Front Page Titles (by Subject) WHO CAUSED the REDUCTION OF POSTAGE? OUGHT HE TO BE PAID? - The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner vol. I (1834-1861)
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WHO CAUSED the REDUCTION OF POSTAGE? OUGHT HE TO BE PAID? - Lysander Spooner, The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner vol. I (1834-1861) 
The Shorter Works and Pamphlets of Lysander Spooner vol. I (1834-1861) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2010).
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WHO CAUSED the REDUCTION OF POSTAGE? OUGHT HE TO BE PAID?
WHO CAUSED the REDUCTION OF POSTAGE?
OUGHT HE TO BE PAID?
WRIGHT & HASTY’S PRESS, NO. 3 WATER STREET.
Entered, according to an Act of Congress, in the year 1850, By LYSANDER SPOONER, In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
TO THE PUBLIC.
The reduction of postage, which was made in 1845, was forced upon Congress, against the determined opposition of that body, by the establishment of private mails, and such an exposure of the unconstitutionality of the laws prohibiting private mails, as satisfied Congress of their inability to suppress the competition, and preserve the revenues of the Post-Office Department, otherwise than by the reduction of the government postage. And they accordingly reduced the postage to a point that made competition unprofitable, without even bringing the constitutionality of their prohibitory laws to the test of a decision by the Supreme Court.
The further reduction, made by the law of 1851, is but a natural consequence of the former one—it being proved, by the surplus revenue that accrued under the act of 1845, that a low rate of postage will pay the expenses of the Department.
The first reduction was forced; the second was the result of the surplus revenue that accumulated under that forced reduction.
Whoever, therefore, caused the first reduction, is the real author also of the second—and thus of the whole reduction—that is, from the original rates of 6¼, 10, 12½, 18¾, and 25 cents, for each piece of paper, (less than four,) to an uniform rate of three cents, the half ounce, for all distances, within the United States, if prepaid, or five if not prepaid.
The law of 1851 also provides that so soon as the revenue of the post office Department shall exceed the expenditures by five per cent in a year, the postage shall be reduced to two cents the half ounce.
The laws both of 1845 and 1851 also make large reductions in the postage of newpapers, circulars, periodicals, and pamphlets.
The subscribers present to the public the following “Letter” and “Statement” of Lysander Spooner—together with a copy of his argument of the “Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mails,”—as proof that Mr. Spooner has been the principal, and by far the most efficient agent in effecting the reduction of postage.
Our object, in presenting this evidence, is to submit to the public the question, whether the accomplishment of so great a service, by Mr. Spooner, does not demand some compensation at the hands of those who are enjoying the fruits of his exertions?
The English people, by voluntary contribution, gave to Rowland Hill, a munificent testimonial of their gratitude for his services in reducing the postage. The English government also honorably rewarded him. Shall Mr. Spooner go entirely unrewarded?
Mr. Spooner’s claims to a compensation, are enhanced by the fact that, in his contest with the government in 1844, (which caused the first reduction of postage,) he became involved in debts which he has hitherto been unable to discharge. We cannot believe the public will be content to enjoy the fruits of such a service, and make no remuneration for the exertions and losses by which it was accomplished.
It will be seen by the “Letter” and “Statement” of Mr. Spooner, and the evidence he produces in support of them, that he published his argument in January 1844, and established his private mails in the same month—avowing, in his public advertisements, his “intention thoroughly to agitate the question, and test the constitutional right of free competition in the business of carrying letters,” if he should be sustained in his enterprise by the patronage of the public. This patronage was not extended to him, in a sufficient degree to meet the expenses of his mails, and of the conflict which the government carried on against him. And in six or seven months he was obliged to surrender the business—but not until the principle which he had established by argument, had become so far fixed in the public mind as to make the suppression of the private mails impossible, otherwise than by a reduction of the postage.
The merit of Mr. Spooner consists in his being the first to establish by argument the unconstitutionality of the laws prohibiting private mails, and the first to establish mails on that principle, and challenge the government to test the question—whereby a reduction of the postage was coerced.
That Mr. Spooner’s argument, and the establishment of his mails, had the merit and the efficacy we have ascribed to them, we subjoin the following opinions expressed by the press, and by distinguished legal gentlemen:
The New York Express (January 13, 1844,) says of the argument, “The writer has certainly made out a very strong case.”
January’ 30, 1844, the same paper called it “A very able argument,’ and said “We do not see how it can be got over.”
February 7th, 1844, the same paper said, “Mr. Spooner has discussed that great question with surpassing ability.”
The New York Tribune (January 18, 1844,) said, “This pamphlet deserves attention. It is certainly an able statement of one side of the subject, and the people may find after all that the Postmaster has stretched a point in the constitution.”
The New York Evening Post (January 29, 1844,) called it “A very able pamphlet,” and said, “We hold with Mr. Spooner in this matter.”
The New York Journal of Commerce (February 29, 1844,) said, “It has been concurred in by the general voice of the legal gentlemen who have examined it.”
Hon. Rufus Choate certifies that he “had occasion to examine it carefully,” and that “the author’s leading and important position, that all laws prohibiting private mails were unconstitutional, was maintained with a force and cogency, calculated, under the obvious limitations applicable to it, to convince every unbiassed judgment.”
