William L. Goggin

William L. Goggin Proposes a Three Cent Postal Rate

William Leftwich Goggin served as a Whig representative from Virginia to the United States Congress intermittently between 1839 and 1849. On December 9, 1847 he was appointed to the House Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads along with Abraham Lincoln, a fellow Whig party member.

On June 23, 1848 Goggin delivered to the House of Representatives a 97 page report, cover shown here, House of Representative Report No. 731 [to accompany bill H.R. 575], that proposed a uniform postal rate in the United States and led to his 1849 proposal of a three cent postal rate. This report, simply titled “Postage and Post Roads,” includes an in-depth examination of the argument for a uniform, reduced postage system in the United States and bolsters the case by incorporating the report of the Cheap Postage Association of Boston that had been prepared in June, 1848. Surprisingly, I have been unable to find discussions of Goggin’s report in previous philatelic literature. However, these reports were generally printed only in sufficient quantity to be distributed to House members and most are rare.

Although this report did not precipitate in any immediate postal legislation, the arguments presented give an insight into the process that did result in the further reduction of postal rates in 1851. In fact, many of the other ideas presented were later incorporated into postal legislation including the two cent drop rate that included carrier delivery (1863), the uniform three cent domestic postal rate (1863), an alteration in the way free mail was accounted for and limited (1851, 1863 and 1872), the two cent ocean mail rate to Britain (1908), and even the use of postage stamps as money (1862).

Because of the length of this report, only summaries are possible here. This is unfortunate as the original includes detailed information about the functioning of both the British and the United States postal systems that are only hinted at in the excerpts below . The first two paragraphs introduce the subject:

That the subject of the reduction of postage, particularly, has been carefully considered by the committee, with a desire to arrive at just conclusions, impressed, as it has been, with the belief that there is no single subject of legislation in which the people feel so great an interest.

The great advantage of the postal system, when well regulated, need not be urged by this committee, whose attention has been also directed, to the facilitates required for the speedy transmission of intelligence through the mails, from one point to another, over this vastly extended territory of ours, as well as to the internal duties that are imposed, in the shape of postage, on all matter sent through the mails and delivered at the many thousand offices under the control of the Post Office Department.

The next several paragraphs argue that the purpose of the postal rate structure was not to raise money for the current expense of the government, but that Congress was given the authority under the Constitution to establish post offices and post roads. By a logical expansion of that power:

 ... is now, by universal consent and general interpretation of the constitution, considered as extending, in its operation, and for legitimate purposes, to every road and shall be declared to be a post road, and to every navigable stream, every bay, inlet, and harbor that may be designed as such, from the Atlantic on the one side, on the one side, to the Pacific on the other; from the Potomac to the Columbia; from the St. John’s to the Nueces, and now, even beyond it.

 The great leading object in the administration of the Post Office Department should be, to expedite the mails with all possible dispatch on the important routes, even if it be, sometimes, at a cost a little above what might seem to be a fair compensation; better is it to do this than to be without service. To speed the mail in view of the great advantage which it has given, and will ever afford the people, when well regulated, should become a sort of watchword with the government.

Unless the public mails of the country, in their speed, keep full pace with the wants of the people, and the rapid transmission of reading matter is constantly kept in view, they must, in time, on all the important routes, be entirely superseded by private expresses and individual enterprise, now often many days in advance of the regular mails. And if the government, through the department, can not do what it undertakes to perform for the people, at least as well as individuals could do the same, if left unfettered by penalties of law, far better would it be that it should not be attempted at all.

This is followed by discourses on private expresses, the telegraph lines, newspaper subscription posts, and the excessive number of persons employed in political patronage post office jobs.

The primary subject of the report commences on page 7:

As one of the surest methods of expediting the mail, and as one most likely to afford the means necessary to keep up and sustain the department, the committee are of the opinion that a reduction in the rates of postage is essentially necessary. The mail should always be expedited just in proportion to the increase of mailable matter; its importance as a means of communication to the many instead of the few, and as the masses become interested instead of individuals. The multiplication of mail matter, newspapers and letters, is a consequence of a reduced system of postages, and consequently, too, will follow, in time, an increase of revenue to the department. These conclusions of the committee are the result of observations made upon a reduced system of postages at home and abroad, and the operation of which has most clearly shown that a low rate of charges on the correspondence of the people, is what they will never complain of, but will always pay with cheerfulness; and the more frequent this charge, the more cheerfully sometimes is the tax submitted to by many. It can never be regarded, when reduced to a proper standard rate, as burdensome, because in some degree it is a voluntary tax, while at the same time it produces pleasure, often improves our stock of knowledge, and not infrequently adds greatly to the enjoyment of many of the comforts of life.

