REMARKS AND STATISTICS
ON THE SUBJECT OF
CHEAP POSTAGE AND POSTAL REFORM
GREAT BRITAIN AND THE UNITED STATES.
BY JOSHUA LEAVITT,
COR. SEC. OF THE CHEAP POSTAGE ASSOCIATION.
"The well-ordering of the Postes is a Matter of General Concernment, and of Great Advantage, as well for the preservation of Trade and Commerce as otherwise."—Statute of Charles II.
Published for the Cheap Postage Association;
By Otis Claps, Treasurer,
No. 12, School Street.
PUBLISHING DIRECTION. CHEAP POSTAGE. APPENDIX. Footnotes
Subjoined are the proceedings under which the following sheets were prepared and are now published:
"At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the CHEAP POSTAGE ASSOCIATION, on the 31st of March, 1848, Dr. Howe, Dr. Webb, and Mr. Leavitt were appointed a Committee of Publication. And on motion of Dr. Samuel G. Howe, it was
"Voted, That the Publishing Committee be authorized to procure the compilation of a pamphlet on the subject of Cheap Postage and Postal Reform.
"At a meeting of the Board, on the 25th of April, 1848, Mr. Leavitt, the Corresponding Secretary, on behalf of the Publishing Committee, reported the copy of a pamphlet on the subject prescribed. And on motion of Mr. Moses Kimball, it was
"Voted, That the pamphlet be printed for general circulation, under the direction of the Publishing Committee."
J. W. JAMES, Chairman of the Board.
CHARLES B. FAIRBANKS, Recording Secretary.
BOSTON, April 26, 1848.
BOSTON: PRINTED BY FREEMAN AND BOLLES, DEVONSHIRE STREET.
For more than eight years, the people of Great Britain have enjoyed the blessing of Cheap Postage. A literary gentleman of England, in a letter to his friend in Boston, dated London, March 23, 1848, says—"Our Post Office Reform is our greatest measure for fifty years, not only political, but educational for the English mind and affections. If you had any experience of the exquisite convenience of the thing, your speech would wax eloquent to advocate it. With your increasing population, a similar measure must soon pay; and it will undoubtedly increase the welfare and solidarite of the United States."
Mr. Laing, a writer of eminence, said four years ago, "This measure will be the great historical distinction of the reign of Victoria I. Every mother in the kingdom, who has children earning their bread at a distance, lays her head upon her pillow at night with a feeling of gratitude for this blessing."
An American gentleman, writing from London, in 1844, says, "It is hardly possible to overrate the value of this [cheap postage] in regard to the exertion of moral power. At a trifling expense one can carry on a correspondence with all parts of the kingdom. It saves time, facilitates business, and brings kindred minds in contact. How long will our enlightened government adhere to its absurd system?"
The London Committee, who got up a national testimonial for Mr. Rowland Hill, speak of cheap postage as "a measure which has opened the blessings of free correspondence to the teacher of religion, the man of science and literature, the merchant and trader, and the whole British nation, especially to the poorest and most defenceless portion of it—a measure which is the greatest boon conferred in modern times on all the social interests of the civilized world."
The unspeakable benefits conferred by cheap postage upon the people, are equalled by its complete success as a governmental measure. The gross receipts of the British Post-office had remained about stationary for thirty years, ranging always in the neighborhood of two millions and a quarter sterling. In the year 1839, the last year of the old system, the gross income was L2,390,763. In the year 1847, under the new system, it was L1,978,293, that is, only L413,470 short of the receipts under the old system. A letter from Mr. Joseph Hume, M. P., to Dr. Thomas H. Webb, of Boston, dated London, March 3, 1848, says, "I am informed by the General Post-office, that the gross revenue this year will equal, it is expected, the gross amount of the postage in the year before the postage was reduced." Mr. Hume also encloses a tabular statement of the increase of letters, together with a copy of the Parliamentary return, made the present year, showing the fiscal condition and continued success of the Post-office. He sends also, a copy of a note which he had just written to Mr. Bancroft, our Minister at the Court of St. James, as follows:
Bry. Square, 2d March, 1848.
My Dear Sir,
I have the pleasure to send you the copy of a paper I have prepared, at the request of Mr. Webb, of Boston, to show the progress of increase of the number of letters by the post-office here, since the reduction of the postage, and I hope it may induce your government to adopt the same course.
I am not aware of any reform, amongst the many reforms that I have promoted during the last forty years, that has had, and will have better results towards the improvement of this country, morally, socially and commercially.
I wish as much as possible that the communication by letters, newspapers and pamphlets, should pass between the United States and Great Britain as between Great Britain and Ireland, as the intercommunication of knowledge and kindly feelings must be the result, tending to the promotion of friendly intercourse, and to maintain peace, so desirable to all countries.
Any further information on this subject shall be freely and with pleasure supplied by, yours, sincerely,
(Signed) JOSEPH HUME.
His Excellency George Bancroft.
MR. HUME'S TABLE.
Estimate of the number of chargeable Letters delivered in the United Kingdom in each year, from 1839 to 1847.(1)
Year. Number of Letters. Annual Increase. Increase per cent. Millions. Millions. on the No. for 1839. 1839. 76(2) 1840. 169 93 123 1841. 196-1/2 27-1/2 36 1842. 208-1/2 12 16 1843. 220-1/2 12 16 1844. 242 21-1/2 28 1845. 271-1/2 29-1/2 39 1846. 299-1/2 28 37 1847. 322 22-1/2 30
The most important of the tables contained in the parliamentary return will be given in the appendix, either entire, or so as to present the material results in their official form. The contents of that document have not, to my knowledge, been in any manner brought before the people of the United States.
It is humiliating to think, that while a system fraught with so many blessings has been so long in operation, and with such signal success as a financial measure, in a country with which our relations are so intimate, I should now begin to prepare the first pamphlet for publication, designed to give the American people full information on the subject; this publication being the first effort of the first regularly organized society, now just formed, for the purpose of securing the same blessings to the citizens of this republic, which the British Parliament enacted, after full investigation, nine years ago. If we look at the various political questions which have already in those eight years grown "obsolete," after occupying the public mind and engrossed the cares of our statesmen, to the exclusion of the great subject of cheap postage, and consider their comparative importance, we shall be satisfied that it is now high time for a determined effort to satisfy the people of the United States with regard to the utility and practicability of cheap postage.
Prior to the year 1840 the postal systems of Great Britain and the United States were constructed on similar principles, and the rates of postage were nearly alike. Both were administered with a special view to the amount of money that could be realized from postage. In Great Britain, the surplus of receipts above the cost of administration was carried to the general treasury. In the United States, the surplus received in the North was employed in extending mail facilities to the scattered inhabitants of the South and West. In Great Britain, private mails and other facilities had kept the receipts stationary for twenty years, while the population of the country had increased thirty per cent., and the business and intelligence and wealth of the country in a much greater ratio. In the United States, there was a constant increase of postage, although by a less ratio than the increase of population, until the year 1843, when, through the establishment of private mails, the gross receipts actually fell off, and it became apparent that the old system had failed, and could never be reinvigorated so as to make the post-office support itself, without a change of system.
In Great Britain, the government, after full investigation, became satisfied that it was impossible to suppress the private mails except by under-bidding them, which they also ascertained that the government, by its facilities, could afford to do. They also became satisfied that no plan of partial reduction of postage could restore the energy of the system, but the only hope of ultimate success was in the immediate adoption of the lowest rate. And although the public debt presses so heavily as to put every administration to its utmost resources for revenue, they resolved to risk the whole net revenue then realized, equal to above a million and a half sterling, as the best thing that could be done. In the United States, the government, without extensive examination, resolved to do what the British government dared not attempt, that is, to put down the private mails by penal enactments. It also resolved to adopt a partial reduction of the rates of postage; and without regarding the mathematical demonstration of its futility, persevered in regarding distance as the basis of the rates of charge.
A few extracts from the Debates in Parliament, will show several of these points in a striking light:
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Francis Baring, on first introducing the bill, July 5, 1839, declared his conviction that the loss of revenue at the outset would be "very considerable indeed." He said the committee had considered that "two pence postage could be introduced without any loss to the revenue," but he differed from them, and found "the whole of the authorities conclusively bearing in favor of a penny postage." And he "conscientiously believed that the public ran less risk of loss in adopting it." Referring to the petitions of the people, he said, "The mass of them present the most extraordinary combination I ever saw, of representations to one purpose, from all classes, unswayed by any political motive whatever, from persons of all shades of opinion, political and religious, and from the commercial and trading communities in all parts of the kingdom."
Mr. GOULBURN, then one of the leaders of the opposition, opposed so great a sacrifice of revenue, in the existing state of the country, but admitted that it would "ultimately increase the wealth and prosperity of the country." And if the experiment was to be tried at all, "it would be best to make it to the extent proposed," for "the whole evidence went to show that a postage of two pence would fail, but a penny might succeed."
