Creation of the Post Office

Finally, however, they saw that the war’s outcome would depend on a secure network that could both sustain popular support and allow communications between politicians and the military. On July 26, 1775, the Continental Congress voted to transform the short-lived but crucial Constitutional Post into the Post Office Department of the United States-a nation rooted in a communications network that promoted the free exchange of ideas.

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Political minefields notwithstanding, Congress finally rose to the president’s challenge. After much heated argument, the legislators passed the comprehensive Post Office Act of 1792, which laid down important policies that would affect the country’s political, social, and physical development for generations to come and help expand the founders’ provincial East Coast into the transcontinental United States. Just as the republic truly came into its own with the signing of the Constitution, the post assumed its permanent status and open-ended, truly American character with this landmark legislation. . . .

Modern Americans take for granted the “universal-service mandate,” which says that all citizens everywhere are entitled to mail access for the same price, but this principle was rarely discussed in such absolute terms until the twentieth century. The act didn’t make it a basic right, like freedom of speech or religion, but it fostered the idea that if a group of citizens could establish their need for postal service, they could reasonably hope that the government would provide it.