The committee have already reported a bill reducing the postage on newspapers, and propose also a reduction on the postage of letters, both of which are called for by the general expectation of the public, the condition of the country generally, and the financial situation of the affairs of the Post Office Department. As, in the main, embracing the views of a majority of the committee, they have had reference to those of the Cheap Postage Association, of Boston, published during the present year; and they accordingly present them in connection with this report, as a part thereof, though the committee do not, nor does any member of it, concur in all conclusions to which the report aims; nor do they concur in supporting all of the propositions which are maintained in the report. It is one, however, which presents the whole subject of cheap postage in many forcible points of view, and is at this time, in man respects, a valuable document – valuable for its facts, its figures, its statistics, and many of its arguments, which are forcible and sometimes unanswerable.

The report next incorporates the Cheap Postage Association publication. Headers and very brief summary extracts follow:

I. Reduction of price tends to increase consumption.

These facts prove that there is a settled law in economics, that in the case of any article of general use and necessity, a reduction in the price may be expected to produce at least a corresponding of consumption, and in many case a very largely increased expenditure.

II. Nothing but Cheap Postage will suppress Private Mails

The post office must be enables to recommend itself to the public mind. It must secure to itself a virtual monopoly, by the greater security, expedition, punctuality, and cheapness, with which it does its work, than can be reached by any private enterprise.

III. The Postage Law of 1845

The postage act, passed March 3, 1845, which went into operation on the 1st of July of that year, was called forth by a determination to destroy the private mails; and this object gave character to the act as a whole. …. The report of the House committee in 1844, showed beforehand that such a reduction (in postal rate) could not have the effect here, just as the parliamentary report had shown in 1838, that nothing but an absolute reduction to 1d. could suppress the private mails in England.  

IV. What is the just rule to be observed in settling the Rates of Postage?

The posting of letters may be looked at, either as a contract between the government and the individuals who send and receive letters, or as a simple exercise of governmental functions in discharging a governmental duty. The proper measure of the charge to be imposed should be considered in each of these aspects, for the government is bound to do that which is right in both these relations. … Another view of the case shows the futility of the attempt to make distance the basis of charge. The actual cost of transit, to each letter, does not vary with the distance, but is inversely as the number of letters, irrespective of distance. (Once the contracts are let for carrying mail on a particular route, cost isn’t affected if additional letters are carried. It costs the same whether one letter or 100 letters is carried.)

V. Franking (free franking of mail)

The moral evils of the franking system are far more serious than the pecuniary expense, although that is by no means undeserving of regard. It is not only an ensnaring prerogative to those who enjoy it, and an anomaly and incongruity in out republican institutions, but it is an oppressive burden upon the post office, which ought to be removed.

VI. Letter Postage Stamps, for Pre-payment

In England, as part of the system devised by Mr. Rowland Hill, the pre-payment of letter postage is greatly facilitated, and, of course, the tendency to pre-payment is increased, while the management of the post office itself, in all its departments, is simplified to the highest degree, by the use of adhesive postage stamps. … (in response to Postmaster General’s report that demand for stamps had not been as great as anticipated.) ..  But it should be borne in mind that people are more likely to invest a dollar in stamps, when they get fifty for their money, than when they only get ten or twenty. Two interesting pages, including one showing British cancels are here.

VII. New arrangement of newspaper postage

The plan proposed, is to allow any publisher of a newspaper to have the paper stamped before printing, for his whole issue, by paying thereof at the rate of half a cent per sheet. (This plan proposed in conjunction with allowing private carriers to deliver newspapers.)

 VIII. Pamphlet and Magazine postage

I do not know that any complaint is made against this rate (2 1/2 cents) of postage, as regards pamphlets in general. But the fraction of a cent is an absurdity, on account of the great additional labor it occasions in keeping accounts and making returns, and settling balance. … The simplification of business would probably save to the department all they would lose by striking out this paltry fraction, so that the general pamphlet postage will stand at two cents for the first ounce, and one cent for each additional ounce.

