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the country, who hold that for the general government to make a road and pay for it out of the proceeds of duties on imports, or out of the proceeds of the sales of public lands, would be “flat burglary as ever was committed.” Had the idea of justice been the regulating idea in the constitution of the post-office system, such an abuse as this would never have been thought of But so far is justice from being considered in reference to this matter, there are whole districts of our country in which the great end for which the post-office establishment exists has been thought to be the maintenance of lines of coaches and the conveyance of franked documents. It was for the continuance of this gross and intolerable injustice that the battle was fought so strenuously in Congress against the measure of reform which has just gone into operation. And when that half-way reform shall prove to be unsuccessful in a financial point of view, as most probably will be the case, then we may expect another effort to saddle us again with an oppressive tax on our letters for the support of stage-coaches in those parts of the country where they have no roads worthy of the name, and no bridges, and where three out of four of the population have about as much occasion to use the post-office as had that worthy Dutchman in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, who af. firmed that he never knew any good to come of this reading and writing.” Another part of the injustice of the old system appeared in the great
"It is alleged in some of the newspapers that notwithstanding the express provisions of the new law, contracts have been made in the South and Southwest by which the law is evaded, and lines of public conveyances, unsupported by travelers, are supported at the expense of the post-office department. We do not credit the assertion. Yet it is possible that a faithful committee of Congress, appointed to o into the law of 1845, might bring to light many abuses of this kind.
inequality between the postage on
letters' and that on newspapers. A letter with a bank note or a draft enclosed—the whole weighing, perhaps, one fourth of an ounce—might be taxed for postage fifty cents, while a printed sheet, weighing with its wrapper, twelve times as much might be carried the same distance for two cents, or even, in some cases, as for example from New York to Buffalo, for one cent. No one can fail to see that this is simply injustice of the grossest kind. Nor is this injustice abolished even now. The reduction of postage on letters to a uniform rate of three or even five cents, would have been so much of an approximation towards equality as to leave perhaps no substantial injustice. The publishers of newspapers and other periodicals being wholesale customers of the department, it would seem quite reasonable to assess a somewhat lower rate of postage upon them than upon the writers of letters. But the new system does not approximate towards justice in this particular. It has retained as fundamental in its arrangements the idea that the manufacturers of newspapers are a privileged class—a class who have a right to the proceeds of a tax on the writers and receivers of letters. Accordingly, it not only secures to the newspaper publishers their old privilege of exchanging papers with each other free of all postage, but for all distances under three hundred miles it makes a distinction in the postage of at least one thousand per cent. in favor of newspapers; and for all distances over three hundred miles it makes a distinction of two thousand per cent. and in some cases of twice that amount. Nor is this all. This class of citi. zens, the manufacturers of newspapers, are to have the privilege, hereafter, of sending their wares to any post-office within thirty miles of the place of manufacture “with
out any charge whatever,” as the law has it, that is to say, entirely at the charge of the writers and receivers of letters. Certainly justice was not thought of when such a provision was incorporated with the system. There does not appear to have been a man in Congress who suspected that newspaper publishers had not a divine right to some exclusive privileges at the post-office.
Is there then any reason of expediency, or public policy, which justifies the granting of these privileges to the publishers of newspapers, and the assessment of the expense on the writers and receivers of letters ? The usefulness of newspapers, on the whole, in diffusing information through society, and in making the people inquisitive and intelligent, is not in question. But are newspapers exclusively useful in their way? Are they more useful than books 2 or more useful than periodicals in other forms ? What sound reason of expediency is there for extending the patronizing hand of the national government to the New York Herald and not to the Democratic Review P What good reason is there for giving these privileges to the publishers of the Courier and Inquirer, and withholding them from the American Review P What reason is there for giving to some low, vile sheet, filled up from week to week with ribaldry and all sorts of incentives to vice, privileges which are withheld from the American Journal of Science Why should not Harpers' illuminated Bible, or the beautiful edition of the Douay Bible issued in numbers by a Roman Catholic publishing house in New York—nay, why should not every copy of the sacred volume printed by the American Bible Society, be transported by the government thirty miles without charge, and be carried to any point in the Union at the rate of two cents for nineteen hundred square inches of paper, as well as a weekly sheet devoted to Fourierism, or Owenism,
