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POST OFFICE REFORM.
Of all the manifold devices supplied by social wants which it was designed to the ingenuity of men to promote the pro- supply might have been, it could not be gress of civilization, the idea of a Na- fully realized until the cognate arts had tional Post Office stands in the foremost had attained correlative maturity. ranks of importance. The social want Correspondence by letter is a speech which it proposes to supply is so obvious at a distance. It is conversation carried and apparently so inseparable from a state on between individuals separated by a even in the least degree advanced beyond space exceeding the limit of the range of that of a primitive and pastoral people, the voice and the ear. Social machinery that we might naturally seek for the date for the easy, expeditious and cheap transof its first realization among the earliest mission of letters is to the ear what the annals of nations. Its existence, even in telescope is to the eye, with this differan imperfect and incipient form, is never ence: that while the one shows only the theless assignable to a comparatively late image of what is desired to be approached, epoch, nor did it attain any development the other brings to us the thing itself; commensurate to its importance, until the and while the one is confined in its aplast half century. Indeed, it is only in plication to physical objects, the other these, our own times, that its full capa bears upon the social, the intellectual, bilities seem likely to be manifested. One the political and the commercial. We cause, perhaps the principal one, of the speak on paper with the hand, and to slow progress of this great social institu- the words thus spoken, we listen with tion towards maturity, has been its inti- the eye. Space, if not time, is thus, for mate dependence on other arts of life, and all the objects of personal intercommuniintermediately on the mechanical disco- cation, annihilated. The interposition veries and inventions by which these of an hemisphere of our planet does not arts have attained their present degree of prevent the out-pouring of the affection perfection. First, and transcendently the of the husband to the wife, the child to most important of these, was the art of the parent, the brother to the sister. It transportation by land and water; an art stops not the progress of the bargain or which continued in a state of relative the sale. It clogs not the wheels of imperfection until the genius of Watt, trade. The merchant who is present, Fulton, Trevithick and Stephenson bodily, in Wall street, is simultaneously created the Steam Engine, and bade that present, in his commercial spirit, in omnipotent machine to carry the ship in Threadneedle street, and on the Place de triumph over the wide waste of waters, la Bourse. Whether individuals be relaughing to scorn the opposing elements; garded in their relations of kindred, or to transport the barge against the streams as component parts of general society, of the gigantic Mississippi and its inter or as agents in carrying out the objects minable tributaries, of the Rhine, the of commerce, or as links between distant Thames and the Ganges, and to give wings nations, stronger and more manifold reato the chariot and waft it with the speed of sons are apparent for promoting every the wind over paths where lately the Red measure, and prosecuting every inquiry man alone roamed, and the beast of the for. which is directed to improve and faciliest had its lair. So curiously dove-tailed is tate the means of correspondence between the artificial system of human society, distant parts of the same country, or beso complex is the reticulation by which tween distant parts of the globe. To the wants and wishes of our race are neglect this duty, and still more to be supplied and gratitied, that scarcely any directly or indirectly instrumental in branch of art can be seriously affected in augmenting the expense of such interits progress without producing a sensible communication beyond the very lowest influence among a multitude of others, amount which is necessary for its effiimmediately or remotely connected with, ciency, is equivalent to putting an obor related to it. The entire system pro- struction on the liberty of speech itself. gresses with a common velocity, and A tax upon letters, is, in fact, a tax upon however admirable the theory of the speech." It is worse. It is a fine levied Post Office, and however craving those upon the affections. It is an impost upon
the love of kindred. It is a duty laid ance on the part of the Post Office depart. upon friendship. It is a penalty on com ment—of the aristocracy who enjoyed merce; an amercement on the diffusion exemption from the burthen of postage of knowledge, and a drag on the progress by the franking privilege, of the press of civilization. It has been well said by upon which the projected plan was exeminent commercial authorities, that pected to perate disadvantageously, “you might as well tax words spoken of the House of Commons, whose privi. upon the Royal Exchange, as the com- lege was threatened to be swept away,munications of various persons living at established a Post Office system which Manchester, Liverpool, and London,” has multiplied, in an infinite proportion, and that if there be any one subject the social advantages of the nation, which which ought not to be selected as a subject has offered a model to other countries, of taxation, it is that of inter-communica- and which will descend to future ages as tion by post; and if there be any one a monument of what may be effected by thing which the government ought, con the spirit of a free and intelligent people. sistently with its great duties to the Any individual of the population of the public, to do gratuitously, it is the car United Kingdom can now transmit a riage of
