The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article I.8.7: "The Congress shall have Power … To establish Post Offices and post Roads." This constitutional principle gave the responsibility to Congress to establish post offices and designate which routes would be used for postal services.
The American Colonies slowly developed postal services. Massachusetts has the honor of having the first post office - established in 1639. A route connecting Boston and New York became the first postal road in 1672.
In colonial times a home would be selected to be a clearing house for the mail with the owner of the home being paid so much per letter for handling and delivery. The mail service took place between major cities and happened once or twice per week until 1707. That year John Hamilton was appointed to be the Royal Deputy Postmaster General. Benjamin Franklin became the Postmaster General in 1753 and has the historic distinction of being in charge of the Post Office at the only time in history that it operated at a profit. The federal postal system was established after the pattern instituted by Franklin.
Services and facilities were established gradually. The first postage stamps came out in 1847. Before that time cash was paid when the letter was taken to the post office. Stamped envelopes came out in 1852, and registered letters were introduced in 1855. The postal service adopted a uniform rate of postage based on weight instead of distance in 1863. Other postal services and dates of adoption are as follows: postal money orders (1864), post cards (1873), special delivery (1885), rural delivery (1896), parcel-post service (1912), and air mail service (1918).
Today we have four classes of mail: 1) First Class mail includes letters, postcards, and most material sealed against inspection; 2) Second Class includes newspapers, magazines and other periodicals with flat rates; 3) Third-class mail includes books, circulars, and all other printed material weighing eight ounces or less; 4) Fourth-class mail includes the same items as third-class but weighing over eight ounces. The rates for this class are determined by both eight and distance.
Facts and ideas are from W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 428-430.
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