The Communications Revolution

Engraving of Catharine Sedgwick. By: W. .

Not long after the end of the War of 1812, America was undergoing a communications revolution.


Communications have always impacted business and this was as true then as now. New York was the American center for communications, particularly for news from Europe, despite the fact that cities like Boston were closer to Europe. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 223.

By this time, the United States Post Office was the “lifeblood of the communication system,” and also, “[d]elivering mail was by far the largest activity of the federal government.” Id. at 225. In the 1820s, the postal service “employed more people than the peacetime armed forces and more than all the rest of the civilian bureaucracy put together.” Id. From 1815 to 1830, post offices grew in number from 3,000 to 8,000, many established in response to petitions from those in small villages wishing to have access to the post. Id. citing Richard John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, Mass., 1995), 3-5, 50-52.

These developments, in combination with the transportation revolution, were transforming America. Voters were becoming more informed than ever before, as there were many newspapers and periodicals circulating for that express purpose. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 231. Foreign visitors to America would marvel at “the extent of public awareness even in remote and provincial areas of the country.” Id. citing Ronald Formisano, The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts, 1790s-1840s (New York, 1983), 16.

With this came increased literacy, and with increased literacy came more women being involved in writing. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 234. In fact, some professional writers emerged, such as Catharine Maria Sedgwick, who wrote about young women overcoming adversity and would eventually become a writer that reached middle class women all over America. Id. citing Mary Kelley, ed., The Power of Her Sympathy: The Autobiography and Journal of Catharine Maria Sedgwick (Boston, 1993).

America was beginning to realize its potential for communications spreading throughout the country, on several levels. Business was beginning to increasingly rely on communications and Americans were reading more and learning more about politics and events around the country. Literacy, awareness, and knowledge were spreading around the country, and meanwhile, the post was quickly becoming a staple for American life, as virtually all Americans had easy access to it.

These developments were putting America on a path toward making its vast land feel more closely connected. Despite Americans’ differences, they must have felt that the country was developing a more convenient, enriching way of life than the earliest years of the Republic.

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