letters. We build Nat packet weighing half an ounce, to any Galleries and furnish them with pictures; other individual, no matter how remote we propose to create public walks for his position within the country, at the air and health, and exercise of the com cost of two CENTS ! and by executing munity, at the general cost of the coun. this service at this rate of charge, the try. Neither of these, useful and valuable Post Office department, after defraying all as they are to the community, and fit as its various and heavy charges, is enabled they are for the government to sanction, to transfer annually to the National are more conducive to the moral and so- Treasury a regularly augmenting nett cial advancement of the community than revenue, the present amount of which the facility of the intercourse by post.” exceeds three millions of dollars !! Such are the deliberate opinions and sen The condition of things which led to timents, not of professed philanthropists, this grand reform in England, and which not of speculative philosophers, but of ultimately elicited from the people that plain, practical men of business, mer. expression of their will, which when chants and bankers, who, from long and unanimous is as irresistible under the extensive experience, know what they monarchy of Britain as under our own speak of.* And this has been applied to republican institutions, was exactly si. a country circumscribed within limits milar to that which now prevails in this not exceeding those of a single State of country. The reports and remonstrances this Union, and reticulated by innumerable of the Post Office department were identiroutes for the rapid and cheap intercourse cal even to minute particulars with those of its crowded population. While on the which are now issued here. The same neother hand, our country presents a terri- cessity for some change was admitted, and tory forming a large section of the globe, the same resistance to a really efficient inhabited by a sparse population, sepa- change was offered. The same enormous rated by distances, not to be traveled abuses of the franking privilege were comover, even by the aid of the marvelous plained of. The same establishment of powers of steam, in less time than can private mails and expresses, the same debe expressed by weeks. Among such a cline of the Post Office revenue, the same people, correspondence, so desirable to abuses in the free transmission of printed all, becomes a want of imperious urgency. papers, were all and severally the topics of
Now, in England, the people have vain declamation and fruitless complaint. risen, and with one consentaneous voice The sympathy of the public was not on uttered their will in accents neither to be the side of the established laws, and they mistaken nor resisted, and extorted from were, as they always will be in such an unwilling legislature and reluctant cases, violated with impunity, and, as government, the most stupendous official here at present, set at open defiance. reform of which the annals of any civi- Their breach was unattended with pun. lized nation can afford an example. They ishment, their evasion visited with no have, in the teeth of an obstinate resist. discredit. It was proved that for one
See evidence of Lord Ashburton and of Mr. Samuel Jones Lloyd, before the Postage Committee of the English House of Commons.
letter sent through the post office, ten great variety of forms of address might were transmitted through cheaper but be used on different occasions, such as illegal channels. Merchants and bankers the following :of the first rank, wealth and respectability voluntarily came forward and declared William Smith Jones, 516 Mark Lane, that they systematically defrauded the
London. Post Office that they themselves sent William Smith Jones, Mark Lane, London. their letters by regular private expresses!* Wm. Smith Jones, 516 Mark Lane, London.
William Smith Jones, London. In short the practice of evasion was ad. Wm. Smith Jones, Mark Lane, London. mitted as it is here daily, without a blush, Wm. Smith Jones, London. by persons of the highest respectability. W. S. Jones, 516 Mark Lane, London. The expedients of evasion were thus W. S. Jones, Mark Lane, London. enumerated :- 1st. By carriers or private W. S. Jones, London. expresses openly carrying letters. 2d. William S. Jones, 516 Mark Lane, London, In booksellers' parcels. 3d. În warehouse- William S. Jones, Mark Lane, London. men's bales and parcels. 4th. In stage. William S. Jones, London, coach parcels. 5th. In weavers' bags, W. Smith Jones, 516 Mark Lane, London. in the neighborhood of the manufacturing W. Smith Jones, London.
