U.S. Post Office Department

City: Washington

State: DC

Established by an act of Congress and signed by President George Washington on February 20, 1792, the Post Office Department managed the establishment of post offices and post roads and delivery of the mail. Washington and the other founding fathers recognized the importance of a postal system for the new nation, seeing it as the primary means of uniting the population behind the federal government. By the end of Washington's second term, the postal system had quintupled.

As the country added new states and territories and the population expanded beyond the Appalachian Mountains, the postal system grew accordingly, adding new post offices and postal routes. In Illinois, Abraham Lincoln became postmaster at the frontier settlement of New Salem, serving in that capacity from May 7, 1833 to May 30, 1836. In recognition of the system's growing power and public service, President Andrew Jackson in 1829 named his postmaster general to his cabinet, making the Post Office Department co-equal with the Treasury, State, and War departments. Jackson's action, however, changed the postal system, turning the Post Office Department, with its thousands of postmaster positions, into the main source of patronage jobs for the political party in power, leading to graft, corruption, abuse, and scandal.

Growth and development of the postal system continued, nonetheless, through the mid-nineteenth century. From Jackson's presidency through the beginning of the Civil War, the nation's population grew 144 percent, from 12.9 million to 31.4 million, but the volume of mail expanded even more remarkably--more than 1,200 percent, from 13.8 million letters to 184.3 million. Congress strengthened and codified the federal government's monopoly over delivery of the mails. The Civil War slowed progress, but growth and development resumed after the end of hostilities.

U.S. Const. art. I,ยง 8; "An Act to Establish the Post-Office and Post Roads in the United States," 20 February 1792, Statutes at Large of the United States 1 (1792):232-39; Winton M. Blount, "Postal Service, United States," Dictionary of American History rev. ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976), 5:370-73; Record of Appointment of Abraham Lincoln as Postmaster of New Salem, Illinois.