The rise of the American Republic has coincided with the rise of the modern corporation. Since 1790, power has flowed increasingly into the hands of persons concerting their purposes in corporate entities that by their nature are quite unsentimental about the earth. Corporations may be led by conservationists, but as corporations they are dedicated to the proposition that all land should be used to generate profit. A “decent respect” for the realities of life required the founders of the United States to recognize the growing importance of such “powers of the earth.” Thomas Jefferson was no less adept than Alexander Hamilton in making use of them, though for other purposes. Having discerned that corporations and partnerships organized for profit were indifferent to any call to use land as a moral crucible, he became skillful in using them to obtain land for his friends of the plantation system.
Jefferson understood power very well. He was early among his colleagues in giving attention to the rise of both popular majorities and corporations. He did not mention the latter specifically in his draft of the Declaration of Independence, giving pride of place instead to “the opinions of mankind.” Such matters would have greater influence, now, he seemed to be saying, though he need not have anticipated any burgeoning “democratic age.” The task under his hand only required him to revise a resolution offered by his own Virginia delegation that the United Colonies were “and ought to be” free and independent states, and to construct a litany of complaints against the British Empire. Jefferson took these drab materials and, recasting them into incandescent phrases, set them aglow in the sky, drawing the eyes of his countrymen from their grievances, and inviting them to proclaim universal redemption to the world. 1
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation [emphasis added]. 2