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In the United States, corporations have the legal status of an individual person in many regards (corporate personhood), including:

These abilities apparently do not include the right to vote or become a citizen, despite common usage of the phrase "corporate citizen" when describing the corporate role in society.

There is a significant sentiment that allowing this "personhood" may have been a bad idea, and perhaps it should be done away with.

Historical Limitations

Up until the 1880s, corporations were limited as follows:

  • licenses revocable by state if charter exceeded or not fulfilled, or if the company misbehaved in some way
  • corporate management, owners, and stockholders personally liable for acts of the corporation; "just doing my job" was no more a valid excuse than "just following orders"
  • corporate directors had to come from among stockholders, and had to be a resident of the state
  • corporate HQ and meetings had to be located in the same state in which they did business
  • corporations could not own other corporations
  • corporations could not make any political contributions at all (a law to this effect was on the books in Wisconsin up until the 1940s)
  • corporations could not make charitable or civic donations unless related to the mission of their charter
  • all corporate records and documents had to be open to the state


Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people's masters.

Grover Cleveland, 4th State of the Union Address, 1888
Thomas Jefferson (info)