Hon. Franklin Dexter certifies that he “considers it as quite unanswerable;” that “as U. S. District Attorney,” he “had occasion to consider it carefully, and could make no answer to it satisfactory to himself.”
Hon. Simon Greenleaf, (late Law Professor in the Cambridge Law School,) certifies that he has read it, and “should think it a very difficult work to refute it.”
Hon. Benjamin F. Butler, (late U. S. Attorney General,) although, out of deference to the practice of the government, he forbears to say the laws prohibiting private mails are unconstitutional, yet says that Mr. Spooner’s “argument goes very far to show that no power to pass any such laws has been delegated to the Congress of the United States. If the question were a new one, I should expect the courts to repudiate the claim of the Federal Government to any such authority.”
Judge Story, in June 1844, (five months after the publication of Mr. Spooner’s argument,) on the trial of a case for the violation of the Post-office laws, said, (as reported in the Boston Daily Advertiser of June 18,) that “there were many difficulties in maintaining in the United States any exclusive right to establish post-offices and post roads.”
Senator (now Judge) Woodbury, February 6, 1845, (about one year after the publication of Mr. Spooner’s pamphlet,) said in the Senate of the U. S.: “Were the question a new one at this moment, the whole restrictions on private enterprise and private competition in carrying letters themselves, could not stand an hour.”
Senator Simmons said February 6, 1845, in the Senate of the U. S.. “The power to establish a mail was not given to enable the government to make exorbitant charges for service, much less to enable it to enforce a compliance with them, if made.”
Hon. Mr. Dana, M. C. of New York, said in the U. S. House of Representatives, February 25, 1845. “The validity of that (the government) monopoly is not beyond all doubt. Stake not the Department, under present circumstances, upon the hazard of a law suit. Prejudice is too strong against you. Success is almost impossible; victory is useless; defeat ruin.”
We think these opinions of Messrs Story, Woodbury, Simmons, and Dana, are fairly to be attributed to Mr. Spooner’s argument—inasmuch as such opinions, (so far as we know,) had never before been heard from the Bench, or in Congress.
We think also, that the reduction of the government rates, without bringing the constitutional question before the Supreme Court, is a virtual admission, on the part of Congress themselves, that they did not feel it safe to subject the constitutionality of their prohibitory laws to the investigation of that tribunal; otherwise they would not have succumbed to such a defiance of their authority, without bringing the question to a judicial decision, as the Postmaster General was invited by Mr. Spooner to do.
Mr. Spooner’s “Statement,” which follows this card, will be found to contain numerous extracts from debates in Congress, and from reports of the Post-office Committees, all showing conclusively that the necessity of getting rid of the competition of the private mails, and the acknowledged impossibility of doing it otherwise than by a reduction of postage, were the motives which induced Congress to make the reduction in 1845.
It is on these grounds that we think that Mr. Spooner’s argument, and the establishment of his private mails, (with other private mails, which grew up, as we think, mainly under the protection of his argument and example,) were the immediate and most efficient causes of that reduction.
Hon. Simon Greenleaf certifies that “the reduction of postage (in 1845) seems justly attributable to his (Mr. Spooner’s) exertions.”
Judge Kent, of New York, certifies that “one thing is certainly evident, that Mr. Spooner has displayed talent and energy in obtaining a reduction of the charges of postage, and deserves the gratitude of all of us for the obtaining of a great public benefit.”
Hon. Benjamin F. Butler says, “That your (Mr. Spooner’s) efforts have largely contributed to awaken attention to this great interest, no man can deny. And whatever I may have thought of them, before my recent perusal of your pamphlet, (published by you in 1844,) I am now satisfied that you were induced to engage in those efforts under a deep conviction of the unconstitutionality of the laws with which they conflicted, and that you may, therefore, be regarded as having rendered, in this matter, good service to the country.”
Hon. Robert Rantoul, Jr., says, “I think Mr. Spooner entitled to the gratitude of his country for his able and efficient labors to illustrate the constitution, and to facilitate correspondence.”
Hon. William H. Seward also says, in reference to the same services, “I am quite satisfied that Mr. Spooner desrves well of the country, and of the age.”
For further evidence of the efficiency of Mr. Spooner’s efforts in effecting the reduction that was made in 1845, we must refer to his “Letter” and “Statement,” which follow this card; and especially to the extracts he has given from the report of the Postmaster General, the reports of Committees, and the Debates in Congress. And we take leave to repeat that the reduction of 1851 is a legitimate result of the reduction of 1845, and is therefore attributable also to Mr. Spooner’s exertions.
It is due to Mr. Spooner to say that he was not the first to suggest this contribution. At the time the new postage law went into operation, in 1845, it was proposed to him that the public be called upon to remunerate him for his services in bringing it about; and he was requested to prepare such a statement of the facts as was necessary to be laid before the public for that purpose. He then declined, from motives of delicacy, to furnish the statement, and the matter was necessarily dropped. It has since been proposed to him again; and a sense of duty to himself and his creditors, has induced him to furnish the “Statement” which follows.
