Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Corporations and American Democracy

Corporations and American Democracy

Edited by Naomi R. Lamoreaux and William J. Novak

ISBN 9780674972285

Publication date: 05/08/2017

Request exam copy

Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and other high-profile cases have sparked passionate disagreement about the proper role of corporations in American democracy. Partisans on both sides have made bold claims, often with little basis in historical facts. Bringing together leading scholars of history, law, and political science, Corporations and American Democracy provides the historical and intellectual grounding necessary to put today’s corporate policy debates in proper context.

From the nation’s founding to the present, Americans have regarded corporations with ambivalence—embracing their potential to revolutionize economic life and yet remaining wary of their capacity to undermine democratic institutions. Although corporations were originally created to give businesses and other associations special legal rights and privileges, historically they were denied many of the constitutional protections afforded flesh-and-blood citizens.

This comprehensive volume covers a range of topics, including the origins of corporations in English and American law, the historical shift from special charters to general incorporation, the increased variety of corporations that this shift made possible, and the roots of modern corporate regulation in the Progressive Era and New Deal. It also covers the evolution of judicial views of corporate rights, particularly since corporations have become the form of choice for an increasing variety of nonbusiness organizations, including political advocacy groups. Ironically, in today’s global economy the decline of large, vertically integrated corporations—the type of corporation that past reform movements fought so hard to regulate—poses some of the newest challenges to effective government oversight of the economy.


  • This is a stellar work that sets out a sophisticated and cutting-edge take on the story of the corporation. The essays do not just tell the story: the writers back it up by providing substantial accumulations of data and historical material. The result is a volume that is a vastly important contribution to the field. It will instantly become the go-to one-volume treatment of the history of the corporation in the United States.

    —John Fabian Witt, author of Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History


  • Naomi R. Lamoreaux is Stanley B. Resor Professor of Economics and History at Yale University.
  • William J. Novak is the author of the prizewinning The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America and coeditor of Corporations and American Democracy and The Democratic Experiment. He is Charles F. and Edith J. Clyne Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.

Book Details

  • 528 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press