Mr. WALLACE declared it "one of the greatest boons that could be conferred on the human race," and he begged that, as "England had the honor of the invention," they might not "lose the honor of being the first to execute" a plan, which he pronounced "essentially necessary to the comforts of the human race."
Sir ROBERT PEEL, then at the head of the opposition, found much fault with the financial plans of Mr. Baring, but he "would not say one word in disparagement of the plans of Mr. Hill;" and if he wanted popularity, "he would at once give way to the public feeling in favor of the great moral and social advantages" of the plan, "the great stimulus it would afford to industry and commercial enterprise," and "the boon it presented to the lower classes."
Mr. O'CONNELL thought it would be "one of the most valuable legislative reliefs that had ever been given to the people." It was "impossible to exaggerate its benefits." And even if it would not pay the expense of the post-office, he held that "government ought to make a sacrifice for the purpose of facilitating communication."
July 12, the debate was resumed.
Mr. POULETTE THOMPSON showed the impossibility of making a correct estimate of the loss of revenue that would accrue. One witness before the committee stated that there would be no deficiency; another said it would be small; while Lord Ashburton declared that it would amount to a sacrifice of the whole revenue of the post-office.
Mr. WARBURTON denied that the post-office had ever been regarded as a mere matter of revenue; the primary object of its institution was to contribute to the convenience of the people; its advantages ought to be accessible to the whole community, and not be made a matter of taxation at all.
VISCOUNT SANDON, of the opposition, said he had long been of the opinion that the post-office was not a proper source of revenue, but it "ought to be employed in stimulating other sources of revenue."
July 22, another discussion came on.
Sir ROBERT PEEL admitted that "great social and commercial advantages will arise from the change, independent of financial considerations."
August 5, the bill was taken up by the peers.
VISCOUNT MELBOURN, in opening the debate, dwelt upon the extraordinary extent of the contraband conveyance of letters, as the effect of high postage, and said this made it necessary to protect both the revenue and the morals of the people by so great a reduction. The means of evasion were so organized, and resort to them was so easy, and had even become a habit, that persons would, for a very small profit, follow the contraband trade of conveying letters. It was therefore clearly necessary to make the reduction to such an extent as would ensure the stopping of the contraband trade.
The DUKE OF WELLINGTON admitted "the expediency, and indeed the necessity" of the proposed change. He thought Mr. Hill's plan "the one most likely to succeed." He found fault with the financial plans of the administration, but for the sake of the reform of the post-office, he said, "I shall, although with great reluctance, vote for the bill, and I earnestly recommend your lordships to do the same." His customary mode of expressing his opinions.
LORD ASHBURTON expected the cost of the department, under the new system, would amount to a million sterling, which must be made up out of several pence before you could touch one farthing of the present income of a million and six hundred pounds. There could be no doubt that the country at large would derive an immense benefit, the consumption of paper would be increased considerably, and it was most probable the number of letters would be at least doubled. It appeared to him a tax upon communication between distant parties was, _of all taxes, the _ most objectionable_. At one time he had been of the opinion that the uniform charge of postage should be two pence, but _he found the mass of evidence so strongly in favor of one penny_, that he concluded the ministers were right in coming down to that rate.
The EARL OF LICHFIELD, Postmaster-General, said the leading idea of Mr. Rowland Hill's book seemed to be "the fancy that he had hit upon a scheme for recovering the two millions of revenue which he thought had been lost by the high rates of postage." His own opinion was, that the recovery of the revenue was totally impossible. He therefore supported the measure on entirely different grounds from those on which Mr. Hill placed it. In neither house had it been brought forward on the ground that the revenue would be the gainer. He assented to it on the simple ground that THE DEMAND FOR IT WAS UNIVERSAL. So obnoxious was the tax upon letters, that he was entitled to say that "the people had declared their readiness to submit to any impost that might be substituted in its stead."
The proof is thus complete, that the British system was actually adopted with sole reference to its general benefits, and the will of the people, and not at all in the expectation of realizing, in any moderate time, as much revenue as was derived from the old postage. The revenue question was discarded, from a paramount regard to the public good, which demanded the cheap postage, even if it should be necessary to impose a new tax for its support. The extravagant expectations of some of the over-sanguine friends of the new system, were expressly disclaimed, and the government justified themselves on these other considerations entirely—considerations which have been most abundantly realized. It will be easy to show that the benefits and blessings anticipated from the actual enjoyment of cheap postage, have fully equalled the most sanguine expectations of the friends of the measure, and have far exceeded in public utility, the pittance of income to the treasury, which used to be wrung out by the tax upon letters. The same examination will also show, that there is no substantial reason, either in the system itself, or in any peculiarity of our circumstances, why the same system is not equally practicable and equally applicable here, nor why we should not realize at least as great benefits as the people of Great Britain, from cheap postage.
Mr. Rowland Hill published his scheme in a pamphlet, in 1837. In 1838, it had attracted so much notice, that between three and four hundred petitions in its favor were presented to Parliament, and the government consented to a select committee to collect and report information on the subject. This committee sat sixty-three days, examined the Postmaster-General and his secretaries and solicitors, elicited many important tabular returns, and took the testimony of about ninety other individuals, of a great variety of stations and occupations. They also entered into many minute and elaborate calculations, which give to their results the value of mathematical demonstration. Their report, with the accompanying documents, fills three folio volumes of the Parliamentary Papers for 1838. Its investigations were so thorough, its deductions so cautious and candid, and its accumulations of evidence so overwhelming that they left nothing to be done, but to adopt the new system entire.
In this country, no such pains were taken to collect facts, no means were used to spread before the people the facts and mathematical calculations and irrefragable arguments of the parliamentary committee; little study was bestowed on the subject even by our legislators but with a prejudged conclusion that the reasonings and facts applicable to Great Britain could not apply here, on account of the length of our routes and the sparseness of our population, a partial reduction was resolved upon, which retained the complication and the cumbersome machinery of the old system, while affording only a small portion of the benefits of the new.
The effect has been, that while the British system has gone on gathering favor and strength, the American system, after less than three years' trial, has already grown old, the private mails are reviving, the ingenuity of men of business is taxed to evade postage, and a growing conviction already shows itself, that the half-way reduction is a failure, and it is time to make another change. That is to say, the partial reduction has failed to meet the wishes of the people, or the wants of the public interest, or the duty of the government in discharging the trust imposed by the constitution. Indeed, there ought not to be a great deal of labor required to prove that there is only one right way, and that the right way is the best way, and that it is better to adopt a scientifically constructed machine, which has been proved to be perfect in all its parts, than a clumsy contrivance, the working principle of which is contradicted by mathematical demonstration. I propose to present several of the main principles involved in the reduction of postage, illustrated by facts drawn from the parliamentary papers, and from other authentic sources.
I. Reduction of Price tends to increase of Consumption.
Our own partial reform in postage proves this. In a report of the committee on post-offices and post-roads, made to the House of Representatives, May 15, 1844, it is said,
"Events are in progress of fatal tendency to the Post-office Department, and its decay has commenced. Unless arrested by vigorous legislation, it must soon cease to be a self-sustaining institution, and either be cast on the treasury for support, or suffered to decline from year to year, till the system has become incompetent and useless. The last annual report of the Postmaster-General shows that, notwithstanding the heavy retrenchments he had made, the expenditures of the department, for the year ending June 30th, 1843, exceeded its income by the sum of $78,788. The decline of its revenue during that year was $250,321; and the investigations made into the operations of the current year, indicate a further and an increasing decline, at the rate of about $300,000 a year. Why this loss of revenue, when the general business and prosperity of the country is reviving, and its correspondence is on the increase?"
The report of the Senate Committee at the same session, made Feb. 22, 1844, says that "the cause of this great falling off, in a season of reviving prosperity in the trade, business and general prosperity of the country, cannot be regarded as transient, but, on the contrary, is shown to be deep and corroding. The cause is the dissatisfaction felt generally through the country, but most strongly in the densely peopled regions to with the rates of postage now established by law, and the frequent resort to various means of evading its payment."
The result was the passage of the act, now in force, by which the postage was reduced one half, to begin on the first day of July, 1845. The last annual report of the Postmaster-General gives the result. He says:
"It is gratifying to find that, within so short a period after the great reduction of the rates of postage, the revenues of the department have increased much beyond the expectation of the friends of the cheap postage system, while the expenditures, for the same time, have diminished more than half a million of dollars annually, and that the department is in a condition to support itself, without further aid from the treasury."
The number of chargeable letters passed through the mails in 1843, was stated in the Report at 24,267,552, yielding the sum of $3,525,268. The number for the year ending June 30, 1847, was 52,173,480, yielding $3,188,957. Thus the reduction of price one half, has in two years more than doubled the consumption, and already yields nearly an equal product.
The experiment in Great Britain shows that a still greater reduction may be perfectly relied upon to give a rate of increase fully proportionable. The "Companion to the British Almanac," for 1842, says, "The rate of postage in the London district, (which includes the limits of the old two penny post,) averaged 2-⅓d. per letter, before the late changes; at present it averages about 1-1/4d., and the gross revenue already equals that of 1835. The gross receipts in 1838, the last complete year under the old system, were L118,000; the gross revenue for 1840, the first complete year under the new system, was $104,000."
