CITES BY TOPIC:  corporation
PDF The Corporate Conception of the State and the Origins of Limited Constitutional Government-Washington University Journal of Law and Policy.  Vol. 6, Number 1, 2001
26 U.S.C. 7701(a)(3)

TITLE 26 > Subtitle F > CHAPTER 79 > 7701

7701. Definitions

(a) When used in this title, where not otherwise distinctly expressed or manifestly incompatible with the intent thereof—

(3) Corporation

The term “corporation” includes associations, joint-stock companies, and insurance companies.

28 U.S.C. 3002(15)(A)

United States Code





Sec. 3002. Definitions

(15) ''United States'' means -

(A) a Federal corporation;

(B) an agency, department, commission, board, or other entity of the United States; or

(C) an instrumentality of the United States.

New Orleans Gas Co. v. Louisiana Light Co., 115 U.S. 650 (1885):

The court held that the first company's charter was a contract between it and the state, within the protection of the constitution of the United States, and that the charter to the last company was therefore null and void., Mr. Justice DAVIS, delivering the opinion of the court, said that, if anything was settled by an unbroken chain of decisions in the federal courts, it was that an act of incorporation was a contract between the state and the stockholders, 'a departure from which now would involve dangers to society that cannot be foreseen, whould shock the sense of justice of the country, unhinge its business interests, and weaken, if not destroy, that respect which has always been felt for the judicial department of the government.'  

[New Orleans Gas Co. v. Louisiana Light Co., 115 U.S. 650 (1885)]

19 Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), Corporations 883 (2003) [Legal encyclopedia]

"A foreign corporation is one that derives its existence solely from the laws of another state, government, or country, and the term is used indiscriminately, sometimes in statutes, to designate either a corporation created by or under the laws of another state or a corporation created by or under the laws of a foreign country."

"A federal corporation operating within a state is considered a domestic corporation rather than a foreign corporation.  The United States government is a foreign corporation with respect to a state."  

[19 Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), Corporations, 883 (2003)]

19 Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), Corporations 886 (2003)[Legal encyclopedia]

"A corporation is a citizen, resident, or inhabitant of the state or country by or under the laws of which it was created, and of that state or country only."

[19 Corpus Juris Secundum (C.J.S.), Corporations, 886 (2003)]

Ngiraingas v. Sanchez, 495 U.S. 182 (1990):

At common law, a "corporation" was an "artificial perso[n] endowed with the legal capacity of perpetual succession" consisting either of a single individual (termed a "corporation sole") or of a collection of several individuals (a "corporation aggregate"). 3 H. Stephen, Commentaries on the Laws of England 166, 168 (1st Am. ed. 1845). The sovereign was considered a corporation. See id., at 170; see also 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries *467. Under the definitions supplied by contemporary law dictionaries, Territories would have been classified as "corporations" (and hence as "persons") at the time that 1983 was enacted and the Dictionary Act recodified. See W. Anderson, A Dictionary of Law 261 (1893) ("All corporations were originally modeled upon a state or nation"); 1 J. Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America 318-319 (11th ed. 1866) ("In this extensive sense the United States may be termed a corporation"); Van Brocklin v. Tennessee, 117 U.S. 151, 154 (1886) ("`The United States is a . . . great corporation . . . ordained and established by the American people'") (quoting United [495 U.S. 182, 202] States v. Maurice, 26 F. Cas. 1211, 1216 (No. 15,747) (CC Va. 1823) (Marshall, C. J.)); Cotton v. United States, 11 How. 229, 231 (1851) (United States is "a corporation"). See generally Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 561-562 (1819) (explaining history of term "corporation").

[Ngiraingas v. Sanchez, 495 U.S. 182 (1990)]

Bank of Augusta v. Earle, 38 U.S. (13 Pet.) 519; 10 L.Ed. 274 (1839):

"The States between each other are sovereign and independent.  They are distinct separate sovereignties, except so far as they have parted with some of the attributes of sovereignty by the Constitution. They continue to be nations, with all their rights, and under all their national obligations, and with all the rights of nations in every particular; except in the surrender by each to the common purposes and objects of the Union, under the Constitution.  The rights of each State, when not so yielded up, remain absolute."

"It is very true that a corporation can have no legal existence out of the boundaries of the sovereignty by which it is created.  It exists only in contemplation of law, and by force of the law; and where the law ceases to operate, and is no longer obligatory, the corporation can have no existence. It must dwell in the place of its creation, and cannot migrate to another sovereignty."

