So, there is talk about the Post Office going private. This is a horrible idea, put forth by Cheetoh, who has it out for Bezos and Amazon. The Post Office gives Amazon a sweet deal for delivering the last mile of many Amazon deliveries, so Cheetoh wants to privatize the Post Office to ruin this sweetheart deal. There's a hope the man could not be in power much longer (God, let that happen), but in the meantime, privatizing the United States Postal Service is a terrible idea.
But don't take my word for it. Read this book.
Recommended in the XOXOfest slack by Andy McMillian, who has read this book three times already, How the Post Office Created America is a history of the Postal Service, its origins, its stumbles, its glories, and its part in creating what America is today. We, as United States citizens, take much for granted. The post office is, alas, one very big part of what we take for granted. And this is a very very sad thing.
A large number of people who complain about big government are benefactors of said government, but don't realize or won't recognize it. Would be great if said people actually understand how functioning societies work. Alas.
This is a great history book, a small segment of the times that begat and shaped America. I feel this book would make a fantastic high school history book, take two weeks to read and discuss the book, and maybe everyone in the class would have a better connection to the roots of America.
The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647, wonderfully known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law,” made the case for education on moral grounds: It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures . . . It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read.
As much as he loved London’s social and intellectual tumult, however, he had grown increasingly disenchanted with Britain’s corrupt politics and egregious socioeconomic inequities.
Like France, England intercepted mail and searched it for seditious content; indeed, surveillance had been one of Henry VIII’s motivations for establishing a state-run post in the first place.
Indeed, until the Civil War officially settled the matter, many Americans would say “the United States are” rather than “is.” (For the same reason, many modern historians prefer to speak of the “union” or “republic” rather than the “nation” when referring to the country during the antebellum era, on the grounds that although America was a state, a self-governing political entity, it was not yet a nation, a tightly knit people who embrace a common culture.)
For thousands of years, both knowledge of state affairs and mail networks had been privileges of a chosen few. The infant United States, however, was based on an idea that was anathema to history’s great powers: if a people’s republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on.
If service was deemed warranted, he authorized a new post office, and Congress, responding to the direct will of the local people, determined the route by which the mail would reach it.
Nevertheless, Americans had objective proof of their national government’s responsiveness to their direct input, which not only brought them mail but also turned clusters of cabins in the middle of nowhere into villages with names, and rutted trails through dense forests into roads on a map.
Just seventeen years after Benjamin Franklin became America’s first postmaster general, the Post Office Act utterly transformed his modest mail network. He would have been flabbergasted by the speed at which the post would become the federal government’s biggest, most important department and prime the United States to become the world’s most literate, best-informed country within two generations—surely one of the most significant, least appreciated developments in American history.
Worse, they routinely tweaked the mail coaches’ schedules to please their passengers, who liked to depart in the morning and arrive in the evening—the opposite of the timing preferred by the post’s lucrative business customers. The highly principled, devoutly Presbyterian Hazard was outraged by the crafty proprietors’ unpatriotic duplicity. If the post were to subsidize the stage system, he reasoned, the department had the right to make the rules and set the schedules for mail coaches.
The government, like any buyer, wanted to pay less for more service than the seller had in mind, particularly considering that the transportation in question was underwritten by passengers’ fares. The post also wanted to control the scheduling of mail trains, as it had finally been able to do with mail coaches.
In a typical observation, Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville’s traveling companion, wrote of their trip from Louisville to Memphis: “Frightful roads. Perpendicular descents. Way not banked; the route is but a passage made through the forest. The trunks of badly cut trees form as it were so many guard-stones against which one is always bumping. Only ten leagues a day.” The Frenchmen were ruefully amused by Americans’ seeming indifference to such conditions. Beaumont recounts one example of the natives’ sangfroid: “‘You have some very bad roads in France, haven’t you?’ an American says to me. ‘Yes, Sir, and you have some really fine ones in America, haven’t you?’ He doesn’t understand me. American conceit.”
Speed is the hallmark of good postal service, and McLean was remarkably successful in accelerating the mail. Indeed, he even foresaw that the telegraph, although then only the optical sort employed in France and Sweden, was a logical extension of paper mail: “If it were possible to communicate by telegraph all articles of intelligence to every neighborhood in the Union,” it would be “proper to do so.”
For nearly a century and a half, the government would effectively underwrite much of the country’s politics by enabling the camp that won the White House to reward tens of thousands of its supporters with postal jobs (although, as Lincoln would later observe, there were always too many pigs for the tits).
An early abolitionist, Benjamin Rush surely would have experienced mixed emotions had he lived to see the information network meant to unite Americans across borders also become the means of publicizing the political divide that would tear the United States apart.
