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Kaminski, John P.; Saladino, Gaspare J.; Leffler, Richard (ed.) / Commentaries on the Constitution, public and private. Volume 4: 1 February to 31 March 1788
16 (1986)

Index,   pp. 540-596

Page 540

The Controversy over the Post Office
and the Circulation of Newspapers
Throughout the debate over the ratification of the Constitution, Antifederalists
expressed concern that Federalists tampered with their mail. In October 1787
Richard Henry Lee, serving as a Virginia delegate to Congress, reported that
letters written by him "and sent by the Post" had been stopped in their ''passage"
(to Samuel Adams, 27 October, CC:199). In mid-March 1788 Elbridge Gerry
charged that "several letters from my friends in Newyork, & also to them have
shared ye same fate. . . a species of robbery nearly allied to highway robbery . .
I am sorry to see it so frequent amongst us" (to J. Harley, 15 March, Sang Collec-
tion, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale). Antifederalists therefore tried to
avoid the post office by entrusting their letters to couriers or by addressing their
letters to third parties not politically suspect in the eyes of Federalists.
Beginning in January 1788, Antifederalists asserted that the post office itself was
waylaying newspapers that contained Antifederalist material. They said that the
writings of New York Antifederalists, such as "Brutus," "Cato," and "Cincinna-
tus," were not allowed to reach Philadelphia while the Pennsylvania Convention
was sitting and that the "Dissent of the Minority of the Pennsylvania Convention"
was prevented from getting to Boston while the Massachusetts Convention sat.
Federalists denied these charges.
Antifederalists and Federalists were both concerned by the official changes in
policy adopted by the post office. In November 1786 Postmaster General Ebenezer
Hazard believed that stagecoach operators were charging the government too much
for the delivery of the mail. He complained that some stagecoach operators would
not alter their schedules so as to arrive in major commercial centers at times more
convenient for postmasters. (Later Hazard charged that the stagecoach schedules
also inconvenienced merchants.) Hazard recommended that stagecoaches continue
to carry the mail from Philadelphia southward but that postriders on horseback
carry the mail between Portland, Maine, and New York City. Between New York
City and Philadelphia Hazard believed that "No Stages can do the Business so
well on this Route as Post Riders" (JCC, XXXI, 922-23), claiming that postriders
traveled "Night & Day," while stagecoach drivers were "careless, & inattentive to
the Mail" (to Jeremy Belknap, 17 May, below).
On 14 February 1787 Congress read a draft ordinance for the operation of the
post office which, among other things, would have formally authorized the contin-
uation of the traditional practice of allowing printers to exchange single copies of
their newspapers postage free. The ordinance, however, stipulated that newspapers
would no longer be delivered to subscribers postage free (JCC, XXXII, 55-56).
No further action was taken on the ordinance, but the alarm of many people was
well expressed in a widely reprinted article first printed in the Pennsylvania Herald
6n 26 May: "there has hitherto been no charge for the conveyance of newspapers
throughout the continent; but it has lately been said that a new arrangement is
agitated by the post-masters, which will either deny tothe printers the only eligible
mode of supplying their subscribers, or impose so heavy a tax, that the remote
circulation of their papers must be eventually discontinued. Besides the general
arguments against this projected measure, something may be urged from the pe-
culiar circumstances of the country. The strong and invidious distinction, which
different habits, manners, and pursuits will naturally create between the eastern

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