IX. Ocean penny postage

After making arguments for cheap ocean penny post similar to the arguments for cheap domestic postage, the author urges the United States to be the first to implement postage at two cents per ounce for mail to Britain.

X. The free delivery of letters and papers in large towns.

A free delivery of letters would increase the revenue by causing the greater portion of the drop letters to be sent through the post office, instead of the private offices now established in different parts of the city. The only reason why the city dispatch post failed was, that they charged more than the private penny post offices. But if these letters were delivered free, charging only two cents as drop letters, nearly all city correspondence would be conveyed by this medium. The increase income from this source alone would, in short time, be amply sufficient to pay the salaries of all the carriers.

XI. The expense of cheap postage, and how it is to be paid.

Now, let the post office present itself to the people as a system of pure and unmingled beneficence, studying not how it can get a little more money for a little less service, but how it can render the greatest amount of accommodation with the least expense to the public treasury, and it will at once become the object of public gratitude and warm affections; men will study how to facilitate all transactions; will be conscientiously careful not to impose any needless trouble upon its servants, and will generally watch for its interests as their own.

The final several pages of the Post Road Committee report deals primarily with calculations showing the amount of money lost to the department because of the free mail franking system and estimates of revenue if postage in the United States were to be reduced:

The Postmaster General, in his report to Congress, shows that the average rate of postage on letters, according to the present system, is a small fraction over six cents. An increase of two hundred per cent here over the number for the year ending the 30th June, 1847, would give 159,000 of letters, which, allowing the expenditure to be no greater, (and we have shown that an increase of revenue does not necessarily increase the expenditures,) would give, at the rate of two cents, a revenue nearly equal to that of last year. In England the increase was 234 per cent in six years. Now, at that rate, here the numbers of letters in 1853 would amount to 175,000,000. There is every reason to believe that the increase here would far exceed that number; but that alone, at two cents each, would yield a revenue of three millions and a half of dollars; a sum exceeding the receipts of the department the last year for letter postage, by $311, 043. If to this sum is added $100,000, the proceeds of five millions of letters now franked; the postage of two millions of deal letters, amounting to about $40,000; also, the postage of newspapers, pamphlets, etc., which would be greatly increased, a sum would be produced which ought to put the fears of all to rest who may have apprehensions of casting the burden of sustaining the department for any time on the general treasury.

The conclusion reports the bill (H.R. bill no. 575, image page 1, image page 2):

In the views presented here, the committee acknowledges themselves indebted to the memorial presented by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, in connection with this subject, for the statistics, facts, and even the language sometimes used in this report, and the committee again urge upon the House the adoption of some system of cheaper rates of postage, as required by the urgent petitions of the people, as well as for other obvious reason which have urged in this report. The committed not agreeing as to the precise amount of the reduction proper to be carried out by a general law, have instructed the chairman, however, to report a bill to reduce the rates of letter postage to five cents for any and all distances on letters not exceeding half an ounce in weight, etc. A bill is, therefore, accordingly submitted by the Chairman, under the instructions of the committee, while his own convictions would decide him to advocate a still lower rate of postages on letters and newspapers, for the latter of which a bill has already passed.

W.L. Goggin,
Committee Room, Post Offices and Post Roads

The actual bill proposed a uniform postal rate of five cents for any distance, per one half ounce, and made no exemption for free franked mail. Apparently, due to the lateness of the Congressional session, the bill was not passed.

In February 21, 1849 Goggin gave a speech in the House of Representatives in favor of establishing a uniform postal rate of three cents. A transcript of the speech is shown: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, page 6. In addition to proposing the lower uniform postal rate of three cents, or a 15c postal rate applicable to California and Oregon, the speech includes:

This bill also provides for the use of stamps, which, it is supposed, will obviate any difficulty growing out of the scarcity of coppers, or fractional parts of coppers, in all parts of the country. These stamps, which are provided for, of the denominations from one-fourth of a cent to ten cents; and it is easy to guard against their use the second time, by providing each post office with what is called a “cancel stamp,” with which the adhesive stamp is marked as soon as the letter is received at the office of delivery.

Richard Frajola (June 27, 2006)