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be computed at the minimum estimates of $1 25 per pound for letters and 16 cents per pound for documents, we have a postage value for free letters of $738,550, and for public documents $598,727, being an aggregate of $1,337,277, as indicated by the returns made at a period when the mails were almost entirely relieved of the burden of the heavy departmental reports. All this from the Washington City post office alone.
There is no sound reason for believing that, estimating by weight, the present basis of the postage rates, the proportion of free matter is really less than thirty per centum, as ascertained by the careful investigations of a committee of the British Parliament; but, even if we adopt the results of the imperfect information attainable in this country, and assume twenty-five per cent. of the ordinary annual expenditures as the just equivalent for the unpaid services of the Post Office Department, it will appear that the government is bound in honor and justice to appropriate $5,000,000, instead of $700,000, for this service.
But the most potential reason of all for the abolition of the franking privilege is found in the incurable abuses and frauds which seem to be inseparable from its exercise. When the number of persons who are clothed with the franking privilege, and of judges who are expected to pass upon the genuineness of franks, is considered, the opportunity for boundless frauds will appear to be almost infinite. The following statement, made up from official sources, will show how far the privilege is extended under existing laws:
Statement of officials exercising the franking privilege.
President of the United States and his secretary..
and money-order system, and chief clerks Post Office Department....
Add internal revenue officers, (assessors and assistant col
lectors and deputies).. Postmasters on 1st November, 1869.
4, 115 27,378
In this statement alone is an army of 31,933, who, generally speaking, load the mails at will with whatever matter they please. Some of them, to be sure, are granted only a limited privilege, yet, practically, the restrictions are no longer operative. To these should be added the countless host who address communications to members of Congress, delegates, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Senate, heads of departments, heads of bureaus, chief clerks, and all others authorized to frank official matter. How is it possible that any checks whatever can be imposed and enforced against a privilege so widely extended !
But the difficulties increase when it is further considered that the judges who decide upon the genuineness of franks are the entire corps of 27,378 postmasters, scattered all over the country, none of whom, with the utmost diligence, can hope to acquire a tolerable familiarity with the signatures of more than a few of the privileged. In the larger offices, where one hour is the longest time that can be allowed for making up the mails, and where it is necessary to receive and manipulate thousands of letters daily, it is impossible, even if the genuine signatures were known, to make a systematic attempt to exclude matter improperly franked. What is the result? Boundless frauds, of course, without a possibility of detecting them, or even a hope of preventing their further increase. In fact, every frank, counterfeit or genuine, is equally effective, and the extent of the evil is limited only by the wants of those who desire to impose upon the service.
It has been well said that there is no middle ground between boundless franking and no franking.” The truth of this observation will be perfectly manifest to all who will take the trouble to inquire into the subject. With the appliances now at the command of the department, or that can be devised in its interest, it would be a sheer impossibility to eliminate fraud from the exercise of the franking privilege. The privilege itself is the fruitful' mother of frauds, and cannot be reformed. Estimating the frauds and evasions perpetrated under cover of this system to be equal in amount to the postages upon matter bearing genuine signatures, and this is no exaggeration,) the total expense is swelled to an amount equal to the entire deficit of the department for the last fiscal year. Certainly, these stupendous frauds should be prevented; and, as they cannot be separated from the practice of the system, the only remedy is to abolish the system itself.
How is it possible for the department to escape from the slough into which it has been cast, so long as government fastens inextricably about
its neck an ever-increasing weight? Under the frightful burden imposed by the franking privilege, no further reforms can ever be made in the way of reducing domestic postages. An appalling deficit will be a perpetual bar to all progress—all substantial improvement.
In England, the postal service was rescued from pitiable imbecility and inefficiency by the illustrious Rowland Hill and his associates, in 1839; but it was necessary first to destroy this badge of subserviency to rank and class, although in that country it was limited both in the number of privileged persons and in the number of letters each could frank per day. So here, as the initial step to reform, I earnestly urge the total abolition of the franking privilege.
The objection that Congress may desire to print and disseminate public documents should not avail against the appeal of the department for deliverence from the frauds that are fast overwhelming it. If the privilege be abolished, official publications may still be forwarded in the mails. It is only asked that they, like all private matter, may be chargeable with postage. If it be urged that this would prevent or impede the diffusion of the knowledge of public affairs among the people, then it may be said, in reply, that if it be the purpose of Congress to give information to the people, a far more telling expedient may be resorted to. An unburdened press, managed and directed by private enterprise, can do more than Congress to enlighten the masses. Better far that the franking privilege should be abolished, and that all newspapers sent to regular and bona fide subscribers from a known office of publication should be carried free, without regard to weight, throughout the United States, as now throughout the county wherein printed and published. The receipts of the department for the last year from “newspapers and pamphlets” amounted to $778,882 30. This portion of its receipts the department can forego, provided it can be protected against the frauds, more than three times in amount, inseparable from the franking privilege.
It is not proposed or desired that government officials should be personally taxed for the transmission of their public correspondence. It is asked, on the other hand, that every department, every member of Congress, and every other public officer, shall have a liberal allowance of stamps for postages, subject to a proper accountability, and that the sum necessary therefor shall be appropriated out of the general treasury.
Should Congress conform to my recommendations in this respect, I confidently predict that millions will be saved annually to the government, that the department will be at once redeemed from its present condition of chronic bankruptcy, and that the postal service will speedily become the potent coadjutor of the people in developing and adorning our great country.
My predecessor addressed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives a letter, under date of 9th January last, in relation to the postal telegraph, inclosing an elaborate communication on the same subject from Gardiner G. Hubbard, esq., of Boston. This is a subject of great
importance, and deserves the most careful consideration. Several European nations have adopted the system with apparent success. I shall defer making any recommendation concerning it until a greater degree of efficiency can be attained in the service as at present constituted.
The commission heretofore appointed by Congress has submitted to me a codification of the statutes relating to the postal service, which has been referred to a committee of competent gentlemen of long experience in the practical working of the department for careful revision. Their report will be presented to Congress at an early day. The codification, when perfected and adopted by Congress, will greatly facilitate the public business.
Regarding the present as a favorable opportunity, I call the attention of Congress to the penal laws providing for the punishment of offenses against the postal service. The penalties prescribed are in many cases too severe, and, by reason of their apparent harshness, have tended to create a sympathy in the minds of jurors and others in behalf of this class of offenders. Experience has shown that the certainty of punishment, more than its severity, deters from crime. I recommend that the terms of imprisonment in most cases be shortened and graduated, with a more careful regard to the nature and character of the offenses which the framers of the laws designed to punish and prevent.
A reorganization of the department has become a necessity. The recommendation of my predecessor in that regard is cordially approved.
It would be unjust to close this report without making a proper recog. nition of the important services of the heads of the respective bureaus of the department, including the superintendents of foreign mails and of the money-order office. They are all gentlemen of singular fitness for their several positions. In all things they have come up to the full measure of my expectations, and I esteem myself most fortunate in having secured their valuable aid. In consideration of the ability, integrity, industry, and zeal they have continually exhibited, I earnestly recommend such an increase in their salaries as will afford them the means of a respectable livelihood, their present compensation being inadequate for that purpose. I have tho honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,
JNO, A. J. CRESWELL,
Postmaster General. The PRESIDENT.
Table of mail service for the year ended June 30, 1869, as exhibited by the state of the arrangements at the close of the year.
(Tho entire service and pay are set down to the State under which they are numbered, though extending into other States, instead of boing divided among tho Statos in
which each portion lies.)
States and Territories.
Celerity, certainty, and