Cover image for We the corporations : how American businesses won their civil rights / Adam Winkler.
We the corporations : how American businesses won their civil rights / Adam Winkler.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Liveright Publishing Corporation, a Division of W.W. Norton & Company, [2018]
Physical Description:
xxiv, 471 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Introduction : Are corporations people? -- Part one. Corporate origins. In the beginning, America was a corporation -- Part two. The birth of corporate rights. The first corporate rights case -- The corporation's lawyer -- Part three. Property rights, not liberty rights. The conspiracy for corporate rights -- The corporate criminal -- Property, not politics -- Part four. The rise of liberty rights for corporations. Discrete and insular corporations -- Corporations, race, and civil rights -- The corporation's justice -- The triumph of corporate rights -- Conclusion : Corporate rights and wrongs -- Chronology of corporate rights.
Traces the two-hundred-year history of corporate America's battle to achieve constitutional freedom from federal control, examining the civil rights debates and key events that shaped the controversial 2010 Supreme Court decision to extend constitutional protections to businesses.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
346.73066 WIN Book Adult General Collection

On Order



We the Corporations chronicles the astonishing story of one of the most successful yet least well-known "civil rights movements" in American history. Hardly oppressed like women and minorities, business corporations, too, have fought since the nation's earliest days to gain equal rights under the Constitution--and today have nearly all the same rights as ordinary people.Exposing the historical origins of Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, Adam Winkler explains how those controversial Supreme Court decisions extending free speech and religious liberty to corporations were the capstone of a centuries-long struggle over corporate personhood and constitutional protections for business. Beginning his account in the colonial era, Winkler reveals the profound influence corporations had on the birth of democracy and on the shape of the Constitution itself. Once the Constitution was ratified, corporations quickly sought to gain the rights it guaranteed. The first Supreme Court case on the rights of corporations was decided in 1809, a half-century before the first comparable cases on the rights of African Americans or women. Ever since, corporations have waged a persistent and remarkably fruitful campaign to win an ever-greater share of individual rights.Although corporations never marched on Washington, they employed many of the same strategies of more familiar civil rights struggles: civil disobedience, test cases, and novel legal claims made in a purposeful effort to reshape the law. Indeed, corporations have often been unheralded innovators in constitutional law, and several of the individual rights Americans hold most dear were first secured in lawsuits brought by businesses.Winkler enlivens his narrative with a flair for storytelling and a colorful cast of characters: among others, Daniel Webster, America's greatest advocate, who argued some of the earliest corporate rights cases on behalf of his business clients; Roger Taney, the reviled Chief Justice, who surprisingly fought to limit protections for corporations--in part to protect slavery; and Roscoe Conkling, a renowned politician who deceived the Supreme Court in a brazen effort to win for corporations the rights added to the Constitution for the freed slaves. Alexander Hamilton, Teddy Roosevelt, Huey Long, Ralph Nader, Louis Brandeis, and even Thurgood Marshall all played starring roles in the story of the corporate rights movement.In this heated political age, nothing can be timelier than Winkler's tour de force, which shows how America's most powerful corporations won our most fundamental rights and turned the Constitution into a weapon to impede the regulation of big business.

Author Notes

Adam Winkler is a professor at UCLA School of Law, where he specializes in American constitutional law. His scholarship has been cited by the Supreme Court of the United States and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New Republic, Atlantic, Slate, and Scotusblog.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist and law professor Winkler (Gunfight) evenhandedly traces key interactions between the Supreme Court and U.S. corporations to demonstrate how the controversial Citizens United decision was merely "the most recent manifestation of a long, and long overlooked, corporate rights movement." Winkler starts his history in colonial America, showing how corporations such as the Virginia Company and Massachusetts Bay Company shaped American life from the very start. The rest of the book focuses on pivotal Supreme Court decisions, from 1809's Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, over the corporate right to sue, through 2014's Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., over religious rights. Winkler's research is impressively thorough and wide-ranging, including original court records and news coverage as well as other historians' analyses and interpretations. His argument is well supported throughout. Historical personages, from the well-known (Andrew Jackson, Henry Ford) to the more obscure (Roscoe Conkling, Charles Evan Hughes) to the downright surprising (Cecil B. DeMille), make appearances. He somewhat overstuffs the book with facts and backstory, some of which are only tangential to his project, but all are worthy of attention. Winkler employs an evocative, fast-paced storytelling style, making for an entertaining and enlightening book that will likely complicate the views of partisans on both sides of the issue. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