From the mercantile, manufacturing, banking, and professional community, who have already realized large sums from the reduction of 1845, and who will realize similar profits from the one of 1851, we are confident something liberal may be expected. We trust also that other persons, whose savings have been, and will be less, will yet feel it a pleasure and a duty to contribute such small sums, (one dollar each, for instance,) as, if numerous as we think they ought to be, will, in the aggregate, make up a testimonial that will honorably mark the public gratitude for so great a service as the reduction of the postage.
As it will necessarily be impossible for agents to visit all those, who may be disposed to contribute, we invite each person, without waiting for further solicitation, to send his contribution, by mail, to “Lysander Spooner, Boston, Mass.”
In the cities we invite the merchants to move in the matter, by sending their contributions individually, or by acting collectively, as may seem to them proper.
In each village, where many will be disposed to contribute sums too small to be sent singly by mail, will not some public spirited individual take it upon himself to act as a collector of contributions, and forward them as above directed?
To ensure the success of the objects in view, it is important that each one should feel the obligation to do his own part, and not omit it, in the confidence that others will be more just or liberal than himself.
P. S. Will not editors, whose interests have been largely promoted by the reduction of postage, give the foregoing card an insertion, with such comments as the facts given in the following “Letter” and “Statement” may seem to them to justify?
M. D. PHILLIPS, Esq.,
You were pleased to suggest to me, as have many others, that the public were indebted to me for the Cheap Postage Law, that was passed in 1845. And you and others have proposed that those persons who have realized large savings from the reduction of postage, be requested to recognize the obligation. With this view you have desired me to put on paper the facts necessary to enable the public to understand my agency in the matter.
The question of indebtedness and obligation, on the part of the public, is one to be settled by each individual for himself; but the following pages will probably satisfy those who may read them, of these facts, viz: That I was the first to prove by argument—certainly the first to prove to the satisfaction of any considerable portion of the public—that Congress had no Constitutional power to forbid the establishment of mails, by the States, or by private individuals, in competition with the mails of the United States; 2, that I was the first to establish mails on that principle, and invite the government to test the question before the judicial tribunals; 3, that these events were followed by a recognition of the correctness of the principle, by an important portion of the bar, the press, the people, and, in one instance, by the bench, (Judge, Story,) and, in another instance, in the Senate, (by Levi Woodbury; 4, that numberous other private mails were speedily established, whose operations, by diminishing the revenues of the general Post office, threatened the Department with bankruptcy; and, finally, that Congress were compelled, in order to save the Department from becoming a burden upon the treasury, to reduce the postage to a rate that would rid the Department of the competition of the private mails; and that these were the immediate causes that led to the passage of the cheap postage act of 1845.
The importance of the Constitutional principle I contended for, whether viewed politically, socially, or commercially, will be in some measure appreciated, when it is considered that, if the government of the United States have the power to forbid the States and individuals carrying letters, newspapers, and other mailable matter, it can, at will, suppress, to any extent it pleases, all written and printed communications between man and man. Theoretically, this absolute power was claimed by the government; practically, it was exercised to a very injurious and tyrannical extent.
The right of the States and individuals to establish mails has not yet been fully established by judicial decisions. The act of 1845, in terms, denies it; although the act itself was practically a concession to it—for it is not to be supposed that Congress would have yielded to a competition so destructive of their revenues, and based, as the Post-office Committee of the House of Representatives said, “upon the impudent assumption that the government of the United States have no authority to restrain or punish” the competitors—it is not, I say, to be supposed that Congress would have been so regardless, both of their own dignity, and of the duty of maintaining their Constitutional prerogatives inviolate, as to have thus succumbed to the usurpations of a few private persons, without so much as bringing the case before the Supreme Court, if they had had any real confidence that their authority would there have been sustained. They would naturally have vindicated their authority first, and considered the reduction of postage afterwards.
It was my intention—had I been sufficiently sustained by the public—to carry the question to the last tribunal. But after a contest of some six or seven months, having exhausted all the resources I could command, I was obliged to surrender the business, and with it the question, into the hands of others, who did not see sufficient inducement for contesting the principle, after the reduction of postage had taken place.
But, great as was the relief afforded by the act of 1845, the value of my movement did not end there. That act, by the proof it afforded that a low rate of postage will support the Department, became but a preparatory step to the still further reduction made by the act of 1851.
I understand that my claim to be remunerated for my services and losses, has been objected to, on the ground that I engaged in the enterprise with a view to make money; that, so far as I was concerned, it proved to be a losing business; that, in this respect, it stands but on a level with enterprises generally that prove unfortunate, presenting no claim for indemnity or compensation from the public. The error of this objection consists in this, that it leaves entirely out of view the benefits the public have received from my unrewarded labors. Those benefits distinguish this case from all those unfortunate private adventures, which propose no benefit to the public, in which the public have no interest, from which they derive no advantage, and whose authors they are consequently under no obilgation to compensate.
It is true I hoped to realize a profit from the enterprise; although I trust I had also a proper sense of pride and duty in the establishment of so important a principle. But no person—no one certainly in my circumstances—would have been justified in entering upon so expensive a contest with the government, unless he had trusted to come out of it, at least without loss.
