Three-fifths a citizen: Are corporations really people?

During the days before the Civil War, an enslaved person was counted as three-fifths of a citizen so that slave-holding states could use their human property to pump up their numbers in Congress.

This legal fake-out let white Southerners hold back the tide of change as long as possible, and after the war, their tricks to prevent black Southerners from voting continued to make the white South far more powerful in Congress than their actual numbers warranted.

Today there is another group who has figured out how to use the language of citizenship to twist the rules in their favor: Corporations.

When former presidential candidate Mitt Romney claimed that corporations are people, he was merely echoing a common theme amongst his peers.

You see the same thinking when companies such as Hobby Lobby argue that their religious beliefs should allow them to discriminate against women employees seeking insurance-covered birth control methods. Corporations-as-people have beliefs that should be respected; that is, if they’re the ones in charge.

It’s not too far from that stance to someday claim that a company, like a person, should have the right to be around (hire) only the people of their preferred political, religious and ethnic background.

Corporate people are more powerful than the unincorporated citizen. Their sway is stronger, their reach far greater than most of the American public. But not just anyone is a citizen.

If you’re claiming people rights for your company, then we need to know how American you really are. Let’s fill out a questionnaire.

We’re only erring on the side of caution. If you’re a company claiming to be a citizen, then we need full access to your banking records and investments overseas. We also need to know how much of your total workforce is comprised of foreigners.

For if you keep much of your profits in off-shore banks to avoid U.S. taxes, thus relying on the protection and bylaws of another country, right there that’s dropping a few percentage points off your citizenship questionnaire.

What about your employees? Not just the cashiers and refinery workers you employ in this country, but also the customer service reps in India, as well as the factory workers in China and Bangladesh who make your products.

You claim people-rights, but you do it on the backs of everyone who works for you and who makes your products, so they have to be included.

Then there are the investments you’ve made in factories overseas, bank accounts in Switzerland, and subsidiaries in countries from Germany to Guyana.

That looks like a considerable amount of foreign involvement, taxes paid and agreements made, deals made that might be in direct conflict with U.S. law – and even more people on those payrolls who aren’t Americans.

We’ll have to dock a few more points off your citizenship quotient.

Turns out your company has foreign investors – might even have been purchased by a multinational corporation. You have a U.S. mailbox but your home office is in Brussels.

Let’s add up the numbers and subtract where needed.

Oh my. Turns out that seventy percent of your product-making and customer care workforce is overseas and sixty percent of your investments are in China, while your stored-up wealth is largely in the Bahamas.

Doesn’t sound very American to us. Based on those numbers, you’ll need to earn your green card in order to become a legal resident through the usual channels.

What, no visa? This means you’re a foreign national in this country illegally. Since you failed to volunteer this information before you began buying up judges and politicians – well, this is awkward.

Hate to do it, really. Uproot you from your nice house and make you and your company move to China, where the bulk of your products, workforce and investments happen to reside. Or make you move to the Bahamas to be near your money.

Think of it this way, though. Once you’re abroad, you can apply to immigrate to the U.S. We wouldn’t advise you trying to sneak back in. Not a safe plan. Too many walls, electric fences, drones, and armed guards at the border.

Perhaps we can work out some kind of arrangement here. We could count you as three-fifths of a citizen. You wouldn’t be able to vote, of course, or own property, but at least you’d be allowed to hang on to that mailbox and wave a flag on the Fourth of July.

Otherwise, we’ll have to call Immigration.

Photo: Toby Talbot/AP


Kelly Sinclair
Kelly Sinclair

A native of the Texas Panhandle, Kelly Sinclair is a singer-songwriter who branched out into prose with the publication of her first novel, "Accidental Rebels." Five of her books (Accidental Rebels, Lesser Prophets, If the Wind Were a Woman, In the Now, Roberta's Fire) appeared with Blue Feather Books before that publisher's demise. In 2015, she returns to print/ebook with her new crime noir novel, "Getting Back," with Regal Crest Books. Also, her Lambda Literary Awards finalist effort, "In the Now," will return to print with science-fiction publisher Lethe Press. In addition to her writing for People's World, she's also an audio reviewer for Library Journal. As a singer-songwriter, she's written for herself (Alive in Soulville) as well as others. Her rock musical, "Clarity," is available for free via Soundcloud. She's also a computer artist. She currently lives in central Texas. She can be found at as well as via email.