Front Page Titles (by Subject) EXPEDIENCY. - The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails
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EXPEDIENCY. - Lysander Spooner, The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails 
The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, prohibiting Private Mails (New York: Tribune Printing Establishment, 1844).
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The whole argument of expediency in favor of maintaining an exclusive power in the government over mails, may be summed up in this. It enables the government to throw upon those who live in the populous portions of the country, and who have been at the expense of constructing extraordinary facilities for transportation, the burden of all the government postage, and a portion of the expense of carrying mails to those who have voluntarily gone beyond the reach of those facilities, and who have no more claim that their letters shall be carried to them at the expense of other people, than that their food or clothing shall be.
Palpably unjust and tyrannical as are these objects of the law, they are in reality the only arguments that can be invented in support of it.
The policy of the law is on a par with its morality. A law for defraying expenses of government, by a tax upon, and consequently by obstructing the dissemination of, commercial, social and political information, probably combines as many of the elements of barbarism as any law that parverted ingenuity or political depravity has ever devised.
The extortion also of money from individuals in the populous portions of the country, in order to support the present expensive mode of carrying mails to the less populous portions, is, in one respect, like “filching from one his good name”—it is robbing one without enriching another. If the business were open to free competition, there probably is not a man, who lives fairly within the limits of civilization, that would not receive his letters at less cost than he now pays. And if any man has chosen to go beyond those limits, he certainly has no right to claim that we, who remain behind, shall be taxed to carry civilization to him. If, however, the government chooses to pursue such men with its generosity, it should at least have the decency to be generous with means honestly obtained, instead of obtaining them by so unequal and mischievous a tax as that upon the diffusion of knowledge. The progress of the whole civilized portion of the country, certainly ought not to be retarded, in order that the government may show that its partiality for those few individuals, who, by going beyond the limits of civilization, give strong evidence that they do not appreciate its benefits.
But, in reality, the inmates of the farthest cabins on our frontier, are interested in free competition, as a constitutional principle—for even if they should not at once, under that system, (although they probably would soon,) have as good facilities as they now enjoy, it will yet be but a few years before these same cabins will be in the midst of a numerous population, all of whom will be benefitted by the free principle. The inhabitants of the frontier are also, (for their posterity, if not for themselves,) equally interested with other portions of the country, in maintaining the freedom of speech and the press, and the free principles generally of our constitution.
The present expensive, dilatory and exclusive system of mails, is a great national nuisance—commercially, morally and socially. Its immense patronage and power, used, as they always will be, corruptly, make it also a very great political evil.
The moral, social and political evils of the system are of a nature not to be estimated in money. The commercial ones, although incapable of any accurate estimate, are yet of a nature more susceptible of calculation. Let us look at them for a moment.
The importance of despatch in commercial correspondence, may be, in some measure, conceived of, when it is considered that every day’s and hour’s delay, in the sale and transmission of merchandize, (whose sale and transmission wait on correspondence,) involves a loss, during the time of such delay, of the interest, insurance and storage of such merchandize, and also a lapse, in part, of the season when particular kinds of merchandize are most valuable to consumers, and of course command the best prices in the hands of the merchant. Delays in business correspondence of all other kinds, as well as that strictly commercial, are also attended with losses more or less important.
Suppose now that, on an average throughout the whole country, one fifth of the time that is now occupied in the transmission of commercial and other letters, should be saved by opening the business to competition, what would be the aggregate saving, in dollars and cents, to the whole country? Is not twelve thousand dollars a day a moderate estimate? Undoubtedly (I think) the real saving would be very much, probably several times, greater than this sum. But I have mentioned this amount, because it is (in round numbers) the actual expenses of the present establishment. If, then, this sum only could be saved by opening the business to competition, the country, as a whole, could actually afford, as a matter of mere dollars and cents, to let the present establishment retire upon an annual pension, equal in amount to the whole of its present receipt, as a compensation for its simply getting out of the way of private enterprize. In other words, the country could afford to support the establishment in idleness, for the sake of getting rid of its services.
We should also gain, in the bargain, the social benefits of cheap postage, and the political benefits of a very material purification of the government.
The question, then, is, would one fifth of the time now occupied in the transmission of letters, be saved by a system of free competition? There can be but one answer to this question. That amount of saving might not be accomplished at the outset—but it speedily would be. Universal experience attests that government establishments cannot keep pace with private enterprize in matters of business—(and the transmission of letters is a mere matter of business.) Private enterprise has always the most active physical powers, and the most ingenious mental ones. It is constantly increasing its speed, and simplifying and cheapening its operations. But government functionaries, secure in the enjoyment of warm nests, large salaries, official honors and power, and presidential smiles—all of which they are sure of so long as they are the partisans of the President—feel few quickening impulses to labor, and are altogether too independent and dignified personages to move at the speed that commercial interests require. They take office to enjoy its honors and emoluments, not to get their living by the sweat of their brows. They are too well satisfied with their own conditions, to trouble their heads with plans for improving the accustomed modes of doing the business of their departments—too wise in their own estimation, or too jealous of their assumed superiority, to adopt the suggestions of others—too cowardly to innovate—and too selfish to part with any of their power, or reform the abuses on which they thrive. The consequence is, as we now see, that when a cumbrous, clumsy, expensive and dilatory government system is once established, it is nearly impossible to modify or materially improve it. Opening the business to rivalry and free competition, is the only way to get rid of the nuisance.
But even if the government establishment were to continue its operations, competition is still an important principle to its utility; for it is the only principle that can always compel it to adapt its speed and prices to the convenience of the public.