No administrative agency figures more prominently in American political development than the Post Office Department (POD). In peacetime (and frequently enough in wartime), the Post Office has employed far more Americans than any other agency of state. Indeed, at several junctures in American history, the department employed more Americans than any other organization, public or private. As Richard John's landmark analysis in Spreading the News shows, the patronage system and the very integrity of the nineteenth-century party system would have been inconceivable without the size and expansive reach of the Post Office. Nor would nineteenth- and early twentieth-century political life so fueled by the widespread distribution and consumption of newspapers, petitions, and pamphlets have been imaginable in the absence of the national postal network. So too, the deepest challenges of political reform at the turn of the century eliminating patronage, reducing administrative corruption, and challenging monopolies in telegraph and railroads all centrally involved the POD. Over two centuries, the Post Office has “spread the news”; operated banks; built roads; experimented in air transport; shuffled military supplies; waged campaigns against pornography, consumer fraud, and sedition; and managed a national telegraph system during world war.
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