The parliamentary committee, in their report in 1838, state, as the result of all their inquiries, that the total number of chargeable letters passing through the post-office annually, was about 77,500,000; franks, 7,000,000; total of letters, 84,500,000. The average postage per letter was 7d. The gross receipts annually, for six years, ending with 1820, were L2,190,597. For six years, ending with 1837, they averaged L2,251,424. For the year 1847, the number of letters was 320,000,000, and the gross receipts nearly equal to the old system. Here a reduction of the price three-fourths, has increased the consumption fourfold. Some other cases of similar bearing, may be worth stating, taken chiefly from the parliamentary documents.
Before the reduction of the duty on newspapers in England, the price was 7d., and the number sold in a year was 35,576,056, costing the public L1,037,634. On the reduction of the duty, the price was reduced to 4-3/4d., and the public immediately paid L1,058,779, for 53,496,207 papers.
Under the high duty on advertisements, when the price was 6s. each, the number was 1,010,000, costing L303,000. By the reduction of the duty, the price fell to 4s., and the number rose to 1,670,000, costing L334,000.
Formerly the fee of admission to the Armory of the Tower of London was 3s., at which rate there were in 1838, 9,508 visitors, who paid L1,426. In 1839, the fee was reduced to 1s., and there were 37,431 visitors, who paid L1,891. In 1840, the fee was reduced to 6d., and the number of visitors in nine months was 66,025, who paid L1,650. During the entire year ending January 31, 1841, there were 91,897 visitors, who paid L2,297.
The falling of the price of soap one-eighth, increased the consumption one-third; the falling of tea one-sixth, increased consumption one-half; the falling of silks one-fifth, doubled the consumption; of coffee one-fourth, trebled it, and of cotton goods one-half quadrupled it.
A multitude of similar facts could be collected in our own country, showing the uniform and powerful tendency of diminished cost to increased consumption. A gentleman who is interested in a certain panorama said that, in a certain case, the exhibiter wrote to him that the avails, at a quarter of a dollar per ticket, were not sufficient to pay expenses. "Put it down to twelve and a half cents," was the reply. It was done, and immediately the receipts rose so as to give a net profit of one hundred dollars a week.
These facts prove that there is a settled law in economics, that in the case of any article of general use and necessity, a reduction in the price may be expected to produce at least a corresponding increase of consumption, and in many cases a very largely increased expenditure. So that the amount expended by the people at low prices will be fully equal to the amount expended for the same at high prices. The people of England expend now as much money for postage, as they did under the old system, but the advantage is, that they get a great deal more service for their money, and it gives a spring to business, trade, science, literature, philanthropy, social affection, and all plans of public utility.
II. Nothing but Cheap Postage will suppress Private Mails.
It is true that, in this country, private mails are not of so long standing, nor so thoroughly systematized as they were in Great Britain before the adoption of cheap postage. But on the other hand, the state of things in this country affords much greater facilities for that business, and renders their suppression by force of law much more difficult and more odious than in Great Britain.
On this head, the report of the Parliamentary Committee contains a vast mass of information, which made a deep and conclusive impression, upon the statesmen of that country. They found and declared that, "with regard to large classes of the community, those classes principally to whom it is a matter of necessity to correspond on matters of business, and to whom also it is a matter of importance to save, or at least to reduce the expense of postage, the post-office, instead of being viewed as it ought to be, and as it would be under a wise administration of it, as an institution of ready and universal access, distributing equally to all, and with an open hand, the blessings of commerce upon civilization, is regarded by them as an establishment too expensive not to be made use of, and as one with the employment of which any endeavor to dispense by every means in their power." And among "the commercial and trading classes, by dint of the superior activity, had in a considerable degree relieved themselves from the pressure of this tax, without the interference of the legislature, by devising other means for the cheap, safe and expeditious conveyance of letters." Some specimens of these expedients, as developed by the evidence before the Parliamentary Committee, will be at once curious and instructive.
M. B. Peacock, Esq., solicitor to the post-office, detailed the methods which the department had used to suppress the illicit sending of letters. By law, one half of the penalty, in cases of prosecution, went to the informer, but of late, informations were given much less frequently, and he thought the diminution of informations was owing to the fact that, about five years before, there had been a call in parliament for a return of the names of informers. He said the post-office had done all in its power to put a stop to the illegal sending, but without success. And he was decidedly of opinion, that the prevention is beyond the power of the post-office, and could only be done by reducing the rates of postage.
Mr. G. R. Huddlestone, superintendent of the ship-letter office, gave an account of the illicit sending of letters from London to the outports to go by sea. He said they were customarily sent in bags from the coffee houses, and by the owners of vessels, in the same way as from the ship letter office, and no means had been devised which could put a stop to it. Of 122,000 letters sent from the port of Liverpool in a year, by the American packets, only 69,000 passed through the post-office. The number of letters received inwards, from all parts of the world, by private ships, was 960,000 yearly; the number sent outwards through the post-office, was but 265,000. In the year ending October 5, 1837, there were forty-nine arrivals of these packets, bringing 282,000 letters. The number of letters forwarded from London by post to Liverpool for these lines, was 11,000; the number received in London from these lines, was 51,000 a year.
Mr. Banning, postmaster at Liverpool, stated that, in return for 370,000 ship letters received at his office in a year, addressed to persons elsewhere than at Liverpool, only 78,000 letters passed through that office to be sent outwards. And yet the masters of vessels assured him that the number of letters they conveyed outwards was quite equal to the number brought inwards.
Mr. Maury, of Liverpool, said that on the first voyage of the Sirius steamship to America, only five letters were received at the post-office to go by her, while at least 10,000 were sent in a bag from the consignee of the ship.
Mr. Bates stated that the house of Baring & Co. commonly sent two hundred letters a week, in boxes, from London to Liverpool, to go to America—equal to 10,000 a year.
These things were done under the very eye of the authorities, and yet no means had been found to prevent it. What police can our government establish, strict enough to do what the British government publicly declared itself unable to do?
The correspondence, of the manufacturing towns, it appeared, was carried on almost entirely in private and illicit channels. In Walsall, it was testified that, of the letters to the neighboring towns, not one-fiftieth were sent by mail. Mr. Cobden said that not one-sixth of the letters between Manchester and London went through the post-office. Mr. Thomas Davidson, of Glasgow, stated the case of five commercial houses in that city, whose correspondence sent illegally was to that sent by post in the ratio of more than twenty to one; one house said sixty-seven to one.
In Birmingham, a system of illicit distribution of letters had been established through the common-carriers to all the neighboring towns, in a circuit of fifteen miles, and embracing a population of half a million. The price of delivering a letter in any of these places was 1d., and for this the letters were both collected and delivered. Women were employed to go round at certain hours and collect letters. They would collect them for 2d. per hundred, and make a living by it. The regular postage to those towns was 4d., besides the trouble of taking letters to the post-office. Hence there was both economy and convenience in the illicit arrangement. The practice had existed for thirty years, and when it was brought in all its details to the notice of parliament, no man seems to have dreamed that it was in the power of the government to suppress it by penal enactments.
An individual, whose name and residence are, for obvious reasons, suppressed, gave the committee a full description of these private posts. He said that, in the year 1836, he kept an account of his letters; that the number sent by the post-office was 2068, and those sent by other means were 5861. Of these, about 5000 were to places within twenty miles, all of which were sent for 1d. each. Some carriers made it their sole business to carry letters. Some of them travelled on foot; others went by the stage coach to the place, and then distributed their letters. He found the practice prevailing when he began his apprenticeship in 1807. The population of the district thus accommodated was from 300,000 to 500,000. The practice was notorious, and used by all persons engaged in business. The object of a great deal of the correspondence was to convey orders, notes of inquiry, and other information to and from the small manufacturers, to whom it would be a tax of twenty-five per cent. on their earnings, if the letters were sent through the post-office at 4d. The letters were commonly wrapped up in brown paper, or tied with a string, some directed and some not. Very few persons thought about the practice being illegal. He had never heard of an attempt by the post-office to institute legal proceedings. It would absorb the whole revenue of the post-office to carry on the prosecutions that would be required to stop it, and without any effect, as most of the carriers were worth nothing. To suppress it by law, would be very injurious to the trade of the place. The only way to supersede it is to reduce the postage to 1d. Were this done, the post-office would be preferred, for its greater certainty, even though the carriers would go for a halfpenny. The post-office would unquestionably receive more money by the change.
"E. F.", a manufacturer, described what he called the free-packet system. Those manufacturers who did much business with London, in forwarding parcels through the stage coaches, were allowed by the coach proprietors to send a "free-packet," without any charge, except 4d. for booking; and this package contained not only the letters and patterns of the house itself, but of others, who thus evade the postage.
