Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the skill with which postal administrators circulated hefty bundles of newspapers from New York and Philadelphia to the wilds of Detroit, then a thinly populated outpost on the western frontier. To his eyes, the post office was the only entity with the organizational capability to circulate the information of public significance that was essential to sustain America’s bold experiment with democracy. The German-born philosopher Francis Lieber called it an “element of civilization” — worthy of comparison with the printing press and the mariner’s compass.
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