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(môrt`mān') [Fr.,=dead hand], ownership of land by a perpetual corporationcorporation,
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
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. The term originally denoted tenure (see tenuretenure,
in law, manner in which property in land is held. The nature of tenure has long been of great importance, both in law and in the broader economic and political context.
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, in law) by a religious corporation, but today it includes ownership by charitable and business corporations. In the Middle Ages the church acquired, by purchase and gift, an enormous amount of land and other property. The struggle over this accumulation of material wealth was an important aspect of the conflict between church and state. Moreover, lands held by monasteries and other religious corporations were generally exempt from taxation and payment of feudal dues, greatly increasing the burden on secular property. Attempts to limit ecclesiastic mortmain began as early as Carolingian times, and by the late 19th cent. the right of religious bodies to own land was in general highly restricted. In many countries the prevailing principle limited such ownership to absolutely necessary holdings. In the United States ecclesiastic mortmain was never a serious problem, and remaining statutes on the subject are essentially inoperative vestiges of former law.


See H. C. Lea, The Dead Hand (1900); C. Zollman, American Civil Church Law (1917).



one of the norms of feudal law in Western and Central Europe.

Under mortmain, a feudal lord had the right to confiscate part of the property of a deceased peasant, usually the best cattle and clothing or their corresponding monetary value. Until the llth century mortmain applied in some form to all individuals who were personally dependent on the landowner; from the 12th and 13th centuries it began disappearing as the peasants received personal freedom, but endured in some backward localities until the 16th to 18th centuries.

For the church mortmain signified a ban against alienation of the landed property of church institutions; in some countries, every landholding of the church was secured in this fashion. It was abolished in the Protestant countries during the Reformation of the 16th century and in France during the French Revolution.

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of the duty of obedience is dead hand control, the legally enforceable
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Workin` on the chain gang; shaking off the dead hand of history.