W. Smith Jones, Mark Lane, London. towns. 6th. In private boxes. 7th.
William Smith Jones, Esq.,516 Mark Lane, Under parliamentary and official franks,
London. by parties not entitled to their use.
&c., &c., &c. But some devices for evasion evinced such ingenuity that they merit more es Thus a simple address assumed a pecial notice. A letter in a franked en- hundred different forms, and these forms velope is sent from London to Dublin, were entered in a page of the merchant's 50 wafered or sealed as to be opened memorandum book, with a key, which without tearing the cover. The individ- gave them a signification, by which a ual receiving it writes another, enclosing corresponding variety of the most usual it in the same envelope with the same commercial communications were effected address, but altering the place to some by their means. To inform him of the other town or city, Edinburgh for exam state of the market, the arrival or transple, as though the party to whom it was mission of goods, all that was addressed had departed from Dublin, cessary was to send a newspaper with thence. Being received at Edinburgh, one of the above varieties of form of adthe same envelope is again made to serve dress, from which, hy a preconcerted a like purpose. In this way we have plan, this communication was interpreted. known the same frank to carry three or Such were the shifts to which an overmore letters successively between differ- taxed people were driven to satisfy the ent places.
social and commercial wants which a The free transmission of newspapers healthy Post Office system should have afforded too obvious a means of cheap supplied. and rapid communication to escape the The average postage payable at that ingenuity of the British trader. Some time, on single letters, was sixpence, or curious evidence on the abuse of this twelve cents, the same which is now right was produced before the committees chargeable by the United States Post of parliament. It appeared that it was a Office, and to resist and evade which the common practice with commercial houses public have resorted to like shifts and to transmit newspapers, the mode of ad- expedients. dressing which served the purposes of The grievances of the postage system the usual business communications. In then prevalent in England, and still presssuch cases
a system of signals was ing on the people of this country, consisted agreed upon between the correspondents, in the intolerable amount of the charge determined by the form of address in- in proportion to the service performed, scribed on the journals which were thus and in the vexatious and humiliating used as the instruments of communica- system of espionage to which the method tion. Let us suppose for example that of rating by single and double letters gave William Smith Jones of 516 Mark Lane, rise. The injustice of apportioning the London, were the party addressed. A amount of charge by the distance to
The House of Baring & Co. acknowledged before the parliamentary committee that they sent a box weekly to Liverpool, containing 200 letters, to evade the postage.
which the letters were transmitted was ries, when once explained, it appears so not perceived, and therefore formed no self-evident, that we are astonished at its ground of complaint.
not having been perceived sooner, and In the early part of the year 1837, a from its very simplicity are apt to underpamphlet was published, developing a rate the powers which developed it. project for effecting a vast Post Office This important fact is, that the expense revolution. It professed to demonstrate attending the dispatch and delivery of that letters might be conveyed through letters, by the Post Office, is practically the Post, from one extremity of the coun- independent of the distance to which try to the other, at the uniform rate of they are transmitted, or, in other words, charging a penny per half ounce; and that the cost is the same, whether these that such a system would, nevertheless, distances are great or small. When this yield to the state a large revenue. A principle was first announced, it sounded project so novel and so bold, affecting a so like paradox, not to say absurdity, department of the public administration that even acute minds could scarcely be which party politics did not reach, would, prevailed on to give it serious considera. it might be thought, have needed some tion, and after it had been explained great reputation to force it into notice. and demonstrated again and again, a Had its author already been known to large portion of those who were called fame, as a statist or financier, or had he on to act upon it, could not be got either been patronized by those in high places, to comprehend or to credit it. Let us see more or less public attention might have whether we cannot make it intelligible. been expected to have been attracted to The various items into which the cost wards it. But such was not the case. of transmitting a letter to its destination, Its author was an unknown, obscure may be resolved, consist of its reception schoolmaster, without personal weight, at one post office—its sorting, stamping, consideration, or influence. "The bold- and packing in the mail-bag-its transness of the plan,” says a writer of that portation to the post office of the place day, “was therefore likely to be quietly of its address—its reception there--and contemned as empirical rashness, by a finally its livery to the party to whom busy population like that of Great Britain, it is addressed. It is also chargeable whose curiosity has been palled by the with its share of the expense of the fallacious hopes of advantages which general superintendence and management have been so constantly obtruded on the of the Post Office. Now it is evident public attention. No scheme, therefore, that all those items, the cost of transporwas ever promulgated with less pro- tation alone being excepted, are indebability of success, from adventitious pendent of the distance to which the causes ; and yet no scheme ever made its letter is sent, and are, therefore, the same way in so short a time to the convictions for letters transmitted to all distances. of mankind, not only in England, but It becomes, then, a question of the highest wherever a post office is to be found. importance, in this inquiry, to ascertain In two years and a half, the theory of what is the actual proportion which this a private individual became the law of cost of transportation bears to the other the land; and France, Germany, and expenses. It appears from the published other countries, have since directed their returns of the British revenue, that for efforts to avail themselves of the same the year ending 5th January, 1842, the principles in their own system.”
