Any Englishman or Frenchman residing in the American States cannot fail to be struck with the inferiority of the post-office arrangements in that country to those by which they are accommodated in their own country. I have not been a resident in the country, and as a traveler might probably have passed the subject without special remark, were it not that the service of the post-office has been my own profession for many years. I could therefore hardly fail to observe things which to another man would have been of no material moment. At first I was inclined to lean heavily in my judgment upon the deficiencies of a department which must be of primary importance to a commercial nation. It seemed that among a people so intelligent, and so quick in all enterprises of trade, a well-arranged post-office would have been held to be absolutely necessary, and that all difficulties would have been made to succumb in their efforts to put that establishment, if no other, upon a proper footing. But as I looked into the matter, and in becoming acquainted with the circumstances of the post-office learned the extent of the difficulties absolutely existing, I began to think that a very great deal had been done, and that the fault, as to that which had been left undone, rested not with the post-office officials, but was attributable partly to political causes altogether outside the post-office, and partly — perhaps chiefly — to the nature of the country itself.
It is I think undoubtedly true that the amount of accommodation given by the post-office of the States is small, as compared with that afforded in some other countries, and that that accommodation is lessened by delays and uncertainty. The point which first struck me was the inconvenient hours at which mails were brought in and dispatched. Here in England it is the object of our post-office to carry the bulk of our letters at night; to deliver them as early as possible in the morning, and to collect them and take them away for dispatch as late as may be in the day; so that the merchant may receive his letters before the beginning of his day business, and dispatch them after its close. The bulk of our letters is handled in this manner, and the advantage of such an arrangement is manifest. But it seemed that in the States no such practice prevailed. Letters arrived at any hour in the day miscellaneously, and were dispatched at any hour, and I found that the postmaster at one town could never tell me with certainty when letters would arrive at another. If the towns were distant, I would be told that the conveyance might take about two or three days; if they were near, that my letter would get to hand “some time tomorrow.” I ascertained, moreover, by painful experience that the whole of a mail would not always go forward by the first dispatch. As regarded myself this had reference chiefly to English letters and newspapers. “Only a part of the mail has come,” the clerk would tell me. With us the owners of that part which did not “come,” would consider themselves greatly aggrieved and make loud complaint. But in the States complaints made against official departments are held to be of little moment.
Letters also in the States are subject to great delays by irregularities on railways. One train does not hit the town of its destination before another train, to which it is nominally fitted, has been started on its journey. The mail trains are not bound to wait; and thus, in the large cities, far distant from New York, great irregularity prevails. It is I think owing to this — at any rate partly to this — that the system of telegraphing has become so prevalent. It is natural that this should be so between towns which are in the due course of post perhaps forty-eight hours asunder; but the uncertainty of the post increases the habit, to the profit of course of the companies which own the wires, but to the manifest loss of the post-office.
But the deficiency which struck me most forcibly in the American post-office, was the absence of any recognized official delivery of letters. The United States post-office does not assume to itself the duty of taking letters to the houses of those for whom they are intended, but holds itself as having completed the work for which the original postage has been paid, when it has brought them to the window of the post-office of the town to which they are addressed. It is true that in most large towns — though by no means in all — a separate arrangement is made by which a delivery is afforded to those who are willing to pay a further sum for that further service; but the recognized official mode of delivery is from the office window. The merchants and persons in trade have boxes at the windows, for which they pay. Other old-established inhabitants in town, and persons in receipt of a considerable correspondence, receive their letters by the subsidiary carriers and pay for them separately. But the poorer classes of the community, those persons among which it is of such paramount importance to increase the blessing of letter writing, obtain their letters from the post-office windows.