"G. H." had been a carrier, from a town in Scotland to other towns. There were six carriers, and they all carried letters, generally averaging fifty a day, and realizing from 6s. to 7s. per day, although there were four mails a-day running from the town. The business was kept in a manner secret. Reducing the postage to 2d. would not stop the practice, because the carriers would still take the letters for 1d.; but a penny postage would bring all the letters into the post-office, and then the post-office would beat the smuggler.
Mr. John Reid, of London, formerly an extensive bookseller in Glasgow said his house used to send out twenty to twenty-five letters a day, and scarcely ever through the post. Of 20,000 times of infringing the post-office laws, he was never caught but once, and then the government failed in proof, and he had the matter exposed as a grievance in the house of commons. He had seen a carrier in Glasgow have more than 300 letters at a time, which he delivered for 1d. Nearly all the correspondence between Glasgow and Paisley, was by carriers. There were 200 carriers came to Glasgow daily. There was as regular a system of exchanging bags, as in the post-office. There was not much attempt at concealment; sometimes we got frightened, and sometimes we laughed at the postmasters. Of his own letters, about one in twenty of those sent, and one in twelve of those received, passed through the post-office. The only way to put an end to the smuggling of letters was to remove the inducement. He said he could send letters to every town in Scotland. He could do it in more ways than one. He declined to state in what ways he would do it, because the disclosure would knock up some convenient modes he had of ending his own letters, and those of others. He said he would never use the post-office in an illegal manner, as by writing on newspapers and the like, because that would be dishonestly availing himself of the post-office, without paying for it. But he considered he had a right to send his letters as he pleased. He did not feel it his duty to acquiesce in a bad law, but thought every good man should set himself against a bad law, in order to get it repealed. Some of the methods of evading postage, practised in Scotland, are amusing. One was through what he called "family boxes." When a student from the country comes to Glasgow to attend the college, he usually receives a box, once or twice a week, from his family, who send him cheese, meal, butter, cakes, &c., which come cheaper from the farm-house than he can purchase them in town. Probably, also, his clean linen comes in this way. The moment it was known that any family had a son at the university, the neighbors made a post-office of that farm-house.
The committee, in their report, concur in the opinion expressed by almost all the officers of the department, that it was not by stronger powers to be conferred by the legislature, nor by rigor in the exercise of those powers, that illicit conveyance could be suppressed. The post-office must be enabled to recommend itself to the public mind. It must secure to itself a virtual monopoly, by the greater security, expedition, punctuality, and cheapness, with which it does its work, than can be reached by any private enterprise.
With this nearly all the witnesses also agree, although some of them thought it possible that a less extreme reduction of the rate of postage might have kept out the private mails, if it had taken place earlier, before these illicit enterprises had obtained so firm a footing.
Lord Ashburton, who was examined before the committee, said that had a uniform rate of 2d., or even 3d. been adopted heretofore, most persons would sooner pay it than look out for the means of evading it.
Mr. Cobden, of Manchester, said a 6d. rate between Manchester and London would increase but slightly the number of letters, since the sending of letters clandestinely has become a trade, which would not be easily broken down. The railroads which are now opening to all parts of the country will so increase the facilities for smuggling, as to counteract any reduction of from twenty to fifty per cent. on the postage. No small reduction will induce the people to write more. A reduction to one half of the present rates would certainly be a relief to his trade, as far as it went, that is, to all such as now pay the full rate; but he thinks it would not induce the poorer classes to use the post-office. It would occasion a loss to the revenue of fifty per cent.
Mr. W. Brown, merchant of Liverpool, was sure a reduction to half the present rates would give satisfaction to the public, but would not meet the question, and would not prevent smuggling.
I. J. Brewin, of Cirencester, one of the Society of Friends, considered the effect of a two penny rate would be, that the post-office would get the long jobs, but not the short ones.
Lieutenant F. W. Ellis, auditor of district unions in Suffolk, under the poor law commissioners, said that 2d. would not have the effect of 1d. in bringing correspondence to the post-office, because by carriers, and in other ways, letters are now conveyed for 1d.
The evidence seems to have produced a universal and settled conviction, that as far as the contraband conveyance of letters was an evil, either financial or social, there was no remedy for it but an absolute reduction of the postage to 1d. There were large portions of the country in which the government could control the postage at a higher rate, 2d. or even 3d.; but in the densely populated districts, where the greatest amount of correspondence arises, and where are also the greatest facilities for evading postage, no rate higher than 1d. would secure the whole correspondence to the mails. They therefore left the penal enactments just as they were, because they might be of some convenience in some cases. Mr. Hill declared his opinion that it would be perfectly safe to throw the business open to competition, for that the command of capital, and other advantages enjoyed by the post-office, would enable it to carry letters more cheaply and punctually than can be done by private individuals. And the result shows that he was right; for the contraband carriage of letters is put down. The Companion to the British Almanac, for 1842, says, "The illicit transmission of letters, and the evasions practised under the old system to avoid postage, have entirely ceased."
All this experience, and all these sound conclusions, are doubtless applicable in the United States, with the additional considerations, of the great extent of country, the limited powers of the government, the entire absence of an organized police, and the fact that the federal government is to so great a degree regarded as a stranger in the States. Shall a surveillance, which the British government has abandoned as impracticable, be seriously undertaken at this day by the congress of the United States?
III. The Postage Law of 1845.
The Postage Act, passed March 3, 1845, which went into operation on the 1st of July of that year, was called forth by a determination to destroy the private mails; and this object gave character to the act as a whole. The reports of the postmaster-general, and of the post-office committees in both houses of congress, show that the end which was specially aimed at was to overthrow these mails. The Report of the House Committee, presented May 15, 1844, says:
"Events are in progress of fatal tendency to the post-office department, and its decay has commenced. Unless arrested by vigorous legislation, it must soon cease to exist as a self-sustaining institution, and either be cast on the treasury for support, or suffered to decline from year to year, till the system has become impotent and useless. The last annual report of the postmaster-general shows that, notwithstanding the heavy retrenchments he had made, the expenditures of the department for the year ending June 30, 1843, exceeded its income by the sum of $78,788. The decline of its revenue during that year was $250,321; and the investigations made into the operations of the current year, indicate a further and an increasing decline, at the rate of about $300,000 a year."
"This illicit business has been some time struggling through its incipient stages; for it was not until the year commencing the 1st July, 1840, that it appears to have made a serious impression upon the revenues of the department. It has now assumed a bold and determined front, and dropped its disguises; opened offices for the reception of letters, and advertised the terms on which they will be despatched out of the mail."
"The revenue for the year ending June 30, 1840, was $4,539,265; for the last year it was $4,295,925; and indications show that for the present year it will not be more than $3,995,925."
"The number of chargeable letters in circulation, exclusive of dead letters, during the year ending June 30, 1840, may be assumed at 27,535,554. The annual number now reported to be in circulation, is 24,267,552. Thus, 3,268,000 letters a year and $543,340 of annual revenue, are the spoils taken from the mails by cupidity."
The Report of the Senate Committee has this remark:
"We have seen in the outset that something must be done; that the revenues of the department are rapidly falling off, and a remedy must in some way be found for this alarming evil, or the very consequences so much dreaded by some from the reduction proposed, will inevitably ensue; namely, a great curtailment of the service, or a heavy charge upon the national treasury for its necessary expenses. It is believed that in consequence of the disfavor with which the present rates and other regulations of this department are viewed, and the open violations of the laws before adverted to, that not more than, if as much as one half the correspondence of the country passes through the mails; the greater part being carried by private hands, or forwarded by means of the recently established private expresses, who perform the same service, at much less cost to the writers and recipients of letters than the national post-office. It seems to the committee to be impossible to believe that there are but twenty-four or twenty-seven millions of letters per year, forwarded to distant friends and correspondents in the United States, by a population of twenty millions of souls; whilst, at the same time, there are two hundred and four millions and upwards of letters passing annually through the mails of Great Britain and Ireland, with a population of only about twenty-seven millions."
The Senate Report recommended the reduction of the rates of postage to five and ten cents, an average of seven and a half cents, with a very great restriction of the franking privilege, on which it was confidently estimated that the revenues of the department, for the first year of the new system, would be $4,890,500; and that the number of chargeable letters would be sixty millions. The House Report recommended stringent measures to suppress the private mails, with the abolition of franking, without any reduction of postage, except to substitute federal coin for Spanish. It estimated the increase of letters to be produced by reducing the rates to five and ten cents, at only thirty per cent. in number, thus reducing the postage receipts at once to two and a half millions of dollars. It will be seen that each of these calculations has been proved to be erroneous.
The great postage meeting in New York, held in December, 1843, had asked for a uniform rate of five cents. After stating the advantages of the English system, their committee still hung upon the length of the routes in this country as a reason against the adoption of the low rate of postage. They said,
"It is plain that a similar system may be introduced with equally satisfactory results in the United States. On account, however, of the vast distances to be traversed by the mail-carriers, and the great difficulties of travel in the unsettled portions of our country, our petition asks that the rate be reduced to five cents for each letter not more than half an ounce in weight—which is more than double the uniform postage in Great Britain. It is a rate which would not only secure to the post-office the transport of nearly all the letters which are now forwarded through private channels, but it would largely increase correspondence, both of business and affection.
