Morality and the Mail in Nineteenth-Century America

Morality and the Mail in Nineteenth-Century America

Wayne E. Fuller
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 288
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    Morality and the Mail in Nineteenth-Century America
    Book Description:

    Morality and the Mail in Nineteenth-Century America explores the evolution of postal innovations that sparked a communication revolution in nineteenth-century America. Wayne E. Fuller examines how evangelical Protestants, the nations dominant religious group, struggled against those transformations in American society that they believed threatened to paganize the Christian nation they were determined to save. _x000B_Drawing on House and Senate documents, postmasters general reports, and the Congressional Record, as well as sermons, speeches, and articles from numerous religious and secular periodicals, Fuller illuminates the problems the changed postal system posed for evangelicals, from Sunday mail delivery and Sunday newspapers to an avalanche of unseemly material brought into American homes via improved mail service and reduced postage prices. Along the way, Fuller offers new perspectives on the church and state controversy in the United States as well as on publishing, politics, birth control, the lottery, censorship, Congresss postal power, and the waning of evangelical Protestant influence.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09135-3
    Subjects: Religion
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 Mail on the Sabbath (pp. 1-21)

    On the first day of every week in the early winter months of 1810 an almost eerie stillness lay upon towns and villages along the great post roads from Maine to Georgia and from the nation’s capital to Tennessee. Shops were closed, government buildings silent, and places of amusement empty. Only that labor considered necessary was performed, for this was the American Sabbath and almost no one except worshipers on their way to church was abroad in the land.

    In Boston, where horses could not be watered in public on Sundays or ridden through the Commons, and elsewhere throughout New...

  5. 2 Sabbath Mail and the Separation of Church and State (pp. 22-48)

    In the twelve years following the defeat of the evangelicals’ crusade against Sabbath mail, the post office, freed from whatever restraints that closing facilities and terminating transportation of the mail on the Sabbath might have had on its growth, expanded rapidly. By 1828 mail was being carried 10,142,000 miles annually, and the Post Office Department had spread its net, spiderlike, over 114,536 miles of post roads to the farthest corners of the nation. Not only was mail going farther over these roads, but it was also going faster. That year the postmaster general boasted that mail was being carried at...

  6. 3 Changing the Sabbath to a Day of Rest (pp. 49-77)

    On March 4, 1841, twelve years of Jacksonian democracy came to an end when the Whigs installed their man, William Henry Harrison, in the White House. The old general, hero of the War of 1812, had been elected in a campaign that appeared to be more about log cabins and hard cider than serious issues. But beyond the bonfires and illuminations that lit the night skies, some sober soul-searching was taking place among evangelicals as they sought the party most likely to take seriously their concern for keeping the Fourth Commandment.

    Not unreasonably, many of them had shunned the party...

  7. 4 Sunday Newspapers and the Day of Rest (pp. 78-97)

    In the fall of 1888, as the crusade for a day of rest rushed toward its conclusion, a Protestant minister singled out one of the greatest evils radiating from Sunday mail. It was, he declared, “the Sunday newspaper in whose behalf the hills of all our larger thoroughfares echo with the shriek and groan of flying locomotives; our towns and villages are inundated with the typographical deluge, and even the comers to the House of God, many of them baptized before entering upon worship, with the shock of news and gossip and fiction—not to say of scandal and crime.”¹...

  8. 5 The Post Office, Protestants, and Pornography in the Gilded Age (pp. 98-128)

    Deborah Leeds, superintendent of the Department for the Suppression of Impure Literature of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, struck a discouraging note in her report of 1888. She had undertaken the task of ridding the country and the mails of impure literature for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and she was finding it difficult to find helpers. Few, she said, wanted to become involved in this work because of the “exceeding repulsiveness of some of its aspects” so that “our lips be dumb when we ought to speak and we become unfaithful.”¹

    Her work did have repulsive aspects, it was...

  9. 6 The Attack upon Impure Literature in the Mail (pp. 129-147)

    “If you will not aid him, it only remains for me to die!” This desperate appeal from a “sweet-faced girl” was the opening line in Old Sleuth, Badger & Co., a 5 cent paperback novel published in 1891 by George Munro, publisher of the “Old Sleuth Library” among other publications. Distraught by the imprisonment of her fiancé, whom she believed had been falsely accused of theft, she had come to Old Sleuth, the famous detective, for help. Forty chapters later, following a trail of dastardly intrigue, murder, dissolute men, and a woman made “even more desperate” than the man who had...

  10. 7 The Post Office, Postage, and the Paperback Controversy (pp. 148-166)

    Postmaster General William L. Wilson was clearly exasperated when he wrote his last report to President Grover Cleveland in 1896. The postal deficit had risen from just over $6 million in 1890 to more than $8 million in 1896, and his patience with the status quo was exhausted. “there is no necessity for this annual deficit,” he wrote. “It has its chief source in the transmission of second-class rates of a large and rapidly increasing volume of matter never in the contemplation of the law.”¹

    Postmaster General Wilson was a small, frail man whose appearance scarcely reflected his distinguished career....

  11. 8 For the Preservation of the American Family (pp. 167-191)

    When the women of the WCTU asked the president, the attorney general, and the postmaster general in 1891 to interpret the Comstock law more narrowly in order to increase the list of unmailable matter, they specifically requested that “immoral things” be banned from the mails. Too repulsive for the women to call by name in the nineteenth century, the “immoral things” they had in mind were devices to prevent conception and induce abortion, which, in fact, were already banned but circulated through the mails in spite of the ban.

    Of all the moral problems the evangelical moral majority confronted in...

  12. 9 The Postal Power, Protestants, and the Lottery (pp. 192-221)

    The horrors of the awesome battle of Gettysburg were still as fresh in American minds as the day’s news when, in 1867, a New York merchant and his associates secured a license from the Pennsylvania legislature to conduct a lottery. Their purpose was to raise money to build an asylum at Gettysburg for the brave men whose bodies had been mangled in that great battle. Ostensibly it was a noble cause that most Americans in the North could support. Gen. George Meade, commander of the Union Army at the battle, had lent his name to the project, and President Andrew...

  13. 10 Immoral Mail and the Enforcement of Evangelical Morality (pp. 222-252)

    On March 1, 1897, Postal Inspector F. M. Betz was in the little town of Eaton, Ohio, investigating the mailing of obscene letters. For two years, “vile anonymous letters” had been mailed to three of the town’s young women and to the son of the superintendent of public schools, who, the letters accused, was having illicit relations with one of the three women. Besides the letters, obscene notes had been left during the night on the veranda of one of the women’s home, a high school senior whose father was a member of the school board. Suspecting that the letters...

  14. EPILOGUE (pp. 253-256)

    At the end of the nineteenth century, the moral majority of evangelical Protestants could look back with some satisfaction on the laws they had supported to govern unmailable matter. Setting out at the beginning of the century to preserve what they believed to be a Christian nation and maintain an evangelical moral order, they had met headlong the postal innovations and expansion that brought unsavory mail into American homes. They had also been able, by law at least, to cleanse the mail of much that offended Christian morality. In doing so they had sensitized the American people to the evils...

  15. INDEX (pp. 257-264)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 265-266)
  17. Illustrations (pp. None)


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