Petitioning for Postal Service

Encouraging the people’s expectation of a place on the country’s communications grid was essential to the republic’s physical and political development as well as the post’s. Pioneers were likelier to venture into the wilderness if they anticipated maintaining a link to the great world and having an outpost of the federal government, a place on the map, and a civic identity. The first step in the so-called petitioning process for mail service required a community to badger the Post Office Department or their congressman for it. In many instances, the congressman then submitted the constituents’ appeal to the postmaster general, who had retained the constitutional power to establish post offices. If service was deemed warranted, he authorized a new post office, and Congress, responding to the direct will of the local people, determined the route by which the mail would reach it.

Petitioning processes were very often successful, especially in the freewheeling territories, as areas under federal jurisdiction but lacking the status of an official state were called. Indeed, complaints about the overabundance of post offices created by legislators’ pork-barreling were voiced by the turn of the century. Nevertheless, Americans had objective proof of their national government’s responsiveness to their direct input, which not only brought them mail but also turned clusters of cabins in the middle of nowhere into villages with names, and rutted trails through dense forests into roads on a map.