"Above all, the franking privilege should be abolished. Unless this is done, nothing can be done. It will be impossible, without drawing largely upon the legitimate sources of the national revenue, to sustain the post-office by any rates whatsoever, if this franking privilege shall continue to load the mails with private letters which everybody writes, and public documents which nobody reads."
The bill was passed, but the franking privilege was continued, and yet the Postmaster-General has told us that the current income of the department is equal to its expenses. The predictions to the contrary were very confident. Some of the gloomy forebodings then uttered, are worthy of being recalled at this time.
"The post-office department estimates that the deficiency in the revenue of the department, under the new law, will be about $1,500,000, this year."—Boston Post.
"An additional tax of $1,500,000, to be raised to meet the deficiencies of the department, in a single year, must principally come from the pockets of farmers, (who write few letters, and are consequently less benefited by the reduction of postage,) in the shape of additional tariff duties upon articles which they consume."—New Hampshire Patriot.
"A CAUTION.—Some people may be deceived on the subject of cheap postage, unless they take a 'sober second thought.' A part of those who are so strenuous for cheap postage are not quite so disinterested as would at first appear. They are seeking to pay their postage bills out of other people's pockets. Look at this matter. I am an industrious mechanic, for example, and I have little time to write letters. My neighbor publishes school-books, and he wishes to be sending off letters, recommendations, puffs, &c., by the hundred and by the thousand. This is his way of making money. Now, he wishes the expenses of the post-office department to be paid out of the treasury, and then I shall have to help him pay his postage, while he will only pay his national tax, according to his means, as I do mine. If he is making his money by sending letters, he should pay the whole cost of carrying those letters. I ought not to pay any part of it, in the way of duties on sugar, &c. Let every man pay his own postage. Is not this fair? But this will not be the case if the post-office department does not support itself. The cheap postage system may injure the poor man, instead of helping him."—Philad. North American.
"As for the matter of post-office reform, and reduction of the rates of postage, there are not one thousand considerate and reflecting people, in the Union, who desire or demand anything of the kind.
"The commercial and mercantile classes have not desired 'reform;' and the rural and agricultural classes, the planters of the South, and the corn and wheat growers of the West, the mechanics and laboring classes, are not disposed to be taxed enormously to support a post-office department to gratify the avarice and cupidity of a body of sharpers and speculators."—Madisonian.
"THE NEW POSTAGE LAW.—The following statement has been furnished us of the amount of postage chargeable on letters forwarded by the New York and Albany steamboats:
The last thirteen days of June, $99.66 First thirteen days of July, (same route,) 53.90 Decrease, $45.76.
"I inquired at the post-office to-day for information. One of the gentlemanly clerks of that establishment said to me, 'Well, Mr. Smith, I can't give you all the information you desire, but I can say thus much. I this morning made up a mail for Hudson; it amounted to seventy cents; the same letters under the old law, and in the same mail, would have paid seven dollars. Now you can make your own deductions.' I then inquired of the same gentleman, if the increase of letters had been kept up since the 1st of July. He replied 'no,' but added, 'the increase of numbers is somewhat encouraging, but not sufficiently so to justify the belief that the new law will realize the hopes of its advocates.' "—N. Y. Correspondent of Boston Post.
"From the city post-office we learn that the number of letters, papers, and packages, passing through their hands, unconnected with the business of the government, has increased about 33 per cent., when compared with the business of the month of June. The gross amount of proceeds from postage on these has fallen off nearly 66 per cent., while the postage charged to the government for its letters, &c., received and sent, is enormous. For the post-office department alone, it is said to reach near $40,000 for the month just past."—Washington Union, Aug. 2.
"We observe in the Eastern papers some paragraphs about the working of the new law, in which they suppose it will work well. Unquestionably it will work well for those who have to pay the postage; but as to the revenue, it will not yield even as much as the opponents of the system supposed. We do not believe the receipts will equal one half received under the old system. We are told that the experience of the first week in Cincinnati does not show more than one quarter the receipts.
"Private correspondence is increased a little; but the falling off in the mercantile increase is immense. It cannot be otherwise; for many letters now pay 10 cents which formerly paid a dollar. Double and treble letters pay no more than single letters. In large cities three-fourths of the postage is paid by business letters. These letters are nearly all double and treble. A double letter from Cincinnati to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, or New Orleans, before, paid 50 cents; now it pays 10 cents. The largest portion of postage is reduced to one-fifth part of the former postage.
"We are well pleased, however, that it will turn out as it will. The law will be too popular with the people to be repealed; and it will oblige Mr. James K. Polk's administration to provide ways and means out of the tariff to meet a deficiency of two millions in the postage. This will work favorably to the tariff.
"All things will come right in the end. The lower the postage the more economical the post-office department must be, and the more money the government must raise from the tariff."—Cleveland Herald.
"Mr. McDuffie is reported to have made the following correct and just remarks, showing he understands well the operations of that Department. If the bill shall become a law, our word for it, that in less than six months one-fourth the offices in the Union will be discontinued, because nobody will be found who will keep them. But let the bill go into operation, and in less than twelve months the very clamorers for low rates of postage will become so sick of it, that they will be the first to unite in demanding its repeal. If we supposed our advice would have any influence, we would recommend to the Department and all Postmasters to hold on to the old books, arrangements and fixtures, even if the bill does pass, because in two weeks after Congress shall meet next year, it will be repealed and the old order restored."—Kentucky Yeoman.
" 'Mr. McDuffie rose, evidently much excited, and after expressing his regret that bodily infirmity disabled him to give the strength of his convictions in regard to the evils which would flow from the bill, he protested against its passage, as a measure more radical and revolutionary than anything that had ever been done by Congress. He denounced it as most unjust. It removes the burden from those who ought to have it, the manufacturers and merchants of the North, and throws it upon the farmers of the South and West, who are already oppressed by the tariff, and who will have to pay the expense by a tax on their necessaries.
" 'You will sacrifice the intelligence of the people to the rapacity of the manufacturers. He could not imagine that the agriculturist anywhere could feel postage as a burden; it is but a moderate compensation for services rendered by the government. A poor man pays $10 duty on his sugar, salt and iron, and now you make him pay the postage. You will break up one half of the smaller offices, you will in ten years make the post-office the greatest organ of corruption the country has ever seen, and the man who wields its patronage can command the sceptre. By throwing it on the treasury, you destroy the responsibility of the head of the department, and in ten years you will have it cost you ten millions of dollars.' "
Instead of a revenue of nearly four millions, it is therefore probable that the revenue of the first year of the experiment will not much exceed a million and a half. It will be remembered that Congress appropriated $750,000 to make up the expected deficiency; but this will fall far below the necessities of the service; and it is very probable that this sum will be consumed in the payments of the contracts for the two first quarters. They are very busy at the Department sending off letter balances, the postage of which will of course constitute a charge on the Treasury; and as the postage on each of these packets will amount to about three times as much as the first cost of the balances, the Department will make money out of this transaction.—Charleston Mercury.
"I voted against this act. It is probable that a reduction might have been made in the rates of postage which would not have diminished the amount of revenue; but the reduction made by this act is too great, and will have the effect of throwing the Post-Office Department as a heavy charge on the general treasury, which has not been the case heretofore. The post-office tax was the only one in which the North and the East bore their share equally with the South and the West. We would all like to have cheap postage; and if that were the only consideration involved, I would have voted for the act; but there were others which influenced me to oppose it. The reduction of postage will cause a diminution in the post-office revenue, which must be supplied by the general treasury. The treasury collects the revenue which must supply this deficiency, by a duty levied on imports; so that the tax taken off of the mail correspondence will have to be collected on salt, iron, sugar, blankets, and other articles which we buy from the stores. The manufacturing States profit by this, because it aids the protective policy. I might add other objections, but deem it unnecessary at present."—Letter of Hon. D. S. Reid, of ——, to his constituents.
The Postmaster-General, in his report made Dec. 1, 1845, says:
"So far as calculations can be relied on, from the returns to the department, of the operation of the new postage law, for the quarter ending 30th September last, the deficiency for the current year will exceed a million and a quarter of dollars; and there is no reasonable ground to believe that, without some amendment of that law, it will fall short of a million of dollars for the next year."
The actual deficiency for the year ending June 30, 1846, was only $589,837; and for the second year above alluded to, ending June 30, 1847, it was but $33,677. And the Postmaster-General's report for December, 1847, estimates the resources of the department for the year ending June 30, 1848, at $4,313,157, and the expenditures at $4,099,206, giving an actual surplus of $213,951. If this expectation should be realized, (and there is hardly a possibility but that it should be exceeded), the income will exceed the annual average receipts for the nine years before the reduction of postage, $51,467. The Postmaster-General ascribes the increase solely to "the reduction in the rates of postage," while nearly a million of dollars are saved in the expenditures by the provision of the law of 1845, directing the contracts to be let to the lowest bidder, without reference to the transportation in coaches. So far, therefore, the triumph of the law of 1845 has been complete. It has proved that the same economic law exists here as in England, by which reduction of price leads to increase of consumption.