With reference to my prospects of profit, it is also to be considered, that although the legal idea, and the argument sustaining it, may have had as much originality as any of those mechanical or chemical ideas, which the government protects by securing to their authors an exclusive property in them; and although my ideas were of far greater value to the public than almost any one of those that have ever been thus guaranteed to their authors; still, being legal ones, I could obtain for them no patent, and secure for them no monopoly. All persons, who could read my argument, or hire a lawyer to read it for them, were at once free to avail themselves, as many did, of my thoughts, and establish themselves in competition with me in carrying them into practice. The idea and the argument were therefore necessarily a free gift, on my part, to the public, because the public were sure to get the benefit of them, without being under any compulsion to make any payment to me.
Nevertheless, I looked for a profit from the undertaking—a legitimate profit from the business of carrying letters in the midst of free competition—for I could not believe that the public would be so unmindful of one who should vindicate for them so great a right—a right so vital to civil liberty, so important in a pecuniary view, and the establishment of which was sure to result in the reduction of the government postage to the lowest rate to which free competition could bring it—as to give him no preference in business over those who had done nothing for them in that behalf. Probably such would not have been the case, had not the fact of my being the first to establish mails in avowed defiance of the authority of Congress, and the fact that my mail arrangements were at the outset more extensive than those of any other person, (to wit, from Boston to Baltimore,) induced the Postmaster General to direct nearly or quite all his efforts, for the suppression of private mails, against me alone. By employing a large police in the cities and on the roads, he was enabled occasionally to detect and arrest my carriers, and thus obstruct my mails. In this way the confidence of the public in the certain transmission of their letters through my mails was diminished, and their patronage accordingly withheld. In the mean time, other private mails were allowed to pursue their business, either in entire, or comparative, quiet; and their mails being the surer conveyance, they secured the larger share of business, and their proprietors reaped the profits which should have been the reward of my labors.
The consequence was that, after having sustained the conflict for some six or seven months, and placed the principle, on which I acted, so fully before the public as that it finally compelled the concession of Congress to it, I was obliged, by want of means, to abandon the business, after having incurred debts which to this day I have been unable to discharge.
I subjoin the following “Statement,” and a copy of my argument. The two embrace the proofs of all the more important assertions made in this letter.
With these remarks I leave the question of obligation, on the part of the public, to be determined by each person individually, to whom application may be made for contributions.
|3||cents for 30 miles—for a single letter.|
|5||cents for 100 miles—for a single letter.|
|10||cents for 300 miles—for a single letter.|
|15||cents for all over 300 miles.|
This bill was sent to the House, referred to the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads, and by that Committee “reported to the House without amendment,” June 12th, 1844. But as Congress adjourned but five days afterwards, (June 17th,) the House had not time to act upon the bill, and it was lost.
In the Senate.
January 16th, 1845. Mr. NILES said,
“The law is openly violated, and private expresses are established between all the important commercial cities, which convey a large portion of the letters which would otherwise be conveyed in the mail.”
“The people see and appreciate the immense advantages of a system of low postage. They have had a foretaste of these advantages, through the private expresses, and they will not relinquish them.” * * * “Reduce the postage to a reasonable rate, so as to satisfy the public mind, and the violations of the law will cease.”
January 27th, 1845. Mr. MERRICK* said,
“Private competitors for the performance, and, of course, for the profits of the service, are springing up upon all the important and valuable routes, and, under the public countenance, are superseding the mails of the United States, to the great detriment of the service, to the injury of the public morals, to the great real disadvantage of the very public by whom they are countenanced and encouraged, and, if not checked, to the certain ultimate prostration of the whole Post Office system. These are grave and alarming evils, and demand the most serious and grave consideration.”
“Private enterprise is successfully competing with the government in the performance of the service on all the important and valuable routes, and deprive it of the income necessary to support the existing Post Office establishment.”
“Sustained by public opinion, these private competitors are daily extending their operations, and unless the power and authority of Congress is wisely, and prudently, and promptly interposed, they must soon prostrate the Department.”
“Others again advance the opinion that extreme reduction of rates is the only means of putting down this private competition, and advise a reliance solely upon underbidding by the Government as the means of securing to it the whole business, and repudiate the idea of deriving any aid from penal enactments.”
“The conclusion to which I have come is, that we should first reform all the evils complained of, so far as they have any real existence, and by this means satisfy and propitiate an enlightened public. Remove all just causes for dissatisfaction, and the dissatisfaction will soon cease; and that public, which is now in some quarters willing to see your Post Office establishment go down, nay, are even ready to aid in its destruction, will soon begin to look upon it with very different feelings.”
“Some have ridiculed the idea of resorting at all to the use of penal enactments, as being, under any circumstances, unavailing and incapable of execution.”
January 27th, 1845. “Mr. WOODBURY was in favor of reducing the postage to three cents upon letters conveyed not more than thirty miles. If you keep up the rates for short distances, you have no chance of breaking up the expresses running from the great cities. He supposed that the increase of letters by cheap postage would fully keep up the revenue, and by low rates you will break up the great evil now complained of, and which we were aiming to reach—the expresses.”
January 28th, 1845. Mr. MILLER “objected that five cents for 100 miles would not meet the competition of private expresses, nor ten cents for greater distances. * * To compete with them the reduction should be to 5 cents. Besides, unless for short distances the reduction was to 3 cents, none of the correspondence carried by private hands or private expresses, would come into the mail.”
