When did corporations start to become too big to fail? In the late 1800's

Wisconsin had a law that stated: "No corporation doing business in this state shall pay or contribute, or offer consent or agree to pay or contribute, directly or indirectly, any money, property, free service of its officers or employees or thing of value to any political party, organization, committee or individual for any political purpose whatsoever, or for the purpose of influencing legislation of any kind, or to promote or defeat the candidacy of any person for nomination, appointment or election to any political office." The penalty for any corporate official violating that law and getting cozy with politicians on behalf of a corporation was five years in prison and a substantial fine.

Prior to 1886, corporations were referred to in US law as "artificial persons,"

But after the Civil War, things began to change. In the last year of the war, on November 21, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln looked back on the growing power of the war-enriched corporations, and wrote the following thoughtful letter to his friend Colonel William F. Elkins:
"We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end. It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood. The best blood of the flower of American youth has been freely offered upon our country's altar that the nation might live. It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country.

"As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless."

Now corporation have become too big to fail. Just how powerful have corporations become? Scale is a telling measure. The biggest ones are so big that in 2001 fifty-three of the world's hundred largest economies were corporations and only forty-seven were nations. For example, the annual sales of Wal-Mart that year exceeded the gross domestic product of Sweden. And corporations are growing: Five years earlier, only fifty-one of the planet's biggest economies were corporations; since then corporate expansion crowded two more nations out of the Top 100. To apply another measure, an analysis of corporate earnings reports and government statistics shows that the combined revenues of just the fifty largest American corporations exceed the budgets of all governments in the United States combined—the federal government, the fifty states, and the thousands of local governments—by more than half.

full articles: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0101-07.htm
and: http://www.uuworld.org/2003/03/feature1a.html


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