National identity through postal delivery of newspapers

In Spreading the News, Richard R. John writes about the development of the American postal system in the eighteenth century, and the police choices that leverages the system as a means of newspaper distribution.

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Spreading the news: the American postal system from Franklin to Morse By Richard R. John

In Spreading the News, Richard R. John writes about the development of the American postal system in the eighteenth century, and the police choices that leverages the system as a means of newspaper distribution.

The technological devices of the post and the newspaper were not new in the eighteenth century; horses, paper, and printing presses had been around for centuries. But the new American government prioritized newspaper delivery, and utilized postage fees from merchants to subsidize the development of profit-losing rural routes in order. Of course, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought to Europe a new technological development of a different kind: bureaucracies and various corporate forms that more efficiently organized people and their actions.

Nonetheless, the technologies did not determine the outcome that John discusses, but rather enabled it. Instead, it was the policy choices in Washington, D.C. that determined (retrospectively, anyway) the outcome. These policies favored newspapers and avoided using the postal system (despite the fact that in the early nineteenth century it composed roughly 3/4 of the entire federal government and federal budget) to subsidize other federal activities. The result? A sense of national–and even world–identity beyond mere connection to one’s individual state or locality.