The Relation Of Corporations To Public Morals -- By: Washington Gladden

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 052:208 (Oct 1895)
Article: The Relation Of Corporations To Public Morals
Author: Washington Gladden


The Relation Of Corporations To Public Morals1

Rev. Washington Gladden

The corporation is closely connected with the political, the industrial, the educational, and the religious interests of the people: its origin is political; it is a creature of legislation; and its work reaches out into the realms of production, of commerce and exchange, of learning, of philanthropy, of religion. Many of our great manufactories are conducted by corporations; all our railroad companies are corporations; so are our banks, our private charitable institutions, most of our colleges, and all of our churches. The question of the nature, the power, the limitations of corporations thus at once appears to be a question of the most vital and far-reaching importance. Our material prosperity may be said to be almost wholly in the keeping of these institutions; our intellectual development is largely dependent upon them, and it is easy to see that the standards of public morality must be powerfully affected, for good or ill, by their transactions.

What is a corporation? “A corporation,” says Judge Cooley, “is a body consisting of one or more natural persons, empowered by law to act as an individual, and continued by a succession of members. If it consist of but one member at a time it is a corporation sole, if of two or more it is a corporation aggregate. Bishops, parsons, and vicars of the Church of England are corporations sole, but in the United States few if any exist.”

The King of England is also a corporation sole; the

kingly powers and prerogatives which he assumes at his coronation are regarded as immortal; they do not die when the king dies; his successor is king as soon as the breath has left his body. “The king is dead! long live the king.” The English parson, in possession of the living of a parish, is also a corporation sole. The tithes are due to the office of the parson,—to the impersonal entity which is still holding the place, after the parson dies, and before his successor is inducted. These legal fictions, as Judge Cooley says, are not familiar to Americans; we know nothing of the existence of such an artificial person as the corporation sole. The corporation aggregate is, however, an everyday acquaintance; we can scarcely take a step in life that we do not encounter him; he is the servant of our convenience, the minister to our wants, the purveyor of our pleasures; and if, sometimes, his hand is laid heavily upon us, the pressure is so slow and gradual that we are scarcely aware of the source from which it comes.

Corporations are public or private. The government of a village or a city i...

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