Congress’s bias toward smaller newspapers was not just a benign effort to help the little guy. The official explanation was that a robust civic life required the circulation of local as well as national and international news and opinions. That sounds reasonable enough, as does the desire to help small enterprises stay competitive. However, the rural papers were often highly partisan supporters of the local congressmen, who could be counted on to represent in Washington their constituents’ deep suspicion of city slickers and their supposedly radical politics and immoral ways.
(That said, precocious fifteen-year-old Carrie Deppen, who worked as a telegrapher, was neither windy nor sentimental. A collection of her correspondence includes flirtatious notes that she mailed to male colleagues down the line and a letter to her supervisor asking for a raise on the grounds that she was paid less than other workers, particularly the men. Her boss responded that Deppen was lucky to have a job at all and that she received a modest salary because she still lived at home.)
Middle- and upper-class Victorian women were in most ways far more restricted than their mothers and grandmothers had been in terms of the freedom to choose their own pursuits and move about in the world. Particularly in big cities, architects struggled to find ways for women to appear in public places without impropriety—an effort that among other things popularized the new department stores, which offered ladies’ restrooms and restaurants for dainty luncheons safe from the male gaze.
The San Francisco post office took delicacy to the nth degree by installing a separate window for men who were picking up mail addressed to women—an “amenity” that also encouraged keeping them sequestered at home and their correspondence under male supervision.
Many were simply mean or sarcastic: Hey, Lover Boy, the place for you Is home upon the shelf ’Cause the only one who’d kiss you Is a jackass like yourself!
Country people generally bought only what they couldn’t grow, shoot, catch, or make themselves, so the shelves of the Headsville store would have been stocked with coffee, spices, and tobacco, as well as boots, patent medicines, tools, and sewing notions.
Despite the barriers, a few other women managed to become postmasters during the Early Republic. Feisty Sarah Decrow, who was appointed to serve in Hertford, North Carolina, in 1792, was reprimanded for daring to protest her inadequate salary. As Assistant Postmaster General Charles Burrall put it: “I am sensible that the emolument of the office cannot be much inducement to you to keep it [the postmastership], nor to any Gentleman to accept of it, yet I flatter myself some one may be found willing to do the business, rather than the town and its neighbourhood should be deprived of the business of a Post Office.” Decrow’s position was soon filled by such a gentleman.
He replied that it “has not been the practice of the Department to appoint females . . . at the larger offices; the duties required of them are many and important and often of a character that ladies could not be expected to perform.” Johnson took pains to point out that his opposition was by no means personal but extended to all women.
Some were driven by the exigencies imposed by the great financial Panic of 1837, others by the American tradition of moving on if life in one place fails to meet expectations, and still others by the stirring rhetoric of the imprecise, emotionally charged principle of Manifest Destiny. This theory of American exceptionalism proposed that the United States was a unique, divinely favored country that had a moral duty to spread its enlightened values and government from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The prospect of getting rich quick caused thousands of Americans to mortgage their homes or spend their life savings to try their luck in the Sacramento Valley’s streams.
Creswell’s view reflected his larger conviction that certain resources belonged to the people and should not be privatized. In one memorable example, he described electricity as “that most subtle and universal of God’s mysterious agents”; as to using it to generate private profit, he said, “As well might a charter be granted for the exclusive use of air, light, or water.”
Thus, the hardheaded merchant whose government office had a direct telegraph line to his business headquarters nevertheless insisted that the post office had a higher purpose than merely making money: “I do not think it essential, and do not know why we should be self-supporting any more than the Interior and other Departments.”
They would have insisted that the mandate to bind the nation was as readily adaptable to passwords and PINs as it had been to physical addresses, and that the post must take the lead in connecting Americans with electronic media, just as it had done with the delivery of newspapers, market data, affordable personal correspondence, and consumer goods. They would have marshaled the arguments once made for a postal telegraph on behalf of a postal Internet, maintaining that the obligation to unite the people with information and communications required making the new resource a public service rather than ceding it to private companies for their own profit.
A private company would simply close the unprofitable retail facilities—a logical move for any revenue-driven enterprise. Indeed, the USPS management has already shut down half of its major distribution centers, with consequent delays in mail delivery that are particularly noticeable in rural states.
Those who dispute the government’s right to monopolize a service that business could provide want to privatize it. They observe that the nation is increasingly bound by commercially supplied electronic communications, and they assert that the post should simply close down and cede any traditional mail operations that can turn a profit to the independent carriers.
The national delivery system has evolved over time, and though it might not be the Platonic ideal, it works pretty well. The independent carriers and the post both benefit from their symbiotic relationship, as do consumers, because the post’s lower rates keep the private companies’ prices in check.