or Mormonism Nay if a democratic newspaper, or a whig newspaper, or a liberty party newspaper is so useful in the eyes of all parties, as to justify an oppressive and odious tax for the sake of giving it a free conveyance in the mails, or a conveyance at less than cost; why shall we not assess a provoking tax upon steamboat and railroad and stage-coach travelers, for the sake of giving extraordinary privileges of locomotion to the political orators of these various parties when they go about to meet the people face to face, and to give them that instruction by word of mouth which is so much more efficient than any thing printed can be * Why, for example, should Mr. Sherman M. Booth's newspaper be carried thirty miles for nothing, while Mr. Sherman M. Booth himself, traveling to attend a political meeting for the far more efficient promotion of the same object, is compelled to pay for his passage 2 Or to take another kind of example, if such journals as the New York Observer, the Christian Advocate, and the Episcopal Recorder are, for their great usefulness, to be distributed over the country gratuitously or for less than cost, and the expense is to be assessed upon the correspondence of the country; why should not the government in its zeal for doing good, extend its patronage to the bishop on his official visitation, to the Methodist preacher on his circuit, to the Presbyterian minister posting to his synod or his general assembly, to the Congregational pastor on his way to a council or an association, to any and every agent traveling for some benevolent religious institution? Why not undertake to carry any and every such man, in the performance of his official duty, to any point within thirty miles of his home, for nothing, and to any other point within the limits of the Union, for the tenth part of what it costs other people to travel? Why not do this for these men on account of their usefulness, and pay for it by a tax upon travelers in public conveyances 2 We are very far from depreciating the usefulness of newspapers. On the contrary, we believe that the common school system, even where it is best administered, is not more efficient, as an instrumentality in popular education, than the newspaper press. But we can think of something else, the value of which, commercially, intellectually, politically, morally, would not be a jot or tittle inferior to the value of the newspaper press; and that something else is the cheapest possible uniform postage upon written correspondence, bringing all parts of the country into intimate mutual communication. It is common to talk of the influence of newspapers in promoting industry and enterprise, in facilitating the operations of commerce, in diffusing political and general information, in elevating the moral sentiments of the people ; and the value of newspapers in all these respects is indeed incalculable, especially when considered as acting in connection with the influence of the political, educational, and religious institutions of the country. But we believe that the influence of an unlimited epistolary correspondence of individual with individual, and of family with family—or the influence of such a correspondence as would gradually yet rapidly spring up under the lowest possible uniform postage between New England and Ohio—between New England and Illinois—between New England and Wisconsin—between New England and Louisiana and Florida—may, between New England and Texas if you please, and by and by, as soon as the roads and other preliminaries can be completed, between New England and Oregon and California too—would be worth more than all the influence of the newspapers in diffusing knowledge, in stimulating enterprise, in facilitating
commerce, in promoting good morals, in educating the people, and in binding the country together as one body, and sending the pulsa. tions of one heart and the glow of one life to its uttermost extremities. It would be just as reasonable and politic to lay a tax on newspapers for the sake of cheap postage on letters, as it is to lay a tax upon letters for the benefit of newspapers. The impolicy of the arrangement in the old system and in the new, is as gross as its injustice. In this case, as in all others, true justice and true expediency run in the same direction. Simple honesty is the best policy. But some will be disposed to remind us that the British reformed system, which is commonly consid: ered the perfection of cheap postage, carries the discrimination between letters and newspapers to an extreme, putting all the postage upon letters and none upon newspapers. We answer that we are entirely aware of that fact, and that when our government will give us a uniform postage upon letters of not more than two cents for half an ounce, and will demonstrate by experiment that all the expenses of the department can be met by the avails of postage upon letters at that reduced rate, and not only so, but that there is a surplus revenue from postage, amounting to more than $3,000,000, and still annually increasing, we for our part will not complain of the injustice though newspapers go for nothing. The practical injustice in that case would be nothing intolerable;—though we think it would be wise even in that case to carry a letter for one cent, and a newspaper for another cent, rather than to charge both the cents upon the letter, and break down the the mails with an unlimited freight of newspapers for nothing. But the truth is, it will never be good policy for our government to emulate the British government in car
rying newspapers for nothing, till our government shall have as good a reason for doing so as that government has. The British government has in two different ways a direct pecuniary interest in promoting the circulation of newspapers. In the first place, every newspaper sheet, whether it ever enters the post-office or not, pays a stamp duty of more than the cost of postage, and any printed sheet that does not bear that red stamp upon it, as the sign that it has already paid its taxes, is liable to postage at the same rate by weight with written letters. The stamp duty on newspapers is so lucrative that the government finds it good economy to encourage the circulation of newspapers by carrying them in the mails for nothing. It is only a mode of making the postage tax on letters increase the avails of the stamp tax on newspapers. In the next place, every advertisement, inserted in a newspaper, pays a tax of its own, quite independent of the stamp tax on the paper itself. This again makes it good economy for the government to encourage advertisers by carrying their advertisements in the newspapers to all parts of the United Kingdom for nothing. It makes the tax on letters operate indirectly to increase the proceeds of the tax on advertisements. We need not say that our government has no such reason, and never can have such a reason for making letters pay postage in behalf of newspapers. Had the special privileges which the new law grants to newspapers, been accompanied with the stipulation that the newspapers in return should give gratuitous publication to the post-office advertisements in the several districts in which they are issued, there would have been some justice in the arrangement; and along with that justice there would have been two important incidental benefits which the present arrangement does not secure at all. In the
