Meeting in Philadelphia in May of 1775 – more than a year before we declared our independence from Great Britain – the Second Continental Congress created the position of Postmaster General and conferred the title on Ben Franklin – and effectively established the U.S. Postal Service. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Under Franklin and his immediate successors, the postal system mainly carried communications between Congress and the armies. Postmasters and post riders were exempt from military duties so service would not be interrupted,” explains The United States Postal Service: An American History 1775 – 2006, a publication produced by the Postal Service.
George Washington envisioned a nation bound together by a system of post roads and post offices. The constitution itself provides for the operation of a system of post roads “to bind the nation together” – which, as a key element of Postal Service’s mission, has remained essentially unchanged over its 241-year history.
Washington and the other founding fathers believed America had a need for a mail system that ensured the free flow of information between citizens and their government. They understood that an informed citizenry was essential to a successful democracy. Indeed, the first editions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution traveled as broadsides through the mail to inform all the colonies of what was happening in Philadelphia.
To further promote efforts to inform the citizenry, the founding fathers authorized subsidized rates for a budding newspaper industry, which led to a proliferation of newspapers that reached even those living in the frontier. According to one of the most comprehensive histories of the Post Office, Wayne E. Fuller’s The American Mail, the generous postage policy for newspapers “was perhaps the most important single element in the development of the nation’s press.”
As we celebrate the Fourth of July, it seems an appropriate time to consider the Postal Service’s history and mission. How do you think the mission has changed since the Postal Service’s founding? Given all the changes in communications, is there still a need to bind the nation together through a postal system?