Postmaster General's First Report
Digital History ID 269
When President Washington took office, the United States government consisted of 75 post offices, a large debt, and an army of just 46 officers and 672 soldiers. There was no federal court system, no navy, no system for collecting taxes, and only the most rudimentary postal service.
To create an efficient postal service--which was essential to promote economic development--Washington appointed Samuel Osgood (1748-1813), of Massachusetts, Postmaster General. Osgood, who had been a captain of a company of Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, had to carry out his tasks in a single room with two clerks. In this report, Osgood discusses the problems and prospects that faced him.
In obedience to the orders of the Supreme Executive, I have the honor of laying before you such remarks and observations as have occurred to me, in attending to the department of the post-office....
The existing ordinance for regulating the post-office, though very defective in many things, has not probably ever been put fully in execution; yet the smallness of the revenue arising under the same, may have been the effect of various causes, some of which could not, and others might have been remedied, but not so fully as they may under the present government.
As to the revenue of the post-office, it may be observed, first, that there may be so few letters written, that under the best regulations, it would not amount to any thing considerable; and the dispersed manner of settling the country, may operate powerfully against the productiveness of the post-office....
The amount of revenue will undoubtedly be considerable, if the department is well regulated. If we should form an opinion from a comparative view of the wealth, numbers, and revenue of the post-offices of other countries, it would be, that the post-office of the United States, ought to bring in annually nearly half a million dollars, under similar regulations; whereas the gross receipts in any one year have not exceeded thirty-five thousand dollars; and for the two last years have been at about twenty-five thousand dollars a year....
The great extent of territory over which three millions of people are settled, occasions a great expense in transporting the mail; and it will be found impracticable to accommodate all that wish to be accommodated unless a great proportion of the revenue is given up for this object.
The applications for new post-offices, and new post roads [toll roads], are numerous; cross roads must be established, and of very considerable extent, in order to open a communication with the treasury and revenue officers....
Newspapers, which have hitherto passed free of postage, circulate extensively through the post-offices; one or two cents upon each would probably amount to as much as the expenses of transporting the mail....
The postage of a single letter from Georgia, or rather Savannah, to New-York, is...[37 cents], which amounts almost to a prohibition of communication through the post-office. If it should be reduced to about fifteen cents, the revenue would not probably be injured by it....
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: Samuel Osgood, Postmaster's First Report
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