Early Postal Legislation

In 1781, Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation. Article IX addressed postal issues:

The United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of … establishing or regulating post offices from one State to another, throughout all the United States, and exacting such postage on the papers passing through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office …

Postmaster General Ebenezer Hazard, serving from 1782 to 1789, created new east-west post routes as the population expanded westward, including a route to serve the frontier town of Pittsburgh. Although he devoted most of his energies to developing inland service, Hazard also reestablished monthly mail service to Europe, which the war had disrupted.

Authorized by Congress in 1785 to contract with stagecoach companies to carry mail on heavily traveled routes, Hazard established a regular mail route via stagecoach between Boston and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. President George Washington criticized Hazard when he substituted riders on horseback on some routes to improve service and reduce costs. Washington supported the use of postal allocations for subsidiary purposes and looked at coaches as giving “a facility to the means of traveling for strangers … a circumstance highly beneficial to any country.”5

During Hazard’s tenure the entire postal headquarters staff consisted of himself, a secretary/comptroller, an inspector of dead letters, three surveyors, and 26 post riders. He wrote a friend about his job’s demands:

… I have not had time for proper relaxation, and, in three years past, have not been to the distance of ten miles from this city. I once hired a clerk, but found my salary was not equal to that expence in addition to the support of my family, and was obliged to dismiss him.6

At Hazard’s suggestion, Congress passed the Ordinance of October 18, 1782, revising and codifying postal laws and regulations. The ordinance gave the federal government a monopoly on mail, restricted censorship to times of war or when specifically ordered by the Postmaster General or Congress, and allowed post riders to carry newspapers at moderate rates.