In 1773 some residents of Boston dumped tea from a ship into the harbor. In a sense they were objecting to the special treatment being given to a large corporation by the British government. Among the many grievances that the residents of the Colonies had was they had no representation in setting this corporate give-away.
Not fully understanding the situation 3,000 miles away, Parliament kept making matters worse with more restrictive laws and sending more troops to defend British (East India Company) interests. In 1775 the Colonists fought back, often against great odds. In 1776, the Continental Congress, a collection of insurgents, wrote their Declaration of Independence. We celebrate the anniversary of its signing this weekend.
In addition to not providing all the promised independence to residents of the former colonies, women and slaves, the new government kept taking away the independence of the people who had lived for centuries to the west. Some called it Manifest Destiny, that is, a God-given right to do so.
One would think this government would be satisfied when its territory went from coast to coast. In 1887 whites in Hawaii forced a constitution upon King Kalakaua. After his death his sister Lili’uokalani became queen. In 1893 she was overthrown and replaced by the American Committee of Safety. On July 4, 1894, the Republic of Hawaii began with Sanford B. Dole as president. Dole, isn’t that the name of a large corporation? Didn’t the colonists of 1773 resist the influence of a large corporation?
This kind of dominance was not invented in the 18th century. Groups all around the world have been using arms or other means to influence other groups or take away their independence.
Egypt and Babylon fought each other to control the land between them. Alexander pushed all the way into Afghanistan and India. The Romans conquered people from the Middle East to Britain. The Turks pushed into Constantinople and farther west. The Mongols pushed as far west as the gates of Moscow and Vienna.
The Celts moved out of central Europe in every direction starting with the Iron Age. Did the people of Ireland that they pushed out become the fairies and leprechauns? Then the Anglo-Saxons pushed the Celts out of Britain. Then the Scandinavians invaded Britain and Ireland and became assimilated. This also led to the Scandinavians who ruled in France (the Normans) claiming title to the kingship of England.
In the Western hemisphere the Incas, the Mayans, and the Aztecs ruled over large areas. In “The Last of the Mohicans”, James Fenimore Cooper had one of the characters being proud that the Lenni-Lenape fought others eastward until they reached the Atlantic. By the way, Lenni may mean “genuine, pure, real, or original”. Hm! That sounds like an early version of “Manifest Destiny”.
In Central America American fruit companies began exploiting the cheap labor in banana plantations. The first load was bought in Jamaica and sold in Boston in 1870 at a 1,000 percent profit, eleven times what the shipper paid for them! Even then, a dozen bananas sold for the price of two apples. American companies manipulated land-use laws in Central America, bought large tracts of land, and exploited the dispossessed local farmers. The mercenary army of the Cuyamel Fruit Company overthrew the elected president of Honduras in 1911-1912. The U.S. didn’t intercede because the elected president was too liberal and had too many debts to Great Britain.
How many politicians in the U.S. celebrated the Fourth of July and didn’t see the “beam in their own eye” of the American corporations taking away the independence of countries rich in various resources?
This still goes on. Overthrow the elected government of Peru because it is “socialistic” and install a general. Overthrow the elected government of Iran because of an oil price dispute and install an unelected Shah, and then get mad when the people declare their independence from the Shah. Send thousands and thousands of troops to Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq to support corrupt governments. Send military trainers to get government troops to fight insurgents. But who is training the lightly-armed insurgents? The insurgents are far more motivated to overthrow the government than the government troops are to support the government. And nobody knows how many government troops are insurgents biding their time.
Until the British called in the Hessians, they did have the advantage of speaking the same language as the insurgents. How many U.S. troops speak Arabic or the many languages of Afghanistan?
How did we get to this situation where we have lost our independence to large corporations funding elections as if they were persons?
We do need corporations for many of our goods and services. What would we do if Ford Motors stopped producing cars when Henry Ford died? Would we continue to have new Apple products when Steve Jobs died? One purpose of a corporation is to have an organization outlast its founders. A second is to have a large number of owners so that more capital can be raised. A third is to protect these owners from liability so they do not lose more money than they invested.
One could say this situation began with a court reporter’s note on an a judgment against a railroad company about taxation. The reporter added a note that corporations were persons and protected under the 14th amendment. The reporter was a former railroad company president. This didn’t make that judgment law, but it did set precedent.
Fortunately, courts like precedent because it gives them more to base their opinions on. We would be unhappy if the interpretation of law changed with each new judge. Bad precedent can eventually be overturned, but it would probably take a generation or two of judges.
How do we get our independence back from corporate rule? We have to vote in each and every election. Our votes only count if we cast them.
Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2015-07-02 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2015/07/01/5567_whose_independence_is_being_taken_by_who