In each of these cases the practice acts to the prejudice of the department. In order to escape the tax on delivery, which varies from two cents to one cent a letter, all men in trade, and many who are not in trade, hold office boxes; consequently immense space is required. The space given at Chicago, both to the public without and to the official within, for such delivery, is more than four times that required at Liverpool for the same purpose. But Liverpool is three times the size of Chicago. The corps of clerks required for the window delivery is very great, and the whole affair is cumbrous in the extreme. The letters at most offices are given out through little windows, to which the inquirer is obliged to stoop. There he finds himself opposite to a pane of glass with a little hole, and when the clerk within shakes his head at him, he rarely believes but what his letters are there if he could only reach them. But in the second case, the tax on the delivery, which is intended simply to pay the wages of the men who take them out, is paid with a bad grace; it robs the letter of its charm, and forces it to present itself in the guise of a burden: it makes that disagreeable which for its own sake the post-office should strive in every way to make agreeable. This practice, moreover, operates as a direct prevention to a class of correspondence which furnishes in England a large proportion of the revenue of the post-office. Mercantile houses in our large cities send out thousands of trade circulars, paying postage on them; but such circulars would not be received, either in England or elsewhere, if a demand for postage were made on their delivery. Who does not receive these circulars in our country by the dozen, consigning them generally to the waste-paper basket, after a most cursory inspection? As regards the sender, the transaction seems to us often to be very vain; but the post-office gets its penny. So also would the American post-office get its three cents.
But the main objection in my eyes to the American post-office system is this, that it is not brought nearer to the poorer classes. Everybody writes or can write in America, and therefore the correspondence of their millions should be, million for million, at any rate equal to ours. But it is not so; and this I think comes from the fact that communication by post-office is not made easy to the people generally. Such communication is not found to be easy by a man who has to attend at a post-office window on the chance of receiving a letter. When no arrangement more comfortable than that is provided, the post-office will be used for the necessities of letter writing, but will not be esteemed as a luxury. And thus not only do the people lose a comfort which they might enjoy, but the post-office also loses that revenue which it might make.
I have said that the correspondence circulating in the United States is less than that of the United Kingdom. In making any comparison between them, I am obliged to arrive at facts, or rather at the probabilities of facts, in a somewhat circuitous mode, as the Americans have kept no account of the number of letters which pass through their post-offices in a year; we can, however, make an estimate, which, if incorrect, shall not at any rate be incorrect against them. The gross postal revenue of the United States for the year ended June 30th, 1861, was in round figures 1,700,000l. This was the amount actually cashed, exclusive of a sum of 140,000l. paid to the post-office by the government for the carriage of what is called in that country free mail matter; otherwise, books, letters, and parcels franked by members of Congress. The gross postal revenue of the United Kingdom was in the last year, in round figures, 3,358,000l., exclusive of a sum of 179,000l. claimed as earned for carrying official postage, and also exclusive of 127,866l., that being the amount of money order commissions, which in this country is considered a part of the post-office revenue. In the United States there is at present no money order office. In the United Kingdom the sum of 3,358,000l. was earned by the conveyance and delivery of 593,000,000 of letters, 73,000,000 of newspapers, 12,000,000 of books. What number of each was conveyed through the post in the United States we have no means of knowing; but presuming the average rate of postage on each letter in the States to be the same as it is in England, and presuming also that letters, newspapers, and books circulated in the same proportion there as they do with us, the sum above named of 1,700,000l. will have been earned by carrying about 300,000,000 of letters. But the average rate of postage in the States is in fact higher than it is in England. The ordinary single rate of postage there is three cents, or three half-pence, whereas with us it is a penny; and if three half-pence might be taken as the average rate in the United States, the number of letters would be reduced from 300,000,000 to 200,000,000 a year. There is, however, a class of letters which in the States are passed through the post-office at the rate of one half-penny a letter, whereas there is no rate of postage with us less than a penny. Taking these half-penny letters into consideration, I am disposed to regard the average rate of American postage at about five farthings, which would give the number of letters at 250,000,000. We shall at any rate be safe in saying that the number is considerably less than 300,000,000, and that it does not amount to half the number circulated with us. But the difference between our population and their population is not great. The population of the States during the year in question was about 27,000,000, exclusive of slaves, and that of the British Isles was about 29,000,000. No doubt in the year named the correspondence of the States had been somewhat disturbed by the rebellion; but that disturbance, up to the end of June, 1861, had been very trifling. The division of the Southern from the Northern States, as far as the post-office was concerned, did not take place till the end of May, l861; and therefore but one month in the year was affected by the actual secession of the South. The gross postal revenue of the States which have seceded was, for the year prior to secession, 1,200,500 dollars, and for that one month of June it would therefore have been a little over 100,000 dollars, or 20,000l. That sum may therefore be presumed to have been abstracted by secession from the gross annual revenue of the post-office. Trade, also, was no doubt injured by the disturbance in the country, and the circulation of letters was, as a matter of course, to some degree affected by this injury; but it seems that the gross revenue of 1861 was less than that of 1860 by only one thirty-sixth. I think, therefore, that we may say, making all allowance that can be fairly made, that the number of letters circulating in the United Kingdom is more than double that which circulates, or ever has circulated, in the United States.