first place, the post-office advertisements would be effectually published—that is, they would meet the eye of every man, woman, and child that looks upon a newspaper; whereas now they are seen by only a few of the multitudes of readers. And in the second place, the whole question about what papers shall enjoy the distinction of publishing these advertisements and the profits of a government job, a question which now occasions so much pitiful altercation, would be effectually disposed of. The new law is better than the old one in that it relieves the post-masters of an irksome responsibility, and of the dishonor of being always obliged to judge that the paper which happens to support the administration for the time being, is the one in which these advertisements will have the greatest publicity. But it would be much better, if newspapers must needs have exclusive privileges, that they should enjoy their privileges on the condition of rendering this service. In this way, too, while the customers of the department, in their capacity as writers and receivers of letters, would have been effectually accommodated, by way of compensation for their postage, so far as such advertisements are in fact for their accommodation, the expenses of the department would have been diminished by all that is now to be paid out for an inadequate amount of advertising.” Thus far we have been illustrating the principle that the question in regard to the assessment of postage is a question of simple justice. And here we might stop. For if this principle could once be established throughout the country, so effectually as to control the legislation of the country—if it could be established as an axiom in the minds of those who frame the laws, that postage is to be assessed not with a view to a revenue for the general uses of the government, nor with a view to the support of lines of stage-coaches, nor with a view to the conferring of exclusive privileges upon any aristocracy of politicians and office-holders, nor with a view to the special accommodation of the manufacturers of newspapers, but simply with a view to make everything which passes through the mails pay its just share of the entire expenses of the establishment, every thing else in the system would be adjusted with comparative ease. We will however, in this connection, notice more briefly some other principles which in their place are not unimportant. In the second place then, we say that the rule of justice in the assessment of postage should be, not what the writer or receiver of a letter or of anything else can afford to pay or can be induced to pay without complaining, nor what the intrinsic worth of the mail accommodation may be to the writer or the receiver of the letter, but only what the operation of receiving, conveying, and delivering this particular article costs the government. Postage should not be assessed by the rule by which prices are determined in trade. The trader expects to sell his commodities at their value, and their value is not what they cost, but what they will fetch in open market. This is the explanation of the phenomenon so inexplicable to children and sometimes to country customers, that “dry goods' are sold off so often “at cost,” or at “ less than cost,” may, now and then, as the advertisements assure us, “without regard to cost.” The dry goods vender understands perfectly well that the present value of the goods upon his counter, in Hartford or in Brattleborough, is determined by considerations quite independent of what he gave for them
* The receivers of advertised letters are indeed charged two cents on each letter for the cost of advertising, but advertised letters which remain uncalled for are still a charge to the department for advertising as well as for other expenses.
six months ago in Pearl street; and it is perfectly right for him to sell his goods without regard to cost, for as much less than cost, or as much more, as they are now worth in open market. But the post-office department is not a trading concern in respect to the assessment of postage, and therefore the question which the government ought to ask in respect to postage, is just the reverse of that which the trader asks in respect to the price of his commodities. The question is not what is this service worth to the writer or receiver of a letter, or the publisher or receiver of a newspaper, but what does it cost to the establishment—what share of the expenses of the establishment falls upon this particular article 2 The letter which conveys to a man the intelligence that some distant relative whom he never knew, has left him an estate of $100,000, costs the post-office no more than a dunning letter, and for that reason it ought to pay no more postage than is charged on a dunning letter. On this principle we say that a written letter with a seal on it, but not exceeding half an ounce in weight, costs the government no more than a printed letter of the same weight without a seal; and therefore if the government can afford to carry the one for two cents, it can afford to carry the other for two cents, and ought to do so. In the light of this principle, we can see a reason why the postage on newspapers and other printed periodical matter, when sent by the publishers to regular customers, should be less, very considerably less, by weight, than the postage on letters. The publisher of a newspaper or other periodical, if he pays postage on the sheets which he publishes, is a wholesale customer of the post-office, and therefore the department can afford to serve him at a much less rate than it can afford to serve the writer of a letter. Letters are deposited in the letter