"Images on Civil War envelopes reveal a previously overlooked battleground."
A country, and especially a young one, cannot be made self-conscious overnight. At the birth of this nation, most Americans thought of themselves only loosely, grandly as Americans, and many who gave it real thought did not fancy the idea at all. Like the paddlewheel, electoral politics, and the Battle of New Orleans, the mail system was an important part of the process by which Americans came to conceive of themselves as such, and it was possibly the most important network stitching together the disparate regions of an expanding empire. When John C. Calhoun urged his countrymen, “Let us conquer space,” he was not making the case for a war with Mexico, but for an expansion of the mail system. “It is thus,” he continued, “that a citizen of the West will read the news of Boston still moist from the press. The mail and the press are the nerves of the body politic.”