gross revenue of the Post Office amounted The postage system of Mr. Rowland to $7,178,592, and that the nett revenue Hill, is based upon a fact first ascertained for the same year was $2,675,380 Hence by him, which ought to be regarded as a we have the means of finding the total statistical discovery of the first order, average cost of each single letter. although, like many other great discove
The gross receipts being produced by a rate of one penny per half ounce for all
distances, it follows that the actual cost transportation is one twenty-third part of of each letter to the Post Office, must have the whole cost of the letter to the Post
Office. been 718 or twenty-three thirty-sixths
Suppose then, that it be required to of a penny, very nearly.
Now it was tax letters sent to different distances, in ascertained by Mr. Hill, and not disputed an equitable proportion, depending on after full investigation, that the actual the different expenses produced by the average cost of transmission per half difference of distance, let us see what the ounce, for a distance of four hundred result would be, Let one, A, be sent to miles, was one thirty-sixth part of a a distance of one hundred miles, and the penny.
It follows, therefore, that for other, B, to a distance of four hundred letters sent to that distance, the item of miles.
If a revenue tax be added, it will, of with the increase of the number of letters course, be the same for both, so that the to be conveyed. Thus, suppose that a difference of charge which could be thousand letters have to be conveyed to equitably made in favor of the letter A, one city, and only one hundred to the to the shorter distance, would amount other, the large items of internal manageto three-fourths of the thirty-sixth part of ment will have to be, in the one case, a penny, or to the forty eighth part of a divided among a thousand, and in the penny, or twenty-fourth part of a cent, other case, among a hundred letters ; precisely.
and, as these items are very little affected It was therefore demonstrated that the in their gross amount, by the number of only item of postage which varied in the letters, the cost per letter of the smaller ratio of the distance, was one of an mail will be greater than the cost per amount so small as not to be capable of letter of the larger mail. If this principle being changed in any current coin, and were adopted, and strictly equitable rates 80 minute a fraction of a farthing, as to based upon it, we should have high rates be of no practical value to the parties of postage to all small towns, and low dispatching or receiving letters.
rates to all great cities. Not to mention It was thus established, that no differ- other impractibilities attending the apence of charge could be fairly made for plication of such a principle of rating, it letters sent to different distances, and it would be subject to continual variation was conceded that so far as any consider- with the varying population and comation of distance was involved, all letters merce of each place; but, indeed, it is of the same weight should be charged sufficiently obvious, that no system, based with the same postage.
on such a principle, could work with Are all letters of equal weight then, it any good or useful effect. will be asked, attended with the same But the plain, practical answer to all expense of dispatch and delivery? And attempts at an equitable adjustment of if not, what circumstances produce the varying rates of postage is, that the utdifference of expense, and how can the most cost of transmission of letters of the rates of postage be accommodated to weight of half an ounce is so small that such difference of expense? To this, it no variation of it is needed, and the may be replied, that the cost of the trans- practical advantages of one uniform rate, mission of letters is governed by the for all places, are so many and great as same law that prevails in the cost of pro- to render it at once, easy simple, and duction of all other commodities. It is, economical to the administration, and ac. in short, diminished in a rapid proportion ceptable to the public.