[Bank of Augusta v. Earle, 38 U.S. (13 Pet.) 519; 10 L.Ed. 274 (1839)]

Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge, 36 U.S. 420 (1837)

"Corporations are also of all grades, and made for varied objects; all governments are corporations, created by usage and common consent, or grants and charters which create a body politic for prescribed purposes; but whether they are private, local or general, in their objects, for the enjoyment of property, or the exercise of power, they are all governed by the same rules of law, as to the construction and the obligation of the instrument by which the incorporation is made. One universal rule of law protects persons and property. It is a fundamental principle of the common law of England, that the term freemen of the kingdom, includes 'all persons,' ecclesiastical and temporal, incorporate, politique or natural; it is a part of their magna charta (2 Inst. 4), and is incorporated into our institutions. The persons of the members of corporations are on the same footing of protection as other persons, and their corporate property secured by the same laws which protect that of individuals. 2 Inst. 46-7. 'No man shall be taken,' 'no man shall be disseised,' without due process of law, is a principle taken from magna charta, infused into all our state constitutions, and is made inviolable by the federal government, by the amendments to the constitution."

[Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of Warren Bridge, 36 U.S. 420 (1837)]

PDF Rundle v. Delaware & Raritan Canal Co., 55 U.S. 80 (1852)

Now, it has not been, and will not be, pretended, that this corporation can, in any sense, be identified with the United States, or is endowed with the privileges of the latter; or if it could be, it would clearly be exempted from all liability to be sued in the Federal courts. Nor is it pretended, that this corporation is a State of this Union; nor, being created by, and situated within, the State of New Jersey, can it be held to be the citizen or subject of a foreign State. It must be, then, under that part of the enumeration in the article quoted, which gives to the courts of the United States jurisdiction in controversies between citizens of different States, that either the Circuit Court or this court can take cognizance of the corporation as a party; and this is, in truth, the sole foundation on which that cognizance has been assumed, or is attempted to be maintained. The proposition, then, on which the authority of the Circuit Court and of this tribunal is based, is this: The Delaware and Raritan Canal Company is either a citizen of the United States, or it is a citizen of the State of New Jersey. This proposition, startling as its terms may appear, either to the legal or political apprehension, is undeniably the basis of the jurisdiction asserted in this case, and in all others of a similar character, and must be established, or that jurisdiction wholly fails. Let this proposition be examined a little more closely.

**17 The term citizen will be found rarely occurring in the writers upon English law; those writers almost universally adopting, as descriptive of those possessing rights or sustaining obligations, political or social, the term subject, as more suited to their peculiar local institutions. But, in the writers of other nations, and under systems of polity deemed less liberal than that of England, we find the term citizen familiarly reviving, and the character and the rights and duties that term implies, particularly defined. Thus, Vattel, in his 4th book, has a chapter, (cap. 6th,) the title of which is: ‘The concern a nation may have in the actions of her citizens.’ A few words from the text of that chapter will show the apprehension of this author in relation to this term. ‘Private persons,’ says he, ‘who are members of one nation, may offend and ill-treat the citizens of another; it remains for us to examine what share a state may have in the actions of her citizens, and what are the rights and obligations of sovereigns in that respect.’ And again: ‘Whoever uses a citizen ill, indirectly offends the state, which is bound to protect this citizen.’ The meaning of the term *98 citizen or subject, in the apprehension of English jurists, as indicating persons in their natural character, in contradistinction to artificial or fictitious persons created by law, is further elucidated by those jurists, in their treatises upon the origin and capacities and objects of those artificial persons designated by the name of corporations. Thus, Mr. Justice Blackstone, in the 18th chapter of his 1st volume, holds this language: ‘We have hitherto considered persons in their natural capacities, and have treated of their rights and duties. But, as all personal rights die with the person; and, as the necessary forms of investing a series of individuals, one after another, with the same identical rights, would be inconvenient, if not impracticable; it has been found necessary, when it is for the advantage of the public to have any particular rights kept on foot and continued, to constitute artificial persons, who maintain a perpetual succession, and enjoy a kind of legal immortality. These artificial persons are called corporations.’