That this is so, I attribute not to any difference in the people of the two countries, not to an aptitude for letter writing among us which is wanting with the Americans, but to the greater convenience and wider accommodation of our own post-office. As I have before stated, and will presently endeavor to show, this wider accommodation is not altogether the result of better management on our part. Our circumstances as regards the post-office have had in them less of difficulties than theirs. But it has arisen in great part from better management; and in nothing is their deficiency so conspicuous as in the absence of a free delivery for their letters.
In order that the advantages of the post-office should reach all persons, the delivery of letters should extend not only to towns, but to the country also. In France all letters are delivered free. However remote may be the position of a house or cottage, it is not too remote for the postman. With us all letters are not delivered, but the exceptions refer to distant solitary houses and to localities which are almost without correspondence. But in the United States there is no free delivery, and there is no delivery at all except in the large cities. In small towns, in villages, even in the suburbs of the largest cities, no such accommodation is given. Whatever may be the distance, people expecting letters must send for them to the post-office; and they who do not expect them, leave their letters uncalled for. Brother Jonathan goes out to fish in these especial waters with a very large net. The little fish which are profitable slip through; but the big fish, which are by no means profitable, are caught — often at an expense greater than their value.
There are other smaller sins upon which I could put my finger — and would do so were I writing an official report upon the subject of the American post-office. In lieu of doing so, I will endeavor to explain how much the States office has done in this matter of affording post-office accommodation, and how great have been the difficulties in the way of post-office reformers in that country.
In the first place, when we compare ourselves to them we must remember that we live in a tea-cup, and they in a washing-tub. As compared with them we inhabit towns which are close to each other. Our distances, as compared with theirs, are nothing. From London to Liverpool the line of railway I believe traverses about two hundred miles, but the mail train which conveys the bags for Liverpool carries the correspondence of probably four or five millions of persons. The mail train from New York to Buffalo passes over about four hundred miles, and on its route leaves not one million. A comparison of this kind might be made with the same effect between any of our great internal mail routes and any of theirs. Consequently the expense of conveyance to them is, per letter, very much greater than with us, and the American post-office is, as a matter of necessity, driven to an economy in the use of railways for the post-office service which we are not called on to practice. From New York to Chicago is nearly 1000 miles. From New York to St. Louis is over 1400. From New York to New Orleans is 1600 miles. I need not say that in England we know nothing of such distances, and that therefore our task has been comparatively easy. Nevertheless the States have followed in our track, and have taken advantage of Sir Rowland’s Hill’s wise audacity in the reduction of postage with greater quickness than any other nation but our own. Through all the States letters pass for three cents over a distance less than 3000 miles. For distances above 3000 miles the rate is ten cents, or five pence. This increased rate has special reference to the mails for California, which are carried daily across the whole continent at a cost to the States government of two hundred thousand pounds a year.
