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Legislation

Post Office Act of 1792

Description:

The 18-page volume appears to have been rebound; no date is given for the binding, but "Bound by Zaehnsdorf, London, England" appears in gilt on the inside the red, Moroccan leather, front cover and the title, "United States Post-Office 1792" runs down the spine. Portions of the handwritten marginalia were trimmed away to make a new clean edge for this volume that contains various postal documents from 1792, including: "An Act of Establish the Post Office and Post Roads within the United States," "Instructions to the Deputy Postmasters," a rate chart commencing June 1792, and a quarterly report from the New Haven, Connecticut, post office for April 1 to July 1, 1792. The image here shows the "Instructions to the Deputy Postmasters on the right and the last page of the Post Office Act of 1792 on the left.

The Post Office Act of 1792 was the most important single piece of postal legislation enacted in the early republic. On three occasions between 1789 and 1792, Congress passed temporary measures to maintain the postal system. During that time, Congress debated the regulation of the system established by Article 1, section 8 of the federal Constitution, which states: "The Congress shall have the Power . . . To Establish Post Offices and post Roads."

Among the issues that Congress debated were rate structure, privacy, and procedures for the establishment of new postal routes. The Post Office Act of 1792 codified the presumption that Congress would retain primary control over postal policy—a presumption that remained a cornerstone of that policy until the service was restructured under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. In particular, the Post Office Act of 1792 admitted newspapers into the mail at extremely low rates, facilitating the spread of information essential to the creation of an informed citizenry. The Act also forbade the opening of letters as a tool of surveillance. In addition, it established the principle that new post routes would be designated by Congress—rather than the executive - forestalling the possibility that narrow financial considerations might constrain the network's expansion.

Reference:

Fuller, Wayne. The American Mail: Enlarger of the Common Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

John, Richard. Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Date:
1792
Markings:
UNITED STATES POST-OFFICE 1792 [spine]; Bound by Zaehnsdorf, London, England [interior front cover]
Medium:
paper; leather; ink; gilt
Museum ID:
1984.1127.8
Place:
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


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