This same distinguished writer, in the first book of his Commentaries, p. 123, says, ‘The rights of persons are such as concern and are annexed to the persons of men, and when the person to whom they are due is regarded, are called simply rights; but when we consider the person from whom they are due, they are then denominated, duties,’ And again, cap. 10th of the same book, treating of the PEOPLE, he says, ‘The people are either aliens, that is, born out of the dominions or allegiance of the crown; or natives, that is, such as are born within it.’ Under our own systems of polity, the term, citizen, implying the same or similar relations to the government and to society which appertain to the term, subject, in England, is familiar to all. Under either system, the term used is designed to apply to man in his individual character, and to his natural capacities; to a being, or agent, possessing social and political rights, and sustaining, social, political, and moral obligations. It is in this acceptation only, therefore, that the term, citizen, in the article of the Constitution, can be received and understood. When distributing the judicial power, that article extends it to controversies between citizens of different States. This must mean the natural physical beings composing those separate communities, and can, by no violence of interpretation, be made to signify artificial, incorporeal, theoretical, and invisible creations. A corporation, therefore, being not a natural person, but a mere creature of the mind, invisible and intangible, cannot be a citizen of a State, or of the United States, and cannot fall within the terms or the power of the above-mentioned article, and can therefore neither plead nor be impleaded in the courts of the United States. Against this position it may be urged, that the *99 converse thereof has been ruled by this court, and that this matter is no longer open for question. In answer to such an argument, I would reply, that this is a matter involving a construction of the Constitution, and that wherever the construction or the integrity of that sacred instrument is involved, I can hold myself trammelled by no precedent or number of precedents. That instrument is above all precedents; and its integrity every one is bound to vindicate against any number of precedents, if believed to trench upon its supremacy. Let us examine into what this court has propounded in reference to its jurisdiction in cases in which corporations have been parties; and endeavor to ascertain the influence that may be claimed for what they have heretofore ruled in support of such jurisdiction. The first instance in which this question was brought directly before this court, was that of the Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, 5 Cranch, 61. An examination of this case will present a striking instance of the error into which the strongest minds may be led, whenever they shall depart from the plain, common acceptation of terms, or from well ascertained truths, for the attainment of conclusions, which the subtlest ingenuity is incompetent to sustain. This criticism upon the decision in the case of the Bank v. Deveaux, may perhaps be shielded from the charge of presumptuousness, by a subsequent decision of this court, hereafter to be mentioned. In the former case, the Bank of the United States, a corporation created by Congress, was the party plaintiff, and upon the question of the capacity of such a party to sue in the courts of the United States, this court said, in reference to that question, ‘The jurisdiction of this court being limited, so far as respects the character of the parties in this particular case, to controversies between citizens of different States, both parties must be citizens, to come within the description. That invisible, intangible, and artificial being, that mere legal entity, a corporation aggregate, is certainly not a citizen, and consequently cannot sue or be sued in the courts of the United States, unless the rights of the members in this respect can be exercised in their corporate name. If the corporation be considered as a mere faculty, and not as a company of individuals, who, in transacting their business, may use a legal name, they must be excluded from the courts of the Union.’ The court having shown the necessity for citizenship in both parties, in order to give jurisdiction; having shown farther, from the nature of corporations, their absolute incompatibility with citizenship, attempts some qualification of these indisputable and clearly stated positions, which, if intelligible at all, must be taken as wholly subversive of the positions so laid down. After stating the requisite of citizenship, and showing that a *100 corporation cannot be a citizen, ‘and consequently that it cannot sue or be sued in the courts of the United States,’ the court goes on to add, ‘unless the rights of the members can be exercised in their corporate name.’ Now, it is submitted that it is in this mode only, viz. in their corporate name, that the rights of the members can be exercised; that it is this which constitutes the character, and being, and functions of a corporation. If it is meant beyond this, that each member, or the separate members, or a portion of them, can take to themselves the character and functions of the aggregate and merely legal being, then the corporation would be dissolved; its unity and perpetuity, the essential features of its nature, and the great objects of its existence, would be at an end. It would present the anomaly of a being existing and not existing at the same time. This strange and obscure qualification, attempted by the court, of the clear, legal principles previously announced by them, forms the introduction to, and apology for, the proceeding, adopted by them, by which they undertook to adjudicate upon the rights of the corporation, through the supposed citizenship of the individuals interested in that corporation. They assert the power to look beyond the corporation, to presume or to ascertain the residence of the individuals composing it, and to model their decision upon that foundation. In other words, they affirm that in an action at law, the purely legal rights, asserted by one of the parties upon the record, may be maintained by showing or presuming that these rights are vested in some other person who is no party to the controversy before them.