BEHEMOTH: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World, by Joshua B. Freeman. (Norton, $27-95-) Freeman traces two centuries of factory production around the world in ways that are accessible, cogent, occasionally riveting and entirely new. The book should be required for all Americans. A FALSE REPORT: A True Story of Rape in America, by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. (Crown, $28.) This is the story of a rape investigation - plainly and expertly told - in which the victim is bullied into recanting her story before evidence surfaces, years later, to prove she was telling the truth all along. RISE AND KILL FIRST: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations, by Ronen Bergman. (Random House, $35.) Bergman's fast-paced account of Israel's program to assassinate its enemies raises troubling moral and practical questions but also demonstrates that the tactic can be a highly effective tool against terrorist groups. WE THE CORPORATIONS: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights, by Adam Winkler. (Liveright, $28.95.) A law professor recounts the history of American companies' radical efforts to shape the law, with the result, he writes, that "today corporations have nearly all the same rights as individuals." THE FRIEND, by Sigrid Nunez. (Riverhead, $25.) The narrator of Nunez's wry novel inherits a Great Dane after her friend and mentor, an aging author, commits suicide. The novel suggests that something larger than writerly passion has been lost in our culture, but itself serves as a tribute to the values it holds dear. WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE? Essays, by Marilynne Robinson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) The novelist's latest collection, featuring talks she gave over the past three years, elaborates an eloquent defense of America's democratic traditions and institutions, with a special focus on public universities, whose original mission, she reminds us, was to "democratize privilege." ETERNAL LIFE, by Dara Horn. (Norton, $25.95.) What are the downsides of living forever? Horn explores this idea through the story of Rachel, who has been alive for 2,000 years and is getting a little tired of it. "The hard part isn't living forever," she says. "It's making life worth living." BEAR AND WOLF, written and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. (Enchanted Lion, $17.95; ages 4 to 8.) Gorgeous, serene and philosophical, this picture book by the illustrator of "Dragons Love Tacos" features animal friends on a winter night's walk. THE RABBIT LISTENED, written and illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld. (Dial, $17.99; ages 4 to 8.) In this wonderful picture book, little Taylor's block tower falls. Everyone who passes gives advice, but a silent rabbit offers what's really needed: an understanding ear. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Library Journal Review

Are corporations "persons?" Do they have rights akin to humans? Is this question absurd? If you answered the first two questions in the affirmative, you are correct, at least according to U.S. Supreme Court rulings culminating in the relatively recent (2010)-and highly controversial-Citizens United case. And if you answered yes to the third question, you would not be alone. Prominent legal scholars and jurists, most notably Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her vehement dissent, take issue with the notion that corporations should be on equal footing with actual people when it comes to the extension of rights. In this fascinating study, UCLA law professor Winkler (Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right To Bear Arms in America) illuminates the evolution of this peculiar idea. Accordingly, he explicates the history of corporations and jurisprudence and explores how capitalism and civil rights have shaped judicial thinking. Moreover, he identifies prominent players, such as Daniel Webster, Roger Taney, Lewis Powell, and Thurgood Marshall. VERDICT Eminently readable and entertaining, this work is highly recommended for fans of Corporations and American Democracy, edited by Naomi R. Lamoreaux and William J. Novak. [See Prepub Alert, 8/21/17.]-Lynne Maxwell, West Virginia Univ. Coll. of Law Lib., Morgantown © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Are Corporations people?p. xiii
Part 1 Corporate Origins
Chapter 1 In the Beginning, America Was a Corporationp. 3
Part 2 The Birth of Corporate Rights
Chapter 2 The First Corporate Rights Casep. 35
Chapter 3 The Corporation's Lawyerp. 71
Part 3 Property Rights, Not Liberty Rights
Chapter 4 The Conspiracy for Corporate Rightsp. 113
Chapter 5 The Corporate Criminalp. 161
Chapter 6 Property, Not Politicsp. 191
Part 4 The Rise of Liberty Rights for Corporations
Chapter 7 Discrete and Insular Corporationsp. 231
Chapter 8 Corporations, Race, and Civil Rightsp. 256
Chapter 9 The Corporation's Justicep. 279
Chapter 10 The Triumph of Corporate Rightsp. 324
Conclusion: Corporate Rights and Wrongsp. 377
Acknowledgmentsp. 397
Chronology of Corporate Rightsp. 399
Notesp. 405
Creditsp. 445
Indexp. 449