Jennings Bryan to the 1912 Constitutional Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Ask yourself: Who
today would speak in such a manner? This is what William Jennings Bryan
had to say in 1912:
"The first thing to understand is the difference between the
natural person and the fictitious person, called the corporation. They differ in the
purpose in which they are created, in the strength which they possess, and in the
restraints under which they act. Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to
carry out a Divine purpose. The corporation is the handiwork of man and was created to
carry out a money-making policy. There is comparatively little difference in the strength
of men. A corporation may be one hundred, one thousand, or even one million times stronger
than the average man. Man acts under the restraints of conscience, and is influenced also
by a belief in the future life. A corporation has no soul and cares nothing about the
They found that the Ohio Supreme Court stripped Standard Oil of Ohio
of its charter for monopolizing the oil industry. The Standard Oil Trust fled to New
Jersey, the Delaware of its day. And Standard Oil wasn’t alone. The Ohio state legislature
and courts had stripped dozens and dozens of corporations of their charters for
wrongdoing. Don’t do as we tell you and you’re out!
They found that the much ballyhooed Sherman Antitrust Act was a bone
thrown to activists. The act was named after John Sherman, the Senator from Ohio. This is
Senator Sherman urging his fellow members of the Senate to pass his legislation into law:
The people "are feeling the power and grasp of these combinations, and are demanding
of every [state] legislature and of Congress a remedy for this evil, only grown into huge
proportions in recent times. . .You must heed their appeal, or be ready for the socialist,
the communist, and the nihilist. . .Society is now disturbed by forces never felt before.
The popular mind is agitated with problems that may disturb the social order. Among these,
none is more threatening than the inequality of condition, wealth and opportunity"
that has emerged from "the concentration of capital in vast combinations to control
production and trade and to break down competition."
Coleridge and his friends pulled together this information in a
nifty little booklet called: Citizens Over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in
Ohio and Challenges to Organizing in the Future. "Corporations are
a different kind of creation," Coleridge told us recently. "There is no surprise
that corporations have ended up working against the human interest and against the common
So Greg, if not corporations, what? "If we
can ever get to the point of asking that question, we will have moved forward,"
Coleridge says. "Just as fish think water is necessary for existence, human beings
have come to see corporations as necessary to economic existence. It is so much accepted
as a given that we don’t tend to believe that there is any other way." Right
now, Grossman, Coleridge and like minded activists around have a lot of questions and few
answers. They are busy researching how we got ourselves into this soup — from a situation
where we controlled corporations, to where corporations are controlling us. For
his part, Coleridge is not ashamed to admit that he doesn’t know the answer to corporate
power. "The corporate culture is a century or more in the making," he said.
"It is going to take a few years for us collectively and democratically to understand
where we are, how we got here, and how to turn it around."
[Greg Coleridge can be reached at the American Friends Service
Committee, 330-253-7151, Humanity House, 513 West Exchange St., Akron, OH 44302.]
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate
Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational
Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the
Attack on Democracy. For more information, see <http://www.corporatepredators.org>.