January 28th, 1845. Mr. MERRICK said,
“First make a reasonable reduction of postage to meet the expectation of the public, and then trust to restringent laws to protect the monopoly of the Department. That was the only practicable way of putting down the private competition of these expresses, so injurious to the Post Office revenue.”
January 28th, 1845. “Mr. WOODBURY considered the proposition of three cents for short distances, and so on ratably for greater distances to ten cents, likely to effect both objects—that of putting down the expresses and increasing the revenue.”
January 29th, 1845. “Mr. MILLER felt assured that the rates and distances proposed in the original bill would fail of meeting public expectation, or of remedying the grievances complained of by the Department in relation to the interference of private or public expresses.”
January 29th, 1845. Mr. SIMMONS said,
“What was the object in view in the passage of this bill? To prevent the interference of expresses, and to preclude the carrying of letters by private hands.” * * “It was manifest, then, that the reduction proposed by the Senator from Maryland would not have the slightest influence upon this private interference.”
January 29th, 1845. Mr. BREESE said,
“The present high rates have brought the Department and the system into disrepute, and means are sought by which to be relieved from its oppressions. Penal laws cannot effect the object. It is in vain to resort to them. Your law must be in accordance with public sentiment, or it will be evaded.” * * “Mr. B. repeated that he did not believe any such measure as the one now proposed would gratify the public. * * They (the people) will see that letters are carried more than one hundred miles for five or six cents, (by the private mails), and they will demand that the government shall carry them for the same, or they will abandon the use of the mails and patronize private enterprise. This is natural: and all the penal laws you can enact will not prevent it.”
January 30th, 1845. Mr. PHELPS said,
“In spite of all the penal enactments that could be devised, so long as private expresses would carry single letters for 5 cents while the government charged 10, penal laws would be disregarded, and the expresses would flourish and be sustained by public sentiment.”
February 3d, 1845. Mr. MERRICK said,
“The point in which the whole success of the measure depended, was the protection of the Department from the competition of the private expresses.”
February 6th, 1845. Mr. SIMMONS said,
“One question presented is, whether or not the reduction to ten cents for distances over one hundred miles will remove one of the difficulties in our way, which is the interference of private mails or expresses in the business of letter carrying, and the consequent reduction of our receipts.”
“I have no faith in the sentiment that you can prevent the people of this country from employing such of their own citizens as will do their work the cheapest, by a system of prosecutions such as this bill contemplates; and I should have no favor for it if I thought it would produce that result.
“I believe the right and the only practicable way to command business sufficient to support the Post Office Department is to do it better and cheaper than individuals can. This the government can afford to do, and is, in my judgment, bound to do. The power to establish a mail was conferred on the government in this expectation, and for this purpose. It was not given to enable the government to make exorbitant charges for service, much less to enable it to enforce a compliance with them, if made. I think the existing charges for letter-carrying are of this character; and I am not disposed to denounce all who afford or employ other means of communication than the United States mail.”
“If further reduction is refused, the people will, in greater numbers than at present, leave your mail, and seek other modes of conveyance. They may regret this, but they will submit to ‘the necessity that impels them to the separation.’ No man can expect any thing else who knows the history, or can appreciate the character of this people.”
“The Post Office Department is at present without adequate means, because it has not the public opinion in its favor. This will continue as long as the cause of it is allowed to remain, and after the passage of this bill, as well as now, unless our postage is as low as that of individual carriers. Our object should be to gain the good opinion and business of the public.”
“A prudent course demands an effectual reduction—one that will secure the business to our mail. Can we hope to do this by reducing our charge for letter-carrying from threefold, as it now is, to double the rates charged by our competitors, as he proposes? Individuals have not succeeded in taking the business from the mail by such a course; they underbid to get business, and do the same to regain it when lost. It is a new idea that this may be easier done by a prosecution for penalties, as this bill contemplates. Nobody should expect to succeed in getting custom for the mail by prosecuting or persecuting the people whose support it wants. There are obvious reasons against trying such an experiment.”
“Do you expect to induce people to patronize your mail by commencing prosecutions against them? If any individual were to propose to do any such thing, he would be thought a fit subject for a mad-house.”
February 6th, 1845. “Mr. PHELPS said the bill would be ineffectual, and you would never get rid of these expresses until you carry as cheap as they do. There is only one course to be taken, and that is to come down in your prices and satisfy the public that you carry letters as cheap for them as any one else will do.”
February 7th, 1845. Mr. ATHERTON “urged the necessity and great importance” of an amendment to the effect that the postage of letters not exceeding 50 miles be 3 cents; saying “it was on short distances that competition had to be put down, which could only be done by a reduction to 3 cents.”
In the House.
February 25th, 1845. Mr. DANA said,
“The condition of the Post Office Department itself requires some change in the system. The Department is running down—its revenues and its accommodations are diminishing.” * *
“Your high rates of postage have driven the letters from the mails, and they have found cheaper channels of transportation. On nearly every important mail route expresses have been established. They carry letters at one third or one fourth of the regular postage, and deliver them personally as soon, if not earlier, than the mailed letters are ready for delivery at the Post Office. The people find them a great convenience. They don’t know how to dispense with them, unless you will so modify your Post Office system as to provide a substitute.”