With us the chief mail trains are legally under the management of the Postmaster-General. He fixes the hours at which they shall start and arrive, being of course bound by certain stipulations as to pace. He can demand trains to run over any line at any hour, and can in this way secure the punctuality of mail transportation. Of course such interference on the part of a government official in the working of a railway is attended with a very heavy expense to the government. Though the British post-office can demand the use of trains at any hour, and as regards those trains can make the dispatch of mails paramount to all other matters, the British post-office cannot fix the price to be paid for such work. This is generally done by arbitration, and of course for such services the payment is very high. No such practice prevails in the States. The government has no power of using the mail lines as they are used by our post-office, nor could the expense of such a practice be borne or nearly borne by the proceeds of letters in the States. Consequently the post-office is put on a par with ordinary customers, and such trains are used for mail matter as the directors of each line may see fit to use for other matter. Hence it occurs that no offense against the post-office is committed when the connection between different mail trains is broken. The post-office takes the best it can get, paying as other customers pay, and grumbling as other customers grumble when the service rendered falls short of that which has been promised.
It may, I think, easily be seen that any system, such as ours, carried across so large a country, would go on increasing in cost at an enormous ratio. The greater is the distance, the greater is the difficulty in securing the proper fitting of fast-running trains. And moreover, it must be remembered that the American lines have been got up on a very different footing from ours, at an expense per mile of probably less than a fifth of that laid out on our railways. Single lines of rail are common, even between great towns with large traffic. At the present moment, February, 1862, the only railway running into Washington, that namely from Baltimore, is a single line over the greater distance. The whole thing is necessarily worked at a cheaper rate than with us; not because the people are poorer, but because the distances are greater. As this is the case throughout the whole railway system of the country, it cannot be expected that such dispatch and punctuality should be achieved in America as are achieved here in England, or in France. As population and wealth increase it will come. In the mean time that which has been already done over the extent of the vast North American continent is very wonderful. I think, therefore, that complaint should not be made against the Washington post-office, either on account of the inconvenience of the hours or on the head of occasional irregularity. So much has been done in reducing the rate to three cents, and in giving a daily mail throughout the States, that the department should be praised for energy, and not blamed for apathy.
In the year ended June 30, 1861, the gross revenue of the post-office of the States was, as I have stated, 1,700,000l. In the same year its expenditure was in round figures 2,720,000l.; consequently there was an actual loss, to be made up out of general taxation, amounting to 1,020,000l. In the accounts of the American officers this is lessened by 140,000l. That sum having been arbitrarily fixed by the government as the amount earned by the post-office in carrying free mail matter. We have a similar system in computing the value of the service rendered by our post-office to the government in carrying government dispatches; but with us the amount named as the compensation depends on the actual weight carried. If the matter so carried be carried solely on the government service, as is, I believe, the case with us, any such claim on behalf of the post-office is apparently unnecessary. The Crown works for the Crown, as the right hand works for the left. The post-office pays no rates or taxes, contributes nothing to the poor, runs its mails on turnpike roads free of toll, and gives receipts on unstamped paper. With us no payment is in truth made, though the post-office in its accounts presumes itself to have received the money; but in the States the sum named is handed over by the State Treasury to the Post-office Treasury. Any such statement of credit does not in effect alter the real fact that over a million sterling is required as a subsidy by the American post-office, in order that it may be enabled to pay its way. In estimating the expenditure of the office the department at Washington debits itself with the sums paid for the ocean transit of its mails, amounting to something over one hundred and fifty thousand pounds. We also now do the same, with the much greater sum paid by us for such service, which now amounts to 949,228l., or nearly a million sterling. Till lately this was not paid out of the post-office moneys, and the post-office revenue was not debited with the amount.
Our gross post-office revenue is, as I have said, 3,358,250l. As before explained, this is exclusive of the amount earned by the money order department, which, though managed by the authorities of the post-office, cannot be called a part of the post-office; and exclusive also of the official postage, which is, in fact, never received. The expenditure of our British post-office, inclusive of the sum paid for the ocean mail service, is 3,064,527l.; we therefore make a net profit of 293,723l. out of the post-office, as compared with a loss of 1,020,000l. on the part of the United States.