**18 Thus stood the decision of the Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, wholly irreconcilable with correct definition, and a puzzle to professional apprehension, until it was encountered by this court, in the decision of the Louisville and Cincinnati Railroad Company v. Letson, reported in 2 Howard, 497. In the latter decision, the court, unable to untie the judicial entanglement of the Bank and Deveaux, seem to have applied to it the sword of the conqueror; but, unfortunately, in the blow they have dealt at the ligature which perplexed them, they have severed a portion of the temple itself. They have not only contravened all the known definitions and adjudications with respect to the nature of corporations, but they have repudiated the doctrines of the civilians as to what is imported by the term subject or citizen, and repealed, at the same time, that restriction in the Constitution which limited the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States to controversies between ‘citizens of different States.’ They have asserted that, ‘a corporation created by, and transacting business in a State, is to be deemed an inhabitant of the State, capable of being treated *101 as a citizen, for all the purposes of suing and being sued, and that an averment of the facts of its creation, and the place of transacting its business, is sufficient to give the circuit courts jurisdiction.’

The first thing which strikes attention, in the position thus affirmed, is the want of precision and perspicuity in its terms. The court affirm that a corporation created by, and transacting business within a State, is to be deemed an inhabitant of that State. But the article of the Constitution does not make inhabitancy a requisite of the condition of suing or being sued; that requisite is citizenship. Moreover, although citizenship implies the right of residence, the latter by no means implies citizenship. Again, it is said that these corporations may be treated as citizens, for the purpose of suing or being sued. Even if the distinction here attempted were comprehensible, it would be a sufficient reply to it, that the Constitution does not provide that those who may be treated as citizens, may sue or be sued, but that the jurisdiction shall be limited to citizens only; citizens in right and in fact. The distinction attempted seems to be without meaning, for the Constitution or the laws nowhere define such a being as a quasi citizen, to be called into existence for particular purposes; a being without any of the attributes of citizenship, but the one for which he may be temporarily and arbitrarily created, and to be dismissed from existence the moment the particular purposes of his creation shall have been answered. In a political, or legal sense, none can be treated or dealt with by the government as citizens, but those who are citizens in reality. It would follow, then, by necessary induction, from the argument of the court, that as a corporation must be treated as a citizen, it must be so treated to all intents and purposes, because it is a citizen. Each citizen (if not under old governments) certainly does, under our system of polity, possess the same rights and faculties, and sustain the same obligations, political, social, and moral, which appertain to each of his fellow-citizens. As a citizen, then, of a State, or of the United States, a corporation would be eligible to the State or Federal legislatures; and if created by either the State or Federal governments, might, as a native-born citizen, aspire to the office of President of the United States-or to the command of armies, or fleets, in which last example, so far as the character of the commander would form a part of it, we should have the poetical romance of the spectre ship realized in our Republic. And should this incorporeal and invisible commander not acquit himself in color or in conduct, we might see him, provided his arrest were practicable, sent to answer his delinquencies before a court-martial, and subjected to the penalties *102 of the articles of war. Sir Edward Coke has declared, that a corporation cannot commit treason, felony, or other crime; neither is it capable of suffering a traitor's or felon's punishment; for it is not liable to corporeal penalties-that it can perform no personal duties, for it cannot take an oath for the due execution of an office; neither can it be arrested or committed to prison, for its existence being ideal, no man can arrest it; neither can it be excommunicated, for it has no soul. But these doctrines of Lord Coke were founded upon an apprehension of the law now treated as antiquated and obsolete. His lordship did not anticipate an improvement by which a corporation could be transformed into a citizen, and by that transformation be given a physical existence, and endowed with soul and body too. The incongruities here attempted to be shown as necessarily deducible from the decisions of the cases of the Bank of the United States v. Deveaux, and of the Cincinnati and Louisville Railroad Company v. Letson, afford some illustration of the effects which must ever follow a departure from the settled principles of the law. These principles are always traceable to a wise and deeply founded experience; they are, therefore, ever consentaneous, and in harmony with themselves and with reason; and whenever abandoned as guides to the judicial course, the aberration must lead to bewildering uncertainty and confusion. Conducted by these principles, consecrated both by time and the obedience of sages, I am brought to the following conclusions: 1st. That by no sound or reasonable interpretation, can a corporation-a mere faculty in law, be transformed into a citizen, or treated as a citizen. 2d. That the second section of the third article of the Constitution, investing the courts of the United States with jurisdiction in controversies between citizens of different States, cannot be made to embrace controversies to which corporations and not citizens are parties; and that the assumption, by those courts, of jurisdiction in such cases, must involve a palpable infraction of the article and section just referred to. 3d. That in the cause before us, the party defendant in the Circuit Court having been a corporation aggregate, created by the State of New Jersey, the Circuit Court could not properly take cognizance thereof; and, therefore, this cause should be remanded to the Circuit Court, with directions that it be dismissed for the want of jurisdiction.

[Rundle v. Delaware & Raritan Canal Co., 55 U.S. 80 (1852)]