On the other point, however, of meeting the wants of the people, so as to bring all the correspondence of the country into the mails, its success is very far from being equally satisfactory. The five and ten cents' postage does not have the effect of suppressing the private mails and illicit transportation of letters.
The report of the House Committee in 1844, showed beforehand that such a reduction could not have the effect here, just as the parliamentary report had shown in 1838, that nothing but an absolute reduction to 1d. could suppress the private mails in England. "Individuals can prosecute on all the large railroad and steamboat routes between the great towns, as now, a profitable business in conveying letters at three and five cents, where the government would ask the five and ten cents postages." Hill's New Hampshire Patriot said, shortly after the act went into operation:
"Private expresses have not been discontinued in this quarter. Far from it. They are now doing as large a business as ever, carrying letters at half the government rates. And, strange as it may appear, they appear to be sustained by public opinion. The new postage act did not abate what is called 'private enterprise,' and the act itself, it is thought, will soon be found to be insufficient."
The report of the Postmaster-General in 1845, speaks of a practice of enveloping many letters, written on very thin paper, in one enclosure, paying postage by the half-ounce, and thus reducing the postage on each to a trifle.
"An incident recently occurred which will forcibly illustrate the injurious effects of such a practice upon the revenues of the department. A large bundle of letters was enveloped and sealed, marked 'postage paid, $1.60.' By some accident in the transportation, the envelope was so much injured as to enable the postmaster to see that it contained one hundred letters to different individuals, evidently designed for distribution by the person to whom directed, and should have been charged ten dollars. The continuance of this practice would, in a short time, deprive the department of a large proportion of its legitimate income. The department has no power to suppress it, further than to direct the postages to be properly charged, whenever such practices are detected. This has also introduced a species of thin, light paper, by which five or six letters may be placed under one cover, and still be under the half-ounce."
"The practice of sending packages of letters through the mails to agents, for distribution, has not entirely superseded the transmission of letters, over post roads, out of the mails, by the expresses. The character of this offence is such as to render detection very uncertain, full proof almost impossible, conviction rare. The penalties are seldom recovered after conviction, and the department rarely secures enough to meet the expenses of prosecution. If the officers of the department were authorized in proper cases to have the persons engaged in these violations of the law arrested, their packages, trunks, or boxes, seized and examined before a proper judicial officer, and, when detected in violating the law, retained for the examination of the court and jury, it is believed that the practice could be at once suppressed."
In his last report, December, 1847, he also says that, "Private expresses still continue to be run between the principal cities, and seriously affect the revenues of the department, from the want of adequate powers for their suppression." The complaint is continually, of a want of adequate powers to suppress the practice. The law of 1845 has gone as far as could be desired in the severity of penalties and the extent of their application, involving in heavy fines every person who shall send or receive letters; and every stage-coach, railroad car, steamboat, or other vehicle or vessel—its owners, conductors and agents, which may knowingly be employed in the conveyance of letters, or in the conveyance of any person employed in such conveyance, under penalty of $50 for each letter transported. What the post-office department would deem "adequate powers" for the suppression of illicit letter-carrying, may be seen in the following extract of a bill, which was actually reported by the post-office committee of the House of Representatives, and "printed by order of the House:"
"And it shall be lawful for the agents of the post-office, or other officers of the United States government, upon reasonable cause shown, to arrest such person or persons, and seize his or their boxes, bags, or trunks, supposed to contain such mailable matter, and cause the same to be opened and examined before any officer of the United States; and if found to contain such mailable matter, transported in violation of the laws of the United States, shall be held to bail in the sum of five thousand dollars, to appear and answer said charge before the next United States Court to be held in said State, or district of said State; and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined as aforesaid, one hundred dollars for each letter, newspaper, or printed sheet so transported as aforesaid, and shall be held in the custody of the marshal until the fine and costs are paid, or until otherwise discharged by due course of law."
The report of 1845 thinks there is "no just reason why individuals engaged in smuggling letters and robbing the department of its legitimate revenues should not be punished, in the same way and to the same extent, as persons guilty of smuggling goods; nor why the same means of detection should not be given to the Post-office Department which are now given to the Treasury." That is, the power of detention and search in all cases of suspicion by the agent, that a person is carrying letters. What would be the effect of carrying out this system, in breaking up the practice complained of, or what would be the amount of inconvenience to travellers and to business, of a thorough determination in the department to execute such a law in the spirit of it, all can judge for themselves. The British government, as we have seen, dared not entertain such a proposition. I have no hesitation in saying, that such a system of coercion can never be successfully executed here. It is better to meet the difficulty, as the British government did, in a way to make the post-office at once the most popular vehicle of transmission, and the greatest blessing which the government can bestow upon the people. The New York Evening Post said, years ago:
"Congress yields, and passes such a law. What then? Is Hydra dead? By no means, its ninety-nine other heads still rear their crests, and bid defiance to the secretary and his law. In Pearl street, there will yet hang a bag for the deposit of the whole neighborhood's letters,—at Astor House, and at Howard's, at the American, and at the City Hotels, still every day will see the usual accumulation of letters,—all to be taken by some 'private,' trustworthy, obliging wayfarer, and by him be deposited in some office at Boston, Philadelphia, Albany, Baltimore."
I have no doubt that the cheap transmission of letters, out of the mails, is now becoming systematized and extended between our large cities, and an immense amount of correspondence is also carried on between the large cities and the towns around. The Boston Path-Finder contains a list of 240 "Expresses," as they are called, that is, of common carriers, who go regularly from Boston to other towns, distant from three miles to three hundred. Most of these men carry "mailable matter" to a great extent, in their pockets or hats, in the shape of orders, memorandums, receipts, or notes, sometimes on slips of paper, sometimes in letters folded in brown paper and tied with a string, and not unfrequently in the form of regularly sealed letters. If we suppose each one to carry, on an average, ten in a day, a very low estimate, there are 750,000 letters brought to Boston in a year by this channel alone. Everything which calls public attention to the subject of postage, every increase of business causing an increase of correspondence between any two places, every newspaper paragraph describing the wonderful increase of letters in England, will awaken new desires for cheap postage; and these desires will gratify themselves irregularly, unless the only sure remedy is seasonably applied. In the division of labor and the multiplication of competitions, there are many lines of business of which the whole profits are made up of extremely minute savings. In these the cost of postage becomes material; and such concerns will not pay five cents on their letters, when they can get them taken, carried and delivered for two cents. The causes which created illicit penny posts in England are largely at work here, with the growth and systematization of manufactures and trade; and they are producing, and will produce the same results, until, on the best routes, not one-sixth of the letters will be carried in the mail, unless the true system shall be seasonably established. The evils of such a state of things need not be here set forth. One of the greatest, which would not strike every mind, is the demoralization of the public mind, in abating the reverence for law, and the sense of gratitude and honor to the government.
In this respect, of bringing all the correspondence into the mails, in furnishing all the facilities and encouragements to correspondence which the duty of the government requires, in superseding the use of unlawful conveyances, and in winning the patriotic regards of the people to the post-office, as to every man's friend, the act of 1845 has entirely failed. It has not only falsified the predictions of us all in regard to its productiveness, on the one hand, but it has even convinced the highest official authority that it has failed to prove itself to be the CHEAP POSTAGE, which the country needs and will support. In his last annual report, the Postmaster-General says:
"The favorable operation of the act of 1845, upon the finances of this department, leads to the conclusion that, by the adoption of such modifications as have been suggested by this department for the improvement of its revenues, and the suppression of abuses practised under it, the present low rates of postage will not only produce revenue enough to meet the expenditures, but will leave a considerable surplus annually to be applied to the extension of the mail service to the new and rapidly increasing sections of our country, or would justify a still further reduction of the rates of postage. In the opinion of the undersigned, with such modifications of the act of 1845 as have been suggested, an uniform less rate might, in a few years, be made to cover the expenses of the department; but by its adoption the department would be compelled to rely upon the treasury for a few years. At this time, during the existence of a foreign war, imposing such heavy burdens upon the treasury, it might not be wise or prudent to increase them, or to do anything which would tend to impair the public credit; and, ON THIS ACCOUNT alone, recommendation for such a reduction is not made.
"Postage is a tax, not only on the business of the country, but upon the intelligence, knowledge, and the exercise of the friendly and social feelings; and in the opinion of the undersigned, should be reduced to the lowest point which would enable the department to sustain itself. That principle has been uniformly acted on in the United States, as the true standard for the regulation of postage, and the cheaper it can be made, consistently with that rule, the better.
