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in law, organization enjoying legal personality for the purpose of carrying on certain activities. Most corporations are businesses for profit; they are usually organized by three or more subscribers who raise capital for the corporate activities by selling shares of stockstock,
in finance, instrument certifying to shares in the ownership of a corporation. Bonds are similar evidences of shares in a loan to a corporation. Stock yields no dividends until claims of bondholders have been met.
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, which represent ownership and are transferable. Besides business corporations, there are also charitable, cooperative, municipal, and religious corporations, all with distinctive features. In the United States all governmental units smaller than a state (e.g., counties, cities) are municipal corporations. Certain religious functionaries (e.g., Roman Catholic archbishops) legally are corporations sole.

The legal personality of a corporation is symbolized by its seal and its distinctive name. As a legal person, the corporation continues in existence when the organizers lose their connection with it. In most cases its liability is limited to the assets it possesses and creditors may not seize property of persons associated with the corporation as stockholders or otherwise. Legal personality gives the corporation many of the capacities of a natural person; e.g., it can hold property and can even commit crimes (for which it may be fined and its directors imprisoned).

The Modern Corporation

The modern concept of corporate power holds that the rights of the participants as well as the conduct of the enterprise must be the subject of managerial discretion. The salient characteristic of the modern corporation is the separation of management from ownership. Management of industrial corporations now requires executive managers and a corporate bureacracy to oversee its complex and interlacing activities.

The large business corporation has strongly influenced the control of property in the modern world. The large corporations are typically controlled by a small minority of the stockholders. There are several methods employed by small groups of stockholders to gain control of large corporations. These include pooling of the majority of stock in the hands of trustees having the power to vote it and the use of proxies (agents for the actual stockholders pledged to vote for particular candidates for managerial positions). Proxies are generally successfully used because stockholders rarely attend meetings or name proxies other than those suggested to them by management.

A more recent type of corporation is the holding company, organized to buy a controlling interest in other corporations; this type of corporation typically possesses no physical assets. The amount of cash needed to control a concern is lessened by pyramiding holding companies. This is done by creating a company to hold a voting control of one or more operating companies. A third company is created to hold a controlling interest in the second, and so on. The control of the last holding company is sufficient to control all; and such control, because of the scattering of stock among many small holders, may need the ownership of only 10% or 20% of the stock available.

See also trusttrust,
in law, arrangement whereby property legally owned by one person is administered for the benefit of another. Three parties are ordinarily needed for the relation to arise: the settlor, who bequeaths or deeds the property for another's benefit; the trustee, in whose hands
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The Regulation of Corporations

Until 1844 incorporation in England continued to be a matter of special grant by the king or Parliament. New corporations were created in the Industrial Revolution to finance larger economic units, such as railways and steam-driven machinery in factories. In the United States the state legislatures became the chief authorities to grant charters to corporations, although the federal government incorporates in a limited field. Federal charters were granted to both of the Banks of the United States, to certain railroads after the Civil War, and to the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat). Corporations owned by the federal government and financed by government appropriations include the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Community Credit Corporation, and various corporations established to meet emergencies and later liquidated. At first states passed a special act for each incorporation, but in 1811, New York state enacted a general incorporation law enabling the secretary of state to give charters. Since the Dartmouth College CaseDartmouth College Case,
decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1819. The legislature of New Hampshire, in 1816, without the consent of the college trustees, amended the charter of 1769 to make Dartmouth College public. The trustees brought suit.
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 of 1819, when a charter was held to be a binding contract between a state and a corporation, unalterable and unamendable by the state without the corporation's consent, fewer perpetual charters have been granted, the right of the legislature to alter or annul being specifically reserved in the charter. Variability in state incorporation laws and the ability of corporations incorporated in one state to do business in all other states have allowed corporations to incorporate in the state or states having the most lenient incorporation laws. In general, the history of corporations in the United States has been marked by the abdication of state control over corporations.


See R. Sobel, The Age of Giant Corporations (1984); J. Davis, Corporations (1905, repr. 1986); W. Doran, The Business Corporation in the Democratic Society (1987); J. Bakan, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (2004).



(1) In the Middle Ages a widespread form of organization of artisans and merchants (guilds). The Great French Revolution abolished guild corporations, whose monopoly position had hampered the development of the productive forces of capitalist society.

(2) An aggregate of individuals united for the achievement of some goal and forming an independent subject under the law (a juridical person).

The term “corporation” is most common in Anglo-American law. In the USA public corporations are accorded the rights of a juridical person (municipalities, for example, are considered public corporations), as are corporations of lawyers and so on. Private corporations in the USA correspond to joint-stock companies in the countries of Western Europe.

As a form of monopolistic joint-stock association, the corporation has become widespread in the USA as a result of the concentration and centralization of capital. The first corporations sprang up in railroad construction in the middle of the 19th century. By the early 20th century the corporation had become the main form of capitalist enterprise. Under contemporary conditions, corporations hold the key position in all sectors of the US economy: 98 percent of all income in manufacturing, 93 percent of the income in transportation and communication, and 76 percent of the income in domestic commerce. In 1968 the USA had 1,542,000 corporations with total assets of $2,216,-000,000,000, accounting for 83 percent of the income and 67 percent of the profits of all the enterprises of the country. The net profits of corporations reached $86,000,000,000 in 1968, double the 1960 level.


1. a group of people authorized by law to act as a legal personality and having its own powers, duties, and liabilities
2. the municipal authorities of a city or town
References in classic literature ?
Whenever a rich old hunks or prodigal heir or bankrupt corporation gets into the notion of putting up a palace, there is no such thing in the world as stopping either of them, and this every intelligent person knows.
He's a corporation lawyer, and corporation lawyers are not paid for being fools.
There are several factories in Lowell, each of which belongs to what we should term a Company of Proprietors, but what they call in America a Corporation.
It may have been his guilty conscience, it may have been the reputation of the Pinkerton organization, it may have been the knowledge that great, rich corporations had set themselves the task of clearing out the Scowrers; but, whatever his reason, his actions were those of a man who is preparing for the worst.
She had had a trace of it ever since that fatal morning when the greedy streetcar corporation had turned her out into the rain; but now it was beginning to grow serious, and to wake her up at night.
It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation on conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.
So to speak, I was become a stockholder in a corporation where nine hun- dred and ninety-four of the members furnished all the money and did all the work, and the other six elected themselves a permanent board of direction and took all the dividends.
This guild is a close corporation, and is governed by strict laws.
The other had worked at the laws of corporation, and knew by heart what every member of the corporation ought to know, so that he thought he could quite well speak on State matters and give his opinion.
This great corporation was at the time their natural and inevitable enemy.
a whole company of any trade in any city or corporation town.
Then its ample seat would have been pressed by the comfortable, rotund corporation of the honest mint-master.