But perhaps the greatest difficulty with which the American post-office is burdened is that “free mail matter” to which I have alluded, for carrying which the post-office claims to earn 140,000l., and for the carriage of which it might as fairly claim to earn 1,350,000l., or half the amount of its total expenditure, for I was informed by a gentleman whose knowledge on the subject could not be doubted, that the free mail matter so carried equaled in bulk and weight all that other matter which was not carried free. To such an extent has the privilege of franking been carried in the States! All members of both Houses frank what they please — for in effect the privilege is stretched to that extent. All Presidents of the Union, past and present, can frank, as also, all Vice-Presidents, past and present; and there is a special act, enabling the widow of President Polk to frank. Why it is that widows of other Presidents do not agitate on the matter, I cannot understand. And all the Secretaries of State can frank; and ever so many other public officers. There is no limit in number to the letters so franked, and the nuisance has extended itself to so huge a size that members of Congress, in giving franks, cannot write the franks themselves. It is illegal for them to depute to others the privilege of signing their names for this purpose, but it is known at the post-office that it is done. But even this is not the worst of it. Members of the House of Representatives have the power of sending through the post all those huge books which, with them as with us, grow out of parliamentary debates and workings of committees. This, under certain stipulations, is the case also in England; but in England, luckily, no one values them. In America, however, it is not so. A voter considers himself to be noticed if he gets a book; he likes to have the book bound, and the bigger the book may be, the more the compliment is relished. Hence it comes to pass that an enormous quantity of useless matter is printed and bound, only that it may be sent down to constituents and make a show on the parlor shelves of constituents’ wives. The post-office groans and becomes insolvent and the country pays for the paper, the printing, and the binding. While the public expenses of this nation were very small, there was, perhaps, no reason why voters should not thus be indulged; but now the matter is different, and it would be well that the conveyance by post of these congressional libraries should be brought to an end. I was also assured that members very frequently obtain permission for the printing of a speech which has never been delivered — and which never will be delivered — in order that copies may be circulated among their constituents. There is in such an arrangement an ingenuity which is peculiarly American in its nature. Everybody concerned is no doubt cheated by the system. The constituents are cheated; the public, which pays, is cheated; and the post-office is cheated. But the House is spared the hearing of the speech, and the result on the whole is perhaps beneficial.
We also, within the memory of many of us, had a franking privilege, which was peculiarly objectionable, inasmuch as it operated toward giving a free transmission of their letters by post to the rich, while no such privilege was within reach of the poor. But with us it never stretched itself to such an extent as it has now achieved in the States. The number of letters for members was limited. The whole address was written by the franking member himself, and not much was sent in this way that was bulky. I am disposed to think that all government and congressional jobs in the States bear the same proportion to government and parliamentary jobs which have been in vogue among us. There has been an unblushing audacity in the public dishonesty — what I may perhaps call the State dishonesty — at Washington, which I think was hardly ever equaled in London. Bribery, I know, was disgracefully current in the days of Walpole, of Newcastle, and even of Castlereagh; so current, that no Englishman has a right to hold up his own past government as a model of purity; but the corruption with us did blush and endeavor to hide itself. It was disgraceful to be bribed, if not so to offer bribes. But at Washington corruption has been so common that I can hardly understand how any honest man can have held up his head in the vicinity of the Capitol or of the State office.
But the country has, I think, become tired of this. Hitherto it has been too busy about its more important concerns, in extending commerce, in making railways, in providing education for its youth, to think very much of what was being done at Washington. While the taxes were light, and property was secure, while increasing population gave daily increasing strength to the nation, the people as a body were content with that theory of being governed by their little men. They gave a bad name to politicians, and allowed politics, as they say, to “slide.” But all this will be altered now. The tremendous expenditure of the last twelve months has allowed dishonesty of so vast a grasp to make its ravages in the public pockets that the evil will work its own cure. Taxes will be very high, and the people will recognize the necessity of having honest men to look after them. The nation can no longer afford to be indifferent about its government, and will require to know where its money goes, and why it goes. This franking privilege is already doomed, if not already dead. When I was in Washington, a bill was passed through the Lower House by which it would be abolished altogether. When I left America, its fate in the Senate was still doubtful, and I was told by many that that bill would not be allowed to become law without sundry alterations. But, nevertheless, I regard the franking privilege as doomed, and offer to the Washington post-office officials my best congratulations on their coming deliverance.