"As our country expands, and its circle of business and correspondence enlarges, as civilization progresses, it becomes more important to maintain between the different sections of our country a speedy, safe, and cheap intercourse. By so doing, energy is infused into the trade of the country, the business of the people enlarged, and made more active, and an irresistible impulse given to industry of every kind; by it wealth is created and diffused in numberless ways throughout the community, and the most noble and generous feelings of our nature between distant friends are cherished and preserved, and the Union itself more closely bound together."
Nothing can be more true than the position, that "postage is a tax," and that it is the duty of the government to make this "tax" as light as possible, consistent with its other and equally binding duties. Nothing more sound than the doctrine that it is utterly wrong to charge postage with anything more than its own proper expenses. Nothing more just than the estimate here given of the benefits of cheap postage. The blessings he describes are so great, so real, so accordant with the tone and beneficent design of civil government itself, and especially to the functions and duties of a republican government, that I do not think even the existence and embarrassments of a state of war, such as now exists, are any reason at all for postponing the commencement of so glorious a measure. If it could be brought about under the administration of an officer who has expressed himself so cordially and intelligently in favor of cheap postage, and whose ability and fidelity in the economical administration of affairs are so well known, it would be but a fitting response to the statesmanlike sentiments quoted above.
I am now to show that, on the strictest principles of justice, on the closest mathematical calculation, on the most enlarged and yet rigid construction of the duty imposed on the federal government by our constitution, two cents per half ounce is the most just and equal rate of postage.
IV. What is the just Rule to be observed in settling the Rates of Postage?
The posting of letters may be looked at, either as a contract between the government and the individuals who send and receive letters, or as a simple exercise of governmental functions in discharging a governmental duty. The proper measure of the charge to be imposed should be considered in each of these aspects, for the government is bound to do that which is right in both these relations.
Viewed simply as a contract, or a service rendered for an equivalent, what would be the rate to be charged? Not, surely, the amount it would cost the individual to send his own particular letter. The saving effected by the division and combination of labor is a public benefit, and not to be appropriated as an exclusive right by one. In this view, the government stands only in the relation of a party to the contract, just as a state or a town would do, or an individual. No right or power of monopoly can enter into the calculation. We can illustrate the question by supposing a case, of a town some thirty miles from Boston, to which there has hitherto been no common-carrier. The inhabitants resolve to establish an express, and for this purpose enter into negotiations with one of their neighbors, in which they agree to give him their business on his agreeing to establish a reasonable tariff of prices for his service. If the number of patrons is very small, they cannot make it an object for the man to run his wagon, unless they will agree to pay a good price for parcels. And the more numerous the parcels are, the lower will be the rate, within certain limits, that is, until the man's wagon is fairly loaded, or he has as much business as he can reasonably attend to. This is on the supposition that all the business is to come from one place. But if there are intermediate or contiguous places whose patronage can be obtained to swell the amount of business, there should be an equitable apportionment of this advantage, a part to go to the carrier for his additional trouble and fair profits, and a part to go towards reducing the general rate of charge. If, however, the carrier has an interest in a place five miles beyond, which he thinks may be built up by having an express running into it from Boston, although the present amount of business is too small to pay the cost, and if, for considerations of his own advantage, he resolves to run his wagon to that place at a constant loss for the present, looking to the rise of his property for ultimate remuneration, it would not be just for him to insist, that the people who intend to establish an express and support it for themselves, shall yet pay an increased or exorbitant price for their own parcels, in order to pay him for an appendage to the enterprise, for which they have no occasion, and as such he himself undertakes for personal considerations of is own.
And if he should be obstinate on this point, they would just let him take his own way, and charge prices to suit himself, while they proceeded to make a new bargain with another carrier, who would agree to accommodate them at reasonable prices adjusted on the basis of their patronage. And if an appeal should be made to their sympathy or charity, to help the growing hamlet, they would say, that it was better to give charity out of their pockets than by paying a high price on their parcels; for then those would give who were able and willing, and would know how much they gave. This covers the whole case of arranging postage as a matter of equal contract. The just measure of charge is, the lowest rate at which the work can be afforded by individual enterprise on the best self-supporting routes. Plainly, no other rate can be kept up by open competition on these routes. And if these routes are lost by competition, you must charge proportionably higher on the rest, which will throw the next class of routes into other hands, and so on, until nothing is left for you but the most costly and impracticable portions of the work.
The only material exception to this rule would be, where there is an extensive and complicated combination of interests, among which the general convenience and even economy will be promoted by establishing a uniformity of prices, without reference to an exact apportionment of minute differences.
It can be easily shown, that all these considerations would be harmonized by no rate of postage on letters, higher than the English 1d., or with us two cents for each half ounce. Considered as a business question, unaffected by the assumed power of monopoly by the government, the reasonings of the parliamentary reports and the results of the British experiment abundantly establish this rate to be the fair average price for the service rendered. A moderate business can live by it, if economically conducted, and a large business will make it vastly profitable, as is seen in the payment of four or five millions of dollars a year into the public treasury of Great Britain, as the net profits of penny postage.
If we look at the post-office in the more philosophical and elevated aspect of a grand governmental measure, enjoined by the people for the good of the people, we shall be brought to a similar conclusion. The constitutional rule for the establishment of the post-office, is as follows:
"Congress shall have power to—
"Establish post-offices and post-roads."
This clause declares plainly the will of the people of the United States, that the federal government should be charged with the responsibility of furnishing the whole Union with convenient and proper mail privileges—according to their reasonable wants, and the reasonable ability of the government. This is one point of the "general welfare," for which we are to look to congress, just as we look to congress to provide for the general defence by means of the army and navy. It imposes no other restrictions in the one case than the other, as to the extent to which provision shall be made—the reasonable wants of the people, and the reasonable ability of the government. It limits the resources for this object to no particular branch of the revenue. It gives no sort of sanction to the so oft-repeated rule, which many suppose to be a part of the constitution, that the post-office must support itself. Still less, does it authorize congress to throw all manner of burdens upon the mail, and then refuse to increase its usefulness as a public convenience, because it cannot carry all those loads. The people must have mails, and congress must furnish them. To reason for or against any proposed change, on the ground that the alternative may be the discontinuance of public mails, the privation of this privilege to the people, and the winding up of the post-office system, is clearly inadmissible. When the government ceases to give the people the privileges of the mail, the government itself will soon wind up, or rather, will be taken in hand and wound up by the people, and set a-going again on better principles. The sole inquiry for congress is, what is the best way to meet the reasonable wants of the people, by means within the reasonable ability of the government?
The objects of the post-office system, which regulate its administration, are well set forth in the Report of the House Committee in 1844: "To content the man, dwelling more remote from town, with his homely lot, by giving him regular and frequent means of intercommunication; to assure the emigrant, who plants his new home on the skirts of the distant wilderness or prairie, that he is not forever severed from the kindred and society that still share his interest and love; to prevent those whom the swelling tide of population is constantly, pressing to the outer verge of civilization from being surrendered to surrounding influences, and sinking into the hunter or savage state; to render the citizen, how far soever from the seat of his government, worthy, by proper knowledge and intelligence, of his important privileges as a sovereign constituent of the government; to diffuse, throughout all parts of the land, enlightenment, social improvement, and national affinities, elevating our people in the scale of civilization, and binding them together in patriotic affection."
These are the objects for which congress is bound to maintain the post-office, and it is impossible that congress should ever seriously consider whether they will not abandon them. The maintenance of convenient mails for these objects is therefore to be regarded as a necessary function of the government of the United States. In the infancy of that government, while the government itself was an experiment, when the country was deeply in debt for the cost of our independence, and when its resources for public expenditure were untried and unknown, there was doubtless a propriety in the adoption of the principle, that the post-office department should support itself. But that state of things has long gone by, and our government now has ample ability to execute any plans of improvement whatever, for the advancement of knowledge, and for binding the Union together, provided such plans come within the acknowledged powers conferred by the constitution.
The post-office being, then, like the army and navy, a necessary branch of the government, it follows that the charge of postage for the conveyance of letters and papers is of the nature of a tax, as has been well expressed by the present Postmaster-General, in his last annual report, quoted above. "Postage is a tax, not only on the business of the country, but upon intelligence and knowledge, and the exercise of the friendly and social affections." The question before us is, How heavy a "tax" ought the government of a federal republic to impose on these interests? Every friend of freedom and of human improvement answers spontaneously, that nothing but a clear necessity can justify any tax at all upon such subjects, and that the tax should be reduced, in all cases, to the very lowest practicable rate. The experience of the British government, the prodigious increase of correspondence produced by cheap postage, and the immense revenue accruing therefrom, demonstrate that TWO CENTS is not below the rate which the government can afford to receive. Let the people understand that all beyond this is a mere "tax," not required by any necessity, and they will soon demand that the government look for its resources to some more suitable subjects of taxation than these.