“What is the remedy for the diversion of the letters from the mails? Some of our friends suggest that it is to be found in penal enactments. * * But your penal laws against the expresses will remain a dead letter upon your statute book. Public opinion is against them—they cannot be executed. * * Nothing can be more absurd than to attempt to fetter the great mass of the people, contrary to their will, by penal laws. * * Such laws cannot be executed here. If it is as easy, as some suggest, to suppress the expresses by prosecutions, why has it not been done? They are in constant, open, and avowed operation.”
“The Department is here openly braved. If it be so easy to put down the expresses, why has it not been done?”
“What then is the remedy? Reduction—make your conveyance the cheapest and best. To do this you must reduce the rates of postage radically, and at once. Bring them down below competition, and do it now. Wait for another Congress to assemble and it may be too late. As yet the people have not taken a decided stand against you—they are waiting for your action. Reform your system, cheapen postages, expedite transportation, and the people will go with you, and sustain you. They will clear the expresses and all other impediments from your path. Adjourn without doing any thing, and when you assemble here again you will find the Department bankrupt, new and extended facilities provided to dispense with mail accommodations, and a large majority of the people disposed to encourage and patronise them. A reduction that would have been satisfactory at the last session would be unavailing now; one which would be gladly accepted at this session would be contemned at the next. The longer you delay, the greater must be the concession. A 5 cent uniform rate of postage now will bring all letters into the mail. A 2 or 3 cent rate will be required for that purpose when you meet again. Come down, then, at once, with a good grace, to 5 cents, and agitation will cease. Delay, and the demand will continue to increase, and agitation become more violent. The ultra reductionists hope there will be no action at this Congress; they think us behind the spirit of the age, and are willing to endure the infliction of high postage another year, in the expectation of a greater reduction than can now be had. Sir, their calculations are correct—the consequences they anticipate will surely come. But I hope that this question may not be thrown over; that we shall act promptly and liberally—respond to the just demands of the people, and quiet this agitation. The Post Office will thus regain its lost popularity.”
“The first object is to get rid of the expresses and private mails. Any reform short of this is futile and useless. A cheap and dear system of postage cannot long continue in operation together. Cheapen your system, or the expresses will drive you off the road.”
March 1st, 1845. Mr. PATTERSON said,
“There appears to be no difference of opinion, from one end of the land to the other, that the present rates of postage are inequitable and grievously burdensome, rendering the Post Office Department so unpopular with the people as to make it impossible to prevent its revenues from being infringed upon by private enterprise in a thousand ways, in bold and open violation of the laws. As deplorable and demoralizing as this state of things is, it will continue so long as the people have before them daily evidence of the great injustice of the rates of postage, in the fact that private enterprise will perform the service for one third the money.”
A bill passed the Senate at this session, fixing a uniform rate of postage of five cents, for a half ounce, for all distances. This bill was sent to the House, and there changed so as to fix the rates at five cents, for three hundred miles, and ten cents for any greater distance. In this form it was agreed to by the Senate, and became a law.
No considerable debate was had in the House at either session. In 1845, debate was cut off by the “previous question.”
THE ACTION OF CONGRESS IN 1843, CONTRASTED WITH THAT IN 1844 AND 1845.
To see more distinctly the effect produced upon the minds of Congress, by the establishment of private mails, and the denial of the power of Congress to prohibit them, we have but to contrast the action of Congress immediately before those events, with their action immediately afterwards—as follows:
February 28th, 1843, the Senate passed a bill, fixing the rates of postage for a “single sheet,”
At 5 cents for 30 miles,
At 10 cents for 100 miles,
At 15 cents for 220 miles,
At 20 cents for 400 miles,
At 25 cents for all over 400 miles. And double and triple those rates for double and triple letters.
This bill was sent to the House, and on the 2d of March, 1843, amended so as to fix the rates of postage, at
5 cents under 50 miles, and
10 cents over 50 miles,
for quarter ounce letters; and double and triple those rates for the second and third additional quarter ounce.
This amendment could hardly be considered a reduction, except on the condition of the people’s stinting themselves to quarter ounce letters. Under this amendment, letters weighing over a quarter of an ounce, would pay 10 cents for all distances under 50 miles, and 20 cents for all distances over 50 miles.
As regards letters weighing over a quarter of an ounce, this would probably have been a positive increase on the old rates of postage.
On the same day, (March 2d, 1843,) the Senate “disagreed” to this amendment of the House, without a division. On the 3d of March, 1843, the House insisted on its amendment, and asked a conference. On the same day, the Senate insisted on their disagreement, and granted a conference. But the conference made no report, and it being the last day of the session, the bill was lost.
This was the condition in which the postage reform stood, in both branches of Congress, on the 3d of March, 1843, the last day of the session previous to the publication of my argument, and the establishment of the private mails. The Senate proposed nothing that deserved the name of reduction. The House proposed no reduction, except on the petty and vexatious condition of restricting the people to quarter ounce letters.
On the 29th of April, 1844, (about three months after the establishment of my mails,) the Senate passed a bill, fixing the rates of postage, for a single letter,
At 3 cents for 30 miles,
At 5 cents for 100 miles,
At 10 cents for 300 miles,
At 15 cents for all over 300 miles.
This bill was not agreed to by the House, and the matter went over to the next session.
