How an Anti-Obscenity Crusader Policed America’s Mail for Decades

Anthony Comstock recognized the obscenity when he saw it, and the famous anti-vice crusader saw it everywhere. From the 1870s to the beginning of the 20and century, the dry goods salesman turned self-proclaimed censor was a man on a mission: to impose his sense of morality on what Americans read, saw, and even did in their own bedrooms.

Although not an elected lawmaker, the devout Protestant, appalled by the sexual permissiveness he witnessed in New York, extensively rewrote federal postal laws “to prevent the couriers from being used to corrupt public morals.” . And he got a docile Congress to pass them. Some historians suggest that the politicians were looking for a question that would divert public attention from the Crédit Mobilier scandal, in which many of them were implicated.

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