This Essay challenges a central narrative in the history of Anglo- American business by questioning the importance of the corporate form. The Essay shows that the corporate form was not, as we have long believed, the exclusive historical source of powers such as limited liability, entity shielding, tradable shares, and legal personhood in litigation. These powers were also available throughout modern history through a little-studied, but enormously important, device known as the common law trust. The trust was widely and very effectively used to hold the property of unincorporated partnerships and associations in England and the United States both long before and long after the passage of general incorporation statutes in the mid-nineteenth century. The trusts success in wielding corporation-like powers suggests that the corporations role in legal history was smaller than-or at least different from-the one we have long assigned to it. This Essay thus lays the groundwork for a new account of the corporatef orm and its place in the development of modern business.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Morley, John D., "The Common Law Corporation: The Power of the Trust in Anglo-American Business History" (2016). Faculty Scholarship Series. 5218.