The personhood of a corporation has been under much
scrutiny in light of
Supreme Court decisions concerning
corporate contributions to political campaigns as free speech
and exemptions to the affordable care act as religious
freedom. Many feel the Supreme Court is creating a culture
where corporations are extended constitutional rights just as
an individual person is afforded those rights.

It is not fully known when Supreme Court justices first saw
corporations as people. We can track this belief as far back
as 1819 in the case of
Dartmouth College v. Woodward. The
issue whether or not the college was a public or private
institution.

Dartmouth had been granted a charter in 1769, which was
prior to the Revolutionary War. The King of England spelled
out the purpose of the church and a structure to govern it as a
private institution of learning. In 1816 the legislature of the
state of New Hampshire passed laws that revised the schools
charter, changing it from private to public and devised a new
way to elect trustees. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the 5-
1 majority view that corporations, including Dartmouth
College, were made up of people who do not give away their
individual rights when they come together in a legal
association, in other words a corporation, just because some
people feel it does not meet the philosophical definition of
personhood. Marshall contended that a corporation is made
up of people with individual rights and those rights carry
through to the corporation itself.

To put this in simple terms, a news organization such as the
New York Times is extended the same freedom of the press
rights as its individual reporters because each of the
shareholders possesses the right to a free press.

Chief Justice Morrison Waite affirm this viewpoint specifically
in 1886 when he said, "The Court does not wish to hear
argument on the question whether the provision in the
Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution which forbids a
state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws applies to these corporations. We are
all of opinion that it does."

Although these early cases involve corporations that were
primarily held by owners residing within the same state the
Waite decision clearly indicates the court felt that state laws
and constitutions could not infringe upon a corporation to any
degree beyond that which was permitted by the Constitution
of the United States as it related to individual rights

Related items:
About Corporate Structures
When did corporations
became people?