Journal Article

“A Constitutional Conveyance of Intelligence, Public and Private”: The Post Office, the Business of Printing, and the American Revolution

Joseph M. Adelman

in Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History

Published on behalf of Business History Conference

Volume 11, issue 4, pages 709-752
Published in print December 2010 | ISSN: 1467-2227
Published online December 2010 | e-ISSN: 1467-2235 | DOI:

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This essay argues that American printers motivated by a deep commercial interest in fast and effective communication worked to overturn the British imperial postal service in 1774 and 1775. Printers enlisted merchants and members of the revolutionary elite, who also relied on long-distance communication through the post office for their own commercial and political purposes, to provide financial and political support. In making their case, printers mobilized a broad array of political ideology and imagery already familiar to colonists during the decade-long imperial crisis, emphasizing the political necessity of replacing the imperial institution. At the same time, they uncontroversially asserted that a new American post office would safeguard their precarious commercial ventures. The essay therefore demonstrates that printers were not “mere mechanics” but actively shaped the political debates leading to the American Revolution as part of a process that scholars have recently highlighted in a work on the economic and commercial influences on the Revolution. Furthermore, it grants the post office its due as part of the Habermasian public sphere; although understudied, the post office—both as a physical space and as a network through which information could travel—was a crucial means by which Americans developed a national infrastructure for political communications. Exploring the overthrow of the British post office, and the creation of an American post office, reveals an understudied but crucial episode to explain the symbiosis between politics and commerce during the American Revolutionary era.

Journal Article.  17078 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Business History