History of the Incorporation of Alcoholics Anonymous

Final report of the 1951 General Service Conference - pg 6

(The following summarizes the talk by Mr. Bernard Smith (non-alcoholic), Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the .Alcoholic Foundation, at the evening session Friday)

The work of the Alcoholic Foundation can perhaps be illustrated best by describing some of the specific problems with which the Trustees have had to deal in recent years, Mr. Smith said.

One problem involved possible unauthorized use of the name "Alcoholics Anonymous." To protect the name, it was decided to incorporate in the various states. The question then became: "What would be incorporated?" Since a majority of the Trustees are non-alcoholic, the Foundation is not really AA. It was 'suggested the problem might be solved through a special incorporation by Act of Congress. To this, the lawyer studying the problem reported that if AA ever had to sue, inevitably the suit would have to be brought in the name of the Foundation.

This posed the related problem of whether or not AA should ever go into court. A number of the Trustees feel strongly that it should not. It is felt that a new Tradition on this policy matter is now developing as a guide for future action.

The question of whether or not to accept gifts also had to be considered by the Foundation, as the only custodian of traditions and policies up to now.

The motion picture industry's interest in AA has similarly produced specific problems no other agency was prepared to cope with. Delicate but firm negotiations with a major studio during the past year were successful in preventing unfortunate exploitation of AA, Mr. Smith pointed out.

The decision to establish the General Service Conference itself could have emerged only following careful analysis by the Foundation. Four years ago, when the Conference was first proposed, it was approved in principle by only a single vote. The Trustees properly agreed, in view of the obvious division of opinion that action should be deferred.

Although there has never been complete unanimity on the matter, the Conference was finally established "because we need you, on behalf of the total membership, to tell us where we shall go and how we shall go."

While the Trustees of the Foundation are theoretically self-perpetuating, the time has come to change---to adopt the basic principle of rotation which is important to AA's survival and growth.

It is important that there be no basic pride of office. "Even the pleasure of serving can become a proprietary right."

"When we know predominantly what we want to do, let's do it. When we are not quite sure, let's wait."

Final report of the 1952 General Service Conference - pg 18


In presenting this subject for deliberation and advisory action by the Conference, Mr. Smith reviewed briefly the origin of suggestions that A.A. should be incorporated by an Act of Congress.

The Trustees first considered the subject seven or eight years ago, when A.A. first began to spread "at a very accelerated rate" and when a number of Alcoholics Anonymous groups and corporations were being formed throughout the country, some by persons who used the name for selfish purposes.

Several suggestions were made for "protecting" the A.A. name. One proposal was that A.A. be incorporated in every state of the Union, and "qualified" in two- thirds of the states. A detailed study was made of this possibility and counsel was retained to initiate the project. Doubts soon arose, however, as to the measure of protection this plan would afford if any one went ahead and used the name.

Of even deeper significance, Mr. Smith said, were the doubts expressed by Bill and others as to whether A.A., "as a faith and a way of life'; really belonged in the field of incorporation

Legal counsel was thereupon discharged and the funds advanced to him were recovered in full.

"If we want to incorporate at all,"" Mr. Smith suggested, "it now appears that the sound approach would be through an Act of Congress."

The fundamental purpose in even thinking of incorporation, he said, was simply to protect the name of A.A. and to prevent non-A.A. groups from using the name.

When the subject was opened up for discussion from the floor, a motion was soon made and seconded that, subject to consideration of the Trustees, steps be taken to incorporate the Society by an Act of Congress.

Whatever support may have existed for this motion was largely dissipated, however, by the quiet yet convincing remarks of the delegate who asked: "Can we incorporate a way of life? Can we incorporate a philosophy? Can we incorporate principles that were first presented to us nearly 2,000 years ago?" A.A., this delegate said, is "too broad and too deep" to fit the confines of incorporation.

Although there was full expression of diverging points of view for the remainder of the session, a motion to table the original motion was carried unanimously. The Conference had made it clear that it was not now ready to move forward toward Congressional incorporation.

Following this action, a motion was passed calling upon the Trustees to appoint a committee of five Conference delegates to study the problem.

Extract from the final report of the 1953 General Service Conference - pgs 27 and 32


At the 1952 Conference a motion was made and seconded that, subject to consideration of the Trustees, steps be taken to incorporate the Society by an Act of Congress. There was extended an impressive discussion of both sides of the question, following which the motion was tabled. A subsequent motion requested the Trustees to appoint a Special Committee to study the problem and submit recommendations at the 1953 Conference.

The Committee chairman reported that his group had studied, as carefully as it was able to, the divergent views expressed a year ago.

He recalled that the issue first came under consideration by the Trustees eight or nine years ago, when A.A. was growing at a rapidly accelerating rate, and when a number of A.A. groups and corporations were being formed, some by persons who appeared to be using the name for selfish purposes. After a number of suggestions had been made for protecting the A.A. name, it was finally thought that if incorporation in any form were desired for protective purposes, the sound approach would be through an Act of Congress. Apparently the deterring factor to such action before this time has been the question whether A.A., as a spiritual faith and a way of life, really belongs in the field of incorporation.

Based on nine specific conclusions concurred in by all members of the Special Committee, the Committee recommended that Alcoholics Anonymous does not incorporate.

(Resolution supporting this recommendation adopted unanimously. Text of Committee conclusions and recommendation appears in "Advisory Actions" section).

That the "collective conscience of A.A." is more than a mystic phrase was well demonstrated when the Conference was asked to consider a proposal, previously reviewed by the Board of Trustees, to change the name of The Alcoholic Foundation to "Alcoholics Anonymous International, Inc."

After more than 30 of the Delegates had commented on the proposal, it became clear that, while the Conference as a whole was not opposed to a change, it sought a full measure of assurance and conviction that the name ultimately chosen would be "the right one. "

From these comments, it became equally apparent that the name should, in a manner that could be left to final determination at the discretion of the Board, express more of the service aspects of the Trustees' work, and less of the International aspects.

A resolution expressing this approach was adopted unanimously by the Conference.(Text in "Advisory Actions" section)



We have reviewed all of the arguments pro and con on this subject, have discussed it with many members of AA within the Conference and outside of it and have come to these conclusions:

1. The evils which caused the question to arise have largely abated.

2. It would create by law a power to govern which would be contrary to, and violative of, our Traditions.

3. It would implement the spiritual force of AA with a legal power, which we believe would tend to weaken its spiritual strength.

I. When we ask for legal rights, enforceable in Courts of Law, we by the same act subject ourselves to possible legal regulation.

5. We might well become endlessly entangled litigation which, together with the incident expense and publicity, could seriously threaten our very existence.

6. Incorporation could conceivably become the opening wedge that might engender politics and a struggle for power within our own ranks.

7. Continuously since its beginning and today, AA has been a fellowship and not an organization. Incorporation necessarily makes it an organization.

8. We believe that "spiritual faith" and a "way of life" cannot be incorporated.

9. AA can and will survive so long as it remains a spiritual faith and a way of life to all men and women who suffer from alcoholism.

Therefore, keeping in mind, the high purpose of the General Service Conference as expressed by the Chairman last year when he said "We seek not compromise but certainty", your Committee unanimously recommends that Alcoholics Anonymous does not incorporate.

Men Working sign

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