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Sofia Ahmed
By Sofia Ahmed February 12, 2024

An 1871 law did not make the United States government a corporation

If Your Time is short

  • The Organic Act of 1871 consolidated and restructured the District of Columbia’s government, it did not make the U.S. government a corporation. 

  • An anti-government extremist group called "sovereign citizens" spread the conspiracy theory that the law transformed the government into a corporation. QAnon adherents later adopted the idea to predict former President Donald Trump would be reinaugurated to office in March 2021. 

  • Learn more about PolitiFact’s fact-checking process and rating system.

An online conspiracy theory stemming from an old U.S. law has led some people to claim a legal right to drive without a license or refuse to register their children’s births.

That conspiracy theory claims that an 1871 law secretly made the United States a for-profit corporation instead of a government. 

In a nearly nine-minute long TikTok video, a woman’s voice-over says, "The U.S. government incorporated as a for-profit commercial enterprise in the Legislative Act of Feb. 21, 1871."

The woman says, "We are their chattel, we are their inventory. They make money off of us. They attached our birth certificates to a CUSIP number on the stock exchange, which equals slave trade, and it’s done every time a baby is born. There is a bond trust account set up and they trade us on the stock market." 

Committee on Uniform Securities Identification Procedures, aka CUSIP, numbers, identify financial instruments such as U.S.- and Canada-registered stocks and U.S. municipal and government bonds.

We found a similar video through our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

The video refers to the Organic Act of 1871 that established a government for the District of Columbia. Nothing in the law’s text transforms the United States into a corporation. 

Kermit Roosevelt, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, said the law restructured the District of Columbia’s government, repealing individual charters for Washington and Georgetown and consolidating the District of Columbia government into one entity. 

The act’s final section mentions corporations. But Roosevelt said it is "common to constitute cities or municipalities as corporations. "That’s what lets them own property and sue in court,"  he said.

Addressing the video’s claim about chattel slavery, Roosevelt said no corporation owns people; such ownership would breach the 13th Amendment. 

We wondered where the misinterpretation of the 1871 law started. 

An anti-government extremist group called "sovereign citizens'' popularized the idea of the United States as an illegitimate corporate entity, according to the Anti-Defamation League. NBC News reported in 2010 that the belief leads some group members to not follow state and federal laws and refuse to carry a driver’s license or register their children’s births. 

The conspiracy theory picked up among QAnon supporters who said Donald Trump would be returned to the presidency in March 2021 under this law, PolitiFact reported

We rate the claim that the United States is a corporation instead of a government Pants on Fire! 

Our Sources

Instagram post (archived), Feb. 8, 2024

Library of Congress, Image 455 of U.S. Statutes at Large, Volume 16 (1869-1871), 41st Congress, accessed Feb. 9, 2024

Email interview with Kermit Roosevelt, Professor at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, Feb. 9, 2024

Anti-Defamation League, The Sovereign Citizen Movement in the United States, Dec. 21, 2023

NBC News, Sovereign citizens – a 21st Century counter culture, Aug. 12, 2020

PolitiFact, Donald Trump will not be re-inaugurated as president on Mar. 4, 2021, March 3, 2021


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An 1871 law did not make the United States government a corporation

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