the movement goes far beyond this critique… (it) is shifting the way people view themselves and the world, the kind of society they believe is possible, and their own involvement in creating a society that works for the 99% rather than just the 1%.” History is being written as this movement evolves.
1/1/2011National Defense Authorization ActCongress passes this act every year to monitor the budget for the Department of Defense. However, 2011 reauthorization is an extension of the PATRIOT Act. It extends indefinite detention to U.S. citizens. People spied on and suspected of being terrorists may be whisked away anywhere in the world and detained indefinitely without trial. The Act is unconstitutional as it violates the 4th Amendment (liberty from unreasonable seizures), the 5th Amendment (due process), and the 6th Amendment (right to a trial in front of a jury).
4/2/2014McCutcheon v. FECSupreme Court strikes down limits on overall campaign contributions that wealthy persons may make to candidates, political parties, and PACs. Court claims aggregate limits do not act to prevent corruption.

Justice Breyer dissents for minority: Taken together with Citizens United… [this] decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy…”

(Overall limits were $123,200, including a separate $48,600 cap on contributions to candidates. Overall contribution limits are gone.

However, base contribution limits are still intact. The maximum amount one donor can give each candidate is still $2,600 per election, or $5,200 counting the primary and general election. The maximum contribution to a national party committee is still $32,400, and the maximum per PAC contribution is still $5,000. This can still add up to millions of dollars per donor.)