The post-office in the States is also burdened by another terrible political evil, which in itself is so heavy that one would at first sight declare it to be enough to prevent anything like efficiency. The whole of its staff is removable every fourth year — that is to say, on the election of every new President; and a very large proportion of its staff is thus removed periodically to make way for those for whom a new President is bound to provide, by reason of their services in sending him to the White House. They have served him, and he thus repays them by this use of his patronage in their favor. At four hundred and thirty-four post-offices in the States — those being the offices to which the highest salaries are attached — the President has this power, and exercises it as a matter of course. He has the same power with reference, I believe, to all the appointments held in the post-office at Washington. This practice applies by no means to the post-office only. All the government clerks — clerks employed by the central government at Washington — are subject to the same rule. And the rule has also been adopted in the various States with reference to State offices.
To a stranger this practice seems so manifestly absurd that he can hardly conceive it possible that a government service should be conducted on such terms. He cannot, in the first place, believe that men of sufficient standing before the world could be found to accept office under such circumstances; and is led to surmise that men of insufficient standing must be employed, and that there are other allurements to the office beyond the very moderate salaries which are allowed. He cannot, moreover, understand how the duties can be conducted, seeing that men must be called on to resign their places as soon as they have learned to make themselves useful. And, finally, he is lost in amazement as he contemplates this barefaced prostitution of the public employ to the vilest purposes of political manoeuvring. With us also patronage has been used for political purposes, and to some small extent is still so used. We have not yet sufficiently recognized the fact that in selecting a public servant nothing should be regarded but the advantage of the service for which he is to be employed. But we never, in the lowest times of our political corruption, ventured to throw over the question of service altogether, and to declare publicly that the one and only result to be obtained by government employment was political support. In the States, political corruption has become so much a matter of course that no American seems to be struck with the fact that the whole system is a system of robbery.
From sheer necessity some of the old hands are kept on when these changes are made. Were this not done, the work would come absolutely to a dead lock. But as it is, it may be imagined how difficult it must be for men to carry through any improvements in a great department, when they have entered an office under such a system, and are liable to be expelled under the same. It is greatly to the praise of those who have been allowed to grow old in the service that so much has been done. No men, however, are more apt at such work than Americans, or more able to exert themselves at their posts. They are not idle. Independently of any question of remuneration, they are not indifferent to the well-being of the work they have in hand. They are good public servants, unless corruption come in their way.
While speaking on the subject of patronage, I cannot but allude to two appointments which had been made by political interest, and with the circumstances of which I became acquainted. In both instances a good place had been given to a gentleman by the incoming President — not in return for political support, but from motives of private friendship — either his own friendship or that of some mutual friend. In both instances I heard the selection spoken of with the warmest praise, as though a noble act had been done in the selection of a private friend instead of a political partisan. And yet in each case a man was appointed who knew nothing of his work; who, from age and circumstances, was not likely to become acquainted with his work; who, by his appointment, kept out of the place those who did understand the work, and had earned a right to promotion by so understanding it. Two worthy gentlemen — for they were both worthy — were pensioned on the government for a term of years under a false pretense. That this should have been done is not perhaps remarkable; but it did seem remarkable to me that everybody regarded such appointments as a good deed — as a deed so exceptionably good as to be worthy of great praise. I do not allude to these selections on account of the political view shown by the Presidents in making them, but on account of the political virtue; in order that the nature of political virtue in the States may be understood. It had never occurred to any one to whom I spoke on the subject, that a President in the bestowing of such places was bound to look for efficient work in return for the public money which was to be paid.