Another rule of right in regard to this "tax" is well laid down in the Report of the House Committee, for 1844: "As the post-office is made to sustain itself solely by a tax on correspondence, it should derive aid and support from everything which it conveys. No man's private correspondence should go free, since the expense of so conveying it becomes a charge upon the correspondence of others; and the special favor thus given, and which is much abused by being extended to others not contemplated by law, is unjust and odious. Neither should the public correspondence be carried free of charge where such immunity operates as a burden upon the correspondence of the citizen. There is no reason why the public should not pay its postages as well as citizens—no sufficient reason why this item of public expenses should not be borne, like all others, by the general tax paid into the treasury." These remarks are made, indeed, with reference to the franking privilege, which the committee properly proposed to abolish on the grounds here set forth. But it is plain that the principle is equally pertinent to the question of taxing the correspondence of the thickly settled parts of the country for the purpose of raising means to defray the expense of sending mails to the new and distant parts of the country. There is no justice in it. The extension of these mails is a duty of the government; and let the government, by the same rule, pay the cost out of its own treasury. "Postage," says the same report, "in the large towns and contiguous places, is, in part, a contribution." It is a forced contribution, levied not upon the property of the people, but upon their intelligence and affections.
Our letters are taxed to pay the following expenses:
1. For the franking of seven millions of free letters.
2. For the distribution of an immense mass of congressional documents, which few people read at all, and most of which might as well be sent in some other way—would be seen the moment they should be actually subjected to the payment of postage by those who send or receive them.
3. For the extension of mails over numerous and long routes, in the new or thinly settled parts of the country, which do not pay their own expenses. I do not believe these routes are more extensive or numerous than the government ought to establish; but then the government ought to support them out of the general treasury. Many of them are necessary for the convenience of the government itself. For many of them the treasury is amply remunerated, and more, by the increased sale of the public lands, the increase of population, and the consequent increase of the revenue from the custom-house. And the rest are required by the great duty of self-preservation and self-advancement, which is inherent in our institutions.
4. For the cost of about two millions of dead letters, and an equal number of dead newspapers and pamphlets, the postage on which, at existing rates, would amount to at least $175,000 a year, and the greater part of which would be saved under the new postal system.
Why should these burdens be thrown as a "tax upon correspondence," or made an apology for the continuance of such a tax? It is unreasonable. All these expenses should be borne, "like all others, by the general tax paid into the treasury." This would leave letters chargeable only with such a rate of postage as is needed for the prevention of abuses, and to secure the orderly performance of the public duty. And a postage of two cents would amply suffice for this. Some have suggested that one cent is all that ought to be required.
There is another view of the matter, which shows still more strongly the injustice of the present tax upon letters. "It is not matter of inference," says Mr. Rowland Hill, "but matter of fact, that the expense of the post-office is practically the same, whether a letter is going from London to Burnet (11 miles), or from London to Edinburgh (397 miles); the difference is not expressible in the smallest coin we have." The cost of transit from London to Edinburgh he explained to be only one thirty-sixth of a penny. And the average cost, per letter, of transportation in all the mails of the kingdom, did not differ materially from this. Of course, it was impossible to vary the rates of postage according to distance, when the longest distance was but a little over one-tenth of a farthing. The same reasoning is obviously applicable to all the productive routes in the United States. And we have seen the injustice of taxing the letters on routes that are productive or self-supporting, to defray the expense of the unproductive routes which the government is bound to create and pay for.
Another view of the case shows the futility of the attempt to make distance the basis of charge. The actual cost of transit, to each letter, does not vary with the distance, but is inversely as the number of letters, irrespective of distance. The weight of letters hardly enters into the account as a practical consideration. Ten thousand letters, each composed of an ordinary sheet of letter paper, would weigh but one hundred and fifty-six pounds, about the weight of a common sized man, who would be carried from Boston to Albany or New York for five dollars. The average cost of transportation of the mails in this country, is a little over six cents per mile. For convenience of calculation, take a route of ten miles long, which costs ten cents per mile, and another of one hundred miles long at the same rate. There are many routes which do not carry more than one letter on the average. The letter would cost the department one dollar for carrying it ten miles. On the route of one hundred miles we will suppose there are one thousand letters to be carried, which will cost the government for transportation just one mill per letter. How then can we make distance the basis of postage?
The matter may be presented in still another view. The government establishes a mail between two cities, say Boston and New York, which is supported by the avails of postage on letters. Then it proceeds to establish a mail between New York and Philadelphia, which is supported by the postage between those places. Now, how much will it cost the government to carry in addition, all the letters that go from Boston to Philadelphia, and from Philadelphia to Boston? Nothing. The contracts will not vary a dollar. In this manner, you may extend your mails from any point, wherever you find a route which will support itself, until you reach New Orleans or Little Rock, and it is as plain as the multiplication table, that it will cost the government no more to take an individual letter from Boston to Little Rock than it would to take the same letter from Boston to New York. The government is quite indifferent to what place you mail your letter, provided it be to a place which has a mail regularly running to it.
This brings us to the unproductive routes. An act was passed by the last Congress to establish mail routes in Oregon territory. An agent is appointed to superintend the business, at a salary of $1000 a year and his travelling expenses; contracts are made or to be made, mails carried, postmasters appointed and paid. This is doubtless a very proper and necessary thing, one which the government could not have omitted without a plain dereliction of duty. The honor and interest of the nation required that as soon as the title to the country was settled, our citizens who were resident there, and those who shall go to settle there, should enjoy the benefits of the mail. And as it was the nation's business to establish the mail, it was equally the nation's business to pay the expense. No man can show how it is just or reasonable, that the letters passing between Boston and New York should be taxed 150 per cent. to pay the expense of a mail to Oregon, on the pretext that the post-office must support itself.
A mail is run at regular periods to Eagle River, Wisconsin, for the accommodation of the persons employed about the copper mines on Lake Superior. Without questioning the certainty of the great things that are to be done there hereafter, it is no presumption to express the belief that the expenses of that mail are hardly paid by the postage on the letters now carried to and from Lake Superior. Nor, after making all due allowances for the liberal distribution of copper stock at the East, is it rational to believe that all the people who write letters here, are so directly interested as to make a tax upon letters the most equitable mode of assessing the expense.
During the debates in Congress on the act of 1844, an incident was related by Senator Crittenden, of Kentucky, to this effect. He said he was travelling in the mail stage somewhere in the State of Tennessee. At a time of day when he was tired and hungry, the stage turned off from the road a number of miles, to carry the mail to a certain post-office; it was night when they reached the office, the postmaster was roused with difficulty, who went through the formality of taking the mail pouch into his hand, and returned it to the driver, saying there was not a letter in it, and had not been for a month. I will not inquire whose letters ought to be taxed to sustain that mail route, but only remark, that whatever consideration caused its establishment, ought to carry the cost to the public treasury, and not throw it as a burden upon our letters.
The Postmaster-General, in his late report, says that "the weight and bulk of the mails, which add so greatly to the cost of transportation, and impede the progress of the mail, are attributable to the mass of printed matter daily forwarded from the principal cities in the Union to every part of the country;" and "justice requires that the expense of their transportation should be paid by the postage." I would add to this the qualifying phrase, "or by the government, out of the public treasury," and then ask why the same principle of justice is not as applicable to long mail routes as to heavy mail bags. There is and can be no ground of apprehension, that mails will ever be overloaded or retarded by the weight of paid letters they contain. It was found by the parliamentary committee, that the number of letters, which was then nearly fifty per cent. greater than in all our mails, might be increased twenty-four fold, without overloading the mails, and without any material addition to the contracts for carrying the mails. They also found that the whole cost of receiving, transporting and delivering a letter was 76-100ths of a penny, of which the transit cost but 19-100ths, and the receipt and delivery 57-100ths. The cost of transit, per letter, is of course reduced by the increase of correspondence.
I have dwelt so long on this part of the subject, because I find that here is the great difficulty in the application of the principles and results of the British system to our own country—ours is such a "great country," and we have so many "magnificent distances." But disposing as I have of the unproductive mail routes, and showing as I have, the injustice of taxing letters with the expense of any public burthens, this whole difficulty is removed, and it is made to appear that two cents is the highest proper rate of postage which the government can justly exact for letters, on the score either of a just equivalent for the service rendered, or of a tax imposed for the purposes of the government itself.
This is the conclusion to which the parliamentary committee were most intelligently and satisfactorily drawn—that "the principle of a uniform postage is founded on the facts, that the cost of distributing letters in the United Kingdom consists chiefly in the expenses incurred with reference to their receipt at and delivery from the office, and that the cost of transit along the mail roads is comparatively unimportant, and determined rather by the number of letters carried than the distance;" that "as the cost of conveyance per letter depends more on the number of letters carried than on the distance which they are conveyed, (the cost being frequently greater for distances of a few miles, than for distances of hundreds of miles,) the charge, if varied in proportion to the cost, ought to increase in the inverse ratio of the number of letters conveyed," but it would be impossible to carry such a rule into practice, and therefore the committee were of opinion, that "the easiest practicable approach to a fair system, would be to charge a medium rate of postage between one post-office and another, whatever may be their distance." And the committee were further of opinion, "that such an arrangement is highly desirable, not only on account of its abstract fairness, but because it would tend in a great degree to simplify and economize the business of the post-office."