February 8th, 1845. The Senate, by a vote of 38 to 12, passed a bill, fixing a uniform rate of postage, of 5 cents, for a half ounce, for all distances. This bill was amended in the House, so as to make the postage
5 cents for 300 miles, and
10 cents for over 300 miles,
for a half ounce. This amendment was agreed to by the Senate, March 1st, 1845; and this was the bill that became a law.
What was it that produced, in the minds of Congress, the remarkable changes evinced by these several bills, between the 3d of March, 1843, and the 1st of March, 1845? There can be but one answer to this question.
THE EXAMPLE OF ENGLISH POSTAGE.
Some persons have supposed that the example of cheap postage in England had much to do in bringing about the reduction of postage here.
It undoubtedly did something to increase, among the people, the desire—(an unavailing desire of long standing)—for cheap postage. But it had but little effect upon Congress.
The English system went into operation January 10th, 1840; yet on January 10th, 1844, (four years after,) no change had been made in this country; and, so far as I am aware, no radical change had ever been proposed, or had many friends, in Congress. The reason was this. The diminished receipts, and the increased expenses, under the cheap system in England, caused a loss of about half their original revenue. This loss could be borne in England, because under their high rates their revenue had been about double their expenses. But in this country, the expenses had entirely consumed the revenue. And it was a fixed principle, with our government, that the department should support itself. This principle was adhered to by Congress with bigoted tenacity. The English example, therefore, really operated upon the minds of a large portion of Congress, to deter them from a reduction. It was quoted, along with other statistics, as proving that a reduction of rates would be attended with a reduction of revenue; and consequently that no reduction of rates could be made consistently with the principle of making the department sustain itself.
It was only when opposition post offices were established, and the constitutional right of individuals to establish mails had begun to be the prevalent doctrine, and Congress saw that it was only at low rates that their mails could long get any considerable number of letters to carry, that they discovered that the principle of making the department support itself was about to operate differently from what it ever had done before, viz: in favor of low rates, rather than high ones. And it was for this reason, more than any other, that the act of 1845 was passed, as the debates show. The great argument in Congress, in favor of the reduction, was, not the blessings of cheap postage, but that, without a reduction, the department would inevitably be prostrated by competition.
HALE AND CO’S LETTER MAIL.
I have said before, in my letter to Mr. Phillips, that I was “the first to establish mails in avowed defiance of the authority of Congress,”—“on the principle that Congress had no Constitutional power to forbid the establishment of mails by the States, or by private individuals, in competition with the mails of the United States;” and “that I was the first to invite the government to test that question before the judicial tribunals.”
This renders it necessary that I should make an explanation in regard to the mails of Hale & Co.
The clandestine transmission of letters through the Expresses established for the transportation of packages and merchandise, had doubtless been carried on for years previous to 1844, as appears by the Annual Reports of the P. M. General in 1841, (and document D. appended thereto,) 1842 and 1843.
A case of this kind was tried in New York, in November, 1843, before Judge Betts. On this trial, Judge Betts held that the statutes of Congress prohibiting the setting up of “any foot or horse post,” and forbidding “any stage coach, or other vehicle, packet boat or other vessel,” to carry letters, did not apply to passengers on board vessels and land carriages.
The omission to prohibit passenger posts was obviously accidental, occasioned by the fact that, at the time these statutes were passed, (1825 and 1827,) there were no railroads, and comparatively few steamboats in the country, and the facilities for establishing passenger posts had not become such as to attract the attention of Congress.
Under cover of this decision, that the letter of the laws then in existence did not apply to passengers, Hale and Kimball, as appears by their advertisement, commenced carrying letters, between New York and Boston, December 21, 1843, thirty-two days before my mails were started, and about twenty days before the publication of my argument.
The point of distinction between Hale & Co. and myself is this:
They made no denial of the validity of the then existing laws of Congress, or of the Constitutional power of Congress to pass other laws prohibiting passenger posts; they only evaded the plain design of the law, by availing themselves of an accidental omission in its letter, after the omission had been pointed out to them by Judge Betts. They acted within the letter of the law, although they violated its spirit. I denied and disproved, not only the validity of the then existing laws, but the Constitutional power of Congress to pass any other laws, prohibiting either passenger posts, or any other private posts, which individuals or the States might choose to set up on the highways of the nation. I established my mails avowedly on that principle, (as will appear from my advertisements, an extract from which is quoted on pages 24 and 25,)—published an argument in defence of it—sent copies of that argument to Congress, and publicly challenged,* and privately invited, the P. M. General to test that question.
There was nothing in the movement of Hale & Co. to threaten the security of the government monopoly, or to coerce the government into a reduction of postage. Congress had only to supply the omission in the letter of the law, (as they could do in three lines,) so as to make it apply to passenger posts, as well as to “horse,” “foot,” and other private posts, and their monopoly would then have been perfectly safe as against Hale & Co.† And the action of Congress in 1843, (as has already been exhibited,) sufficiently proves that Congress would have supplied this omission, without making any very important reduction in the postage, had not the Constitutional question been raised. But the want of Constitutional power, which I alleged and proved, on the part of Congress, to pass any prohibitory laws at all, was an omission, which Congress could not supply; and this it was that opened the door to the general establishment of private mails throughout the country, and compelled a reduction, as the only means left of sustaining the Department.
