Postmasters in the Mid-19th Century

In 1860, postmasters took the following oath: “I, ________, do swear/affirm that I will faithfully perform all the duties required of me, and abstain from everything forbidden by the laws in relation to the establishment of the Post Office and post roads within the United States. I do solemnly swear/affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States.”

Postmasters had to post a bond and reside in the community where the Post Office was located. The postmaster was exempt from militia duty but could be called upon to work on the roads.

The job of postmaster was an important one — candidates for the job were proposed by the outgoing postmaster, the local community, or local congressmen. Beginning in 1836, postmasters at the largest Post Offices were appointed by the President and usually received the job as a political plum. The Postmaster General continued to appoint postmasters at smaller Post Offices. The Post Office often was kept as a sideline to the postmaster’s primary occupation, such as storekeeper.

The postmaster had to keep the Post Office open during normal business hours and, if mail was delivered on a Sunday, for one hour after the delivery of mail. If a church service was going on, the postmaster had to wait until it concluded and then open the office for an hour. This decision dated back to the 19th-century controversies over the drivers of mail wagons blowing on a horn or a trumpet as the wagon came into town. Some ministers complained that the men would rise up, leave the church, and head for the Post Office, where they would visit with each other and even play cards.

The decision to keep the Post Office closed during services was a compromise. However, the Postmaster General refused to stop mail wagons from running on Sundays, since this would delay the mail too much.