As stated by Chief Justice Marshall in Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819):
"A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, either expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with these qualities and capacities that corporations were invented and are in use.
"By these means, a perpetual succession of individuals are capable of acting for the promotion of the particular object, like one immortal being. But this being does not share in the civil government of the country, unless that be the purpose for which it was created. Its immortality no more confers on it political power, or a political character, than immortality would confer such power or character on a natural person. It is no more a state instrument than a natural person exercising the same powers would be."
Justice Baldwin in an assenting opinion in Proprietors of Charles River Bridge v. Proprietors of, 36 U.S. 420 (1837) 36 U.S. 420 (Pet.) defined corporations as follows:
"In this country, every person has a natural and inherent right of taking and enjoying property, which right is recognised and secured in the constitution of every state; bodies, societies and communities have the same right, but inasmuch as on the death of any person without a will, his property passes to his personal representative or heir, a mere association of individuals must hold their real and personal property subject to the rules of the common law. A charter is not necessary to give to a body of men the capacity to take and enjoy, unless there is some statute to prevent it, by imposing a restriction or prescribing a forfeiture, where there is a capacity to take and hold; the only thing wanting is the franchise of succession, so that the property of the society may pass to successors instead of heirs. Termes de la Ley 123; 1 Bl. Com. 368-72. This and other franchises are the ligaments which unite a body of men into one, and knit them together as a natural person (4 Co. 65 a); creating a corporation, an invisible incorporeal being, a metaphysical person (2 Pet. 223); existing only in contemplation of law, but having the properties of individuality (4 Wheat. 636), by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered the same, and may act as a single individual. It is the object and effect of the incorporation, to give to the artificial person the same capacity and rights as a natural person can have, and when incorporated either by an express charter or one is presumed from prescription, they can take and enjoy property to the extent of their franchises as fully as an individual. Co. Litt. 132 b; 2 Day's Com. Dig. 300; 1 Saund. 345. It bestows the character and properties of individuality on a collective and changing body of men (4 Pet. 562), by which their rights become as sacred as if they were held in severalty by natural person...."