It was not the evasions, either of the intent or the letter, of the existing laws, that alarmed Congress for the safety of their monopoly; for those evasions had been going on for years, as Congress were particularly informed by the P. M. General, as early as 1841. But it was, (as the P. O. Committee of the Senate said,) “the unblushing violation, and open defiance, of the laws,” and, (as the P. O. Committee of the House said,) “the impudent assumption that the government of the United States had no Constitutional power to restrain or punish” the establishment of private mails,—that created the first effervescence in Congress. And it was this same “unblushing violation,” “open defiance,” and “impudent assumption,”—sustained, as they chanced to be, by argument which could not be met, by several of the most influential presses in the country, by the opinions of large numbers of the bar, by the intimation of Judge Story, by the declaration of Senator Woodbury, and doubtless also by the opinions of many other members of Congress who did not think it wise to express them in advance of a decision by the Supreme Court,—that compelled the general admission, on the part of Congress, that their iniquitous usurpations over the free transmission of intelligence could not be maintained, and that the only means by which the Post Office Department could be saved from prostration, was a reduction of postage.
That the P. M. General considered the mail of Hale & Co., and the grounds on which they acted, as of little or no importance, is evidenced by the fact that in his report, before given, in part, (p. 28,) although he goes into particulars in regard to my mails, he does not so much as mention Hale & Co., although they commenced carrying letters thirty days before I did.
In short, their mails were only a new form of evasion, involving no principle, and based on no denial of the authority of Congress, and could therefore be of no practical importance as coercive of a reduction of postage.
[* ] When it is considered that judges are always extremely reluctant to hold any legislation unconstitutional, and that the Supreme Court of the United States have never, except, I think, in one or two instances only, held a law of Congress unconstitutional,since the foundation of the government, I think those who knew Judge Story, will hardly suspect that he would thus have gone beyond the necessities of the case then before him, and thrown out so distinct an intimation against the power of the government, at a time too when his opinion would naturally have so much influence in encouraging the establishment of additional private mails, and in inducing the public to give them their support, to the prejudice of the revenues of the government, unless he were not only clear in his own mind on the question, but had also learned the opinions of his associates on the bench of the Supreme Court—(as he could hardly have failed to do—for that Court remained together at Washington some two or three months after the agitation of the question had commenced.)
[* ] “Were the question a new one.” The Constitution is the same now, on this point, that it was when it was “new,” and the constitutional question is, therefore, the same now that it would have been then.
[* ] The Postmaster General here misrepresents my proposed admission, by leaving out the most important part of it. Before starting my mails, I informed him of my intention to start them, and added,
“I shall be ready at any time to answer to any suit, which you may think it your duty to institute.
“Until I know the course intended to be pursued by the Department, I can of course give no assurance as to the defence I shall choose to make. I will say, however, that if an amicable suit only should be instituted, it is not my present intention to put you to any trouble in proving facts, or to take advantage of any defects in the existing law; but to meet the constitutional question fully and distinctly.”
Previous to this time, Judge Betts had decided that there was a loop-hole in the law prohibiting private posts, which prevented its applying to passengers on board public conveyances. Judges Story, Sprague, and Conklin subsequently confirmed this opinion, while it was controverted by Judges Randall and Heath. It was this defect, (which was sufficient for my defence), that I proposed to take no advantage of, if an amicable suit only should be instituted. But it was no part of his purpose to try the constitutional question—but only to break me down by brute force, without having either the law or the constitution on his side—and hence my proposal was declined.
[* ] In this report, the Postmaster General seeks to convey the impression that he considered my conduct plainly illegal. If he really did so consider it, it was his sworn duty to have me prosecuted; and he would have committed perjury in neglecting to do so—for the law which he was sworn to execute, required him to “prosecute offences against the post office establishment.” Yet, after my mails had been in operation some weeks, three or four, I think, an agent of the Department called upon my counsel, Josiah Howe, Esq., of New York City, and proposed that if I would then desist from conveying letters, no prosecutions should be instituted on account of those that had been carried. And it was only when this proposition was promptly and peremptorily rejected, that the prosecutions were commenced.
[† ] Undoubtedly “the law was the same in both (all) the States;” but the Judges in New York and Massachusetts, proved to be different from those in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Postmaster General never obtained any verdicts in New York or Massachusetts. It is proper to say, however, that all the decisions were made upon the construction of the statute, and not upon the meaning of the constitution.
[* ] Extracted from the National Intelligencer and Congressional Globe.
[* ] See the full report of his Speech in the Tri-Weekly National Intelligencer of February 1, 1845.
[* ] So far as my advertisement, before mentioned, was such a challenge.
[† ] That Hale & Co. had no intention of contesting any principle, is evidenced not only by the fact that they made no denial of the power of Congress, when they commenced carrying letters, but also by the fact that the P. M. General, in his report, before given, (page 28,) makes no allusion to them, or to any one but myself, as having invited him to test the Constitutional question; and still further by the fact that, on the very day that the omission in the letter of the law was supplied, (so as to make it apply to passengers,) Hale & Co. abandoned their business—though their pockets were full of money—thus showing that they had no idea of spending any money in defence of any Constitutional principle, that was important to the public, or restrictive of the power of Congress.