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most sedate consideration, the ripest judgment. Here will be found work for us all. We have laid, as I have attempted to show, the foundations of a noble jurisprudence, and during the two centuries of our Colonial and National life, the structure has been carried along so as to meet contemporary wants and needs. The work must, however, go forward with the National progress. What more generous ambition can inspire, what higher duty can engage, the American lawyer than to assist, in his day, in advancing this structure, and adapting it, by alteration and enlargement, to the changed and changing conditions of society; a work which must ever go on, yet never be completed.
OF NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE.
The Rise and Probable Decline of Private Corporations
Biography is one of the most instructive and attractive of studies. There is a peculiar fascination in the history of the humblest life, although it may be plainly told. Existence itself, life, death may be real enough when applied to ourselves; but when we consider them in a former generation, they possess all of the charms of romance. And if the subject has achieved greatness, or played an important part in the history of his times, admiration of the character is added to the novelty of the subject: the obscure beginning, the struggle against adverse fortune, the final triumph, or the heroism in defeat-all these never fail to delight the fancy of youth, while they afford the most pleasing reflec
The history of the formation of ideas and principles; of the origin, growth, and development of social and political institutions, is even more inviting, for it is the history of whole generations of men; it presents, moreover, a still wider field for analytical inquiry and philosophical speculation.
I am to consider, necessarily with great brevity, the collective history of some of those institutions—those artificial beings, called corporations, created by the state for an in
tions of age.
finite variety of temporal purposes; to inquire how they came here, how they have used or abused their opportunities, and what results they have accomplished; to consider in what way they have been connected with our great commercial, manufacturing, and industrial enterprises ; how they have contributed to the necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries of life; how they have been subject to popular caprice, to-day taken under the protection of the state, subsidized and granted peculiar and valuable privileges, and to-morrow bending under the ban of popular displeasure, threatened with confiscation and utter annihilation. Created by the people for their own purposes, their chronicle is but a chronicle of the times. As we know them, they are emphatically American institutions, necessities of modern life, just what we have made them; growing up under our customs and economics, moulded by our constitutional and statutory laws, our judicial decisions, and our public sentiment, to fill, from time to time, such places in our social, educational, and business lives as our progress has made desirable.
Private corporations had been a part of the common law of England long before the settlement of this continent. No doubt the theory was carried over with the body of the civil law by the Roman legions at the conquest of Britain. Blackstone attributes the origin of corporations to the Romans. Plutarch mentions that Numa Pompilius divided the Romans and Sabines into different corporations, in order to suppress the turbulence of contending tribes. But the Pandects seem to favor the idea that the Romans were indebted for them—as they were for so much, besides, that was excellent in art, letters, and jurisprudence — to the Greeks. It is probable, though, that what Plutarch terms “corporations,” were what we call “societies." Afterwards the civil law brought the organization of corporations to great symmetry; and no student of that system can fail to be attracted by the remarkable resemblance of their regulations to our own laws governing the same institutions, especially in those classes where a personal liability is imposed upon stockholders for the debts of the company. A few great trading monopolies had been created before we were known as a nation : such as the Russian Company in the reign of Edward VI, the Eastland Company in 1579, the East India Company in 1600, and the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. But on the Continent peculiar privileges were always jealously bestowed upon any class of persons. In England, while they were given in exceptional instances to a few favorites of the crown, it has never been the policy to confer upon associations formed for purposes of trade, the full and unqualified privileges that are bestowed with us. In no other age or country have private corporations entered so extensively into the business of the country, never so thoroughly into the details of everyday life, as with us. When we walk through the exhumed cities of antiquity, and see about us so much to remind us of our own domestic life, we say sympathetically: How grand must have been your public baths, your libraries, your theatres, your market-places; how delightful the groves of your philosophers! But, poor unfortunates! You have never known the delight of being transported in palaces with the swiftness of the winds, of receiving messages across the ocean, hours, as it were, before they were sent, of speaking to friends hundreds of miles away, and hearing their familiar accents; all carried on by these artificial beings called corporations. Most of our important wants are supplied by them; we are educated by them; by means of insurance companies we are provided for by them in sickness, and after death our families are taken care of by them. Yours was the age of the strong hand, of the aggregation of power and the segregation of