Before I end this chapter I must insert a few details respecting the post-office of the States, which, though they may not be specially interesting to the general reader, will give some idea of the extent of the department. The total number of post-offices in the States on June 30th, 1861, was 28,586. With us the number in England, Scotland, and Ireland, at the same period, was about 11,400. The population served may be regarded as nearly the same. Our lowest salary is 3l. per annum. In the States the remuneration is often much lower. It consist in a commission on the letters, and is sometimes less than ten shillings. The difficulty of obtaining persons to hold these offices, and the amount of work which must thereby be thrown on what is called the “appointment branch,” may be judged by the fact that 9235 of these offices were filled up by new nominations during the last year. When the patronage is of such a nature it is difficult to say which give most trouble, the places which nobody wishes to have, or those which everybody wishes to have.
The total amount of postage on European letters, i.e. letters passing between the States and Europe, in the last year, as to which accounts were kept between Washington and the European post-offices, was 275,000l. Of this over 150,000l. was on letters for the United Kingdom; and 130,000l. was on letters carried by the Cunard packets.
According to the accounts kept by the Washington office, the letters passing from the States to Europe and from Europe to the States are very nearly equal in number, about 101 going to Europe for every 100 received from Europe. But the number of newspapers sent from the States is more than double the number received in the States from Europe.
On June 30th, 1861, mails were carried through the then loyal States of the Union over 140,400 miles daily. Up to 31st May preceding, at which time the government mails were running all through the united States, 96,000 miles were covered in those States which had then virtually seceded, and which in the following month were taken out from the post-office accounts — making a total of 236,400 miles daily. Of this mileage something less than one-third is effected by railways, at an average cost of about six pence a mile. Our total mileage per day is 151,000 miles, of which 43,823 are done by railway, at a cost of about seven pence half-penny per mile.
As far as I could learn, the servants of the post-office are less liberally paid in the States than with us, excepting as regards two classes. The first of these is that class which is paid by weekly wages, such as letter-carriers and porters. Their remuneration is of course ruled by the rate of ordinary wages in the country; and as ordinary wages are higher in the States than with us, such men are paid accordingly. The other class is that of postmasters at second-rate towns. They receive the same compensation as those at the largest towns — unless indeed there be other compensations than those written in the books at Washington. A postmaster is paid a certain commission on letters, till it amounts to 400l. per annum: all above that going back to the government. So also out of the fees paid for boxes at the window he receives any amount forthcoming not exceeding 400l. a year; making in all a maximum of 800l. The postmaster of New York can get no more; but any moderately large town will give as much, and in this way an amount of patronage is provided which in a political view is really valuable.
But with all this the people have made their way, because they have been intelligent, industrious, and in earnest. And as the people have made their way, so has the post-office. The number of its offices, the mileage it covers, its extraordinary cheapness, the rapidity with which it has been developed, are all proofs of great things done; and it is by no means standing still even in these evil days of war. Improvements are even now on foot, copied in a great measure from ourselves. Hitherto the American office has not taken upon itself the task of returning to their writers undelivered and undeliverable letters. This it is now going to do. It is, as I have said, shaking off from itself that terrible incubus, the franking privilege. And the expediency of introducing a money-order office into the States, connected with the post-office as it is with us, is even now under consideration. Such an accommodation is much needed in the country; but I doubt whether the present moment, looking at the fiscal state of the country, is well adapted for establishing it.
I was much struck by the great extravagance in small things manifested by the post-office through the States, and have reason to believe that the same remark would be equally true with regard to other public establishments. They use needless forms without end — making millions of entries which no one is ever expected to regard. Their expenditure in stationery might I think be reduced by one-half, and the labor might be saved which is now wasted in the abuse of that useless stationery. Their mail bags are made in a costly manner, and are often large beyond all proportion or necessity. I could greatly lengthen this list if I were addressing myself solely to post-office people; but as I am not doing so, I will close these semi-official remarks with an assurance to my colleagues in post-office work on the other side of the water that I greatly respect what they have done, and trust that before long they may have renewed opportunities for the prosecution of their good work.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01