There have been numerous times when the free exchange of ideas by mail has been attacked. One of the most egregious was directed against the USA‘s first known direct mail campaign. The mailing organizers were not hawking credit cards, insurance schemes, or political candidates. They were promoting freedom and democracy.
Their shipment of direct mail arrived at the Charleston, South Carolina harbor on July 29, 1835. Not knowing exactly what to do with the many sacks of mail, Postmaster Alfred Huger set them aside. That evening a mob broke in, stole the mail and the next evening burned every piece in a mass demonstration that attracted a crowd of at least 2000 people.
The mail consisted of unsolicited literature advocating the abolition of slavery, sent by the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS). They were addressed to individuals whose names were a matter of public record. No one was ever prosecuted for this theft and destruction of US mail.
The Postmaster General of the USA ignored the blatant violation of federal laws and ruled that in this case “states rights” prevailed. President Andrew Jackson, still celebrated by some as a great “man of the people”, introduced legislation that would have banned abolitionists from sending mail to the southern slave states, although Congress eventually decided it did not have the power to that. Throughout the South, vigilance committees were established to monitor the mails for any possible abolitionist literature and punish anyone caught with it. Where the force of law failed, state sponsored terrorism was always available.
Slave owners were the power behind racist mobs and politicians
The term “totalitarian” is normally used to describe a dictatorial government that subordinates the individual to its power. But I believe it can also accurately describe individual economic enterprises and how they are organized. By this description, each southern plantation was its own unique totalitarian institution. Taken together, they were a vast gulag of slave labor camps and the most powerful economic enterprises of their time. As a result plantation owners put a totalitarian stamp on American politics for much of our early history. Their reliance on slavery was associated with institutional racism, white supremacy, massive human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, environmental destruction, militarism and territorial imperialism. It eventually resulted in the Civil War, which cost upwards of 750,000 American lives.
For the slave owners, tampering with the US mail to crush democracy was all in a day’s work. But of course abolitionists (a despised minority even in the North), continued to use the US mails where they could, until the time came when abolition of slavery finally became national policy.
But even the slaveholders did not attempt to actually shut down the Postal Service when they went to war with it. The modern effort to destroy the Postal Service through deep cutbacks and eventual privatization is coming from a Congress molded by the power of corporate wealth.The modern corporation that began to emerge after the Civil War was the successor to the slave plantation as the USA’s most dominant economic institution.
Like the slave plantations before them, the power of today’s corporate wealth weakens our democracy
The modern corporation is normally organized in a topdown totalitarian manner.The corporation is a place that even Bloomberg Businessweek says is “where free speech goes to die.” Most Americans simply accept this as without question because corporate property is “private” poverty. How much American political culture is molded by the habits of obedience formed by working within totalitarian corporations is something that deserves further study.
There are corporations who are reasonably benign and even supportive of democratic values, but there are others who have a dark association with extreme violence, white supremacy, environmental destruction, discrimination by race and gender, sweatshop labor, catastrophic financial fraud, war and other serious abuses.
The corporate powered postal “reformers” in the money-soaked company town of Washington DC want to avoid any discussion of the democratic values that the Postal Service is supposed to uphold. How committed are the most powerful US corporations to the free exchange of ideas that is so critical to a democracy? Not very committed if one measures the amount of support they give the US Postal Service in its funding crisis.
Perhaps that is because corporate lobbying groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the American Petroleum Institute want to ensure that their propaganda messages dominate American thinking. That is consistent with the corporate drive to privatize education, dominate the mass media, crush what remains of the US labor movement and overwhelm their electoral opponents with the sheer force of money.
By Bob Simpson