Bates’ personal mission becomes a reform movement, complete with a propaganda arm and lobbying wing. We question the origins of his crusade and its fruits.

Editor’s Note

Anthony Comegna, PhD

Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

Long before “The Rowland Hill of America” was a postal reformer–even long before he was a loco‐​foco radical–Barnabas Bates was a Baptist minister and antislavery activist. As we learned in our first number, Bates’ father was an unsuccessful London businessman and Catholic whose second wife insisted that young Barnabas “read the Bible constantly.” Her strictness pushed Barnabas to run away and join the crew of a coaling ship. After a short trip to Boston in May 1801, Bates practiced carpentry and took the opportunity of his new life to neglect religion. He still managed to sing in the local choir, however, and gradually regained his attachment to spirituality. He delivered his first sermon at age 19 (1806) and joined the Baptist ministry two years later. Bates’ diary apparently pays a great deal of attention to the sermons he delivered over the next two decades, touring Philadelphia, Providence, New York, and Bristol, where he became postmaster in 1820. Four years later he assumed a postmaster position in New York City. There Bates became an early and active member of the Workingman’s movement. He operated a Christian bookstore “devoted to the support of Free Inquiry, Religious Liberty and Rational Christianity!” The paper failed, but his activism continued.

As you have no doubt noticed, much of the current biographical pamphlet dwells on the details of philately and the whole point of the work was to flesh out Bates’ role as a postal reformer. But I would like to take the opportunity to advance a developing theory: Bates’ postal reformism–like his dalliances with the Workingmen and Loco-Focos–was a means to his larger, religiously‐​inspired antislavery ends. Readers should understand that there is not sufficient evidence at this point to properly render this conclusion, but nonetheless I will make my case and leave final judgment until further evidence can be gathered.

First, it must be said that extremely little is known about Bates. This very pamphlet is, after all, the only significant attempt to catalogue Bates’ life; and I absolutely guarantee that you would find it near impossible to discover his name mentioned in the indices of shelf after shelf of American history monographs. It will be there in a trace mention–that’s how I found out about him–but no more. So here we are on the cutting edge of tracing Bates’ biography!

Second, those few historians who have worked with primary sources from Bates and his activities agree that antislavery was a powerful motivating force in his life. Historian of the New York Workingman’s movement, Walter Hugins, identified Bates as a life‐​long advocate for antislavery who was often targeted by violent mobs for his abolitionist sentiments. In the current selection from the MacBride pamphlet, our author notes Bates’ personal and intellectual connections to antislavery activist and writer Joshua Leavitt and the abolitionist philanthropist Lewis Tappan.

Third, throughout the antislavery movement, the federal mails were a primary battlefield between abolitionist propagandists and proslavery censors and mobs. On the one side, abolitionists wanted to flood the mails of both sections with abolitionist literature like William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator and a slew of other publications. On the other side, those with an interest in slavery or stability wanted to positively prohibit the delivery of “incendiary” materials through the mails. The matter came to a flashpoint when, in August 1835, Charleston, South Carolina postmaster Alfred Huger refused to deliver a massive amount of abolitionist literature. While he coyly awaited direction from the Postmaster General, a proslavery mob broke into the post office, removed the mail, and burned it in a public display.

The affair incensed radicals like William Leggett–prompting his conversion to immediate, disunionist abolitionism–and no doubt inspired much of the desire for postal reform pursued by figures like Bates and his Cheap Postage Association throughout the ensuing decade. With cheap, efficient, and uniform postage throughout the country and across the oceans, abolitionist propagandists and their financiers could literally flood the mails with incendiary paper. By the time cheap postage was achieved, however, Bates and Leggett were dead and antislavery was already setting the country ablaze in what many considered a cleansing, spiritual renewal.

By Van Dyk MacBride. Newark (NJ): V.D. MacBride. 1947.

Barnabas Bates, The Rowland Hill of America: A Story of the Fight for Cheap and Uniform Postage in the United States

In each year from 1838 to 1847 our Post Office system had shown a deficit from its operations. The chief blame had been assigned to the free franking privilege, but no one seemed to realize that the real trouble was the high postage rates. Revenues continued to drop, and in 1844 were actually less than they had been in 1838. Finally Congress appointed “United States Postal Commission” in 1844 to investigate and report. It heard witnesses–among which was doubtless our hero Barnabas Bates,–and finally came to the conclusion that the posts were a public service, and the quest of a dollar in receipts for each dollar in expenditures was untenable and unworthy. Another feature which hastened the more favorable consideration of the British system was the growing use of envelopes. Introduced from France about 1842, they were gradually superseding the folded and wax‐​sealed lettersheet. As envelopes did not so readily disclose the number of sheets or enclosures in a letter, the idea of fixing postage rates solely by weight became almost necessary. At last partial success at least, was attained. Nearly the entire press of the country had become aroused and the tide of public opinion turned strongly in favor of the cheap postage and the other postal reform proposals. The pressure on Congress steadily grew, and at long last it passed the law which reduced letter postage to 5c a half‐​ounce on distances not exceeding 300 miles, but charging 10c for greater distances. Drop letters, or letters placed in any post office not for transmission through the mail but for delivery only, were charged 2c each, circulars were 2c, pamphlets and magazines 2 ½ c., and newspapers were charged according to size. The Act became law on March 3, 1845 when President Tyler signed it the day before he left office, and it went in to effect on July 1, 1845. The new law left much to be desired,–it even substantially increased the already burdensome rates for ocean postage, the rates to the Pacific Coast were set at 40c, franking was not abolished, and prepayment of letters was not required. Furthermore it did not authorize the issuance of adhesive postage stamps, and this was indeed a strange omission. Not only had postage stamps been in daily use in Great Britain for five years and in several other countries, but they had been in use for some time by some of the larger private expresses and carriers in the United States. The latter included many companies which advertised to carry letters between nearly all of the larger cities and towns in the country. They sold adhesive stamps for either 5c or 6c,–the latter being purchasable in sheets of 20 for $1.00,–and the rate was the same between any two points served by a given company regardless of distance. Supplying better and cheaper service, the additional convenience of the adhesive postage stamps provided most effective competition with the Government mails. With Barnabas Bates and his friends pointing all this out at every opportunity, the Government‐​adopted 5c and 10c rates of 1845 largely succeeded in putting the private expresses out of the letter‐​carrying business between cities, even though the local delivery companies continued and grew, and even though no Government postage stamps had been authorized. But still more inexplicable is the fact that the Post Office Department itself had been printing and using adhesive postage stamps, in one instance since 1842! On August 1st of that year it had taken over the local delivery service in New York City operated by one A. M. Greig under the name of the City Despatch Post. This company provided a handsome 3c adhesive postage stamp bearing the likeness of George Washington, on February 15, 1842,–the first adhesive postage stamp ever issued in the United States!. Previously, and for many years to come, the amount of postage paid or due on a letter was handstamped or written thereon by the postmaster or his clerks, and the simple and time‐​saving device of the adhesive stamp was not known until Hill showed the world how it could be used to advantage if combined with cheap and uniform rates of postage. This City Despatch stamp represented prepayment of the company’s fee for delivering mail to the post office from letter boxes it placed about the city, or from the post office to the addressee, or between local addresses. More competition, than the Government could stand, this company was taken over within six months and Greig became a letter carrier for the Government. The name was promptly changed to United States City Despatch Post, as was the lettering of the stamps, which were continued in use. Thus we find the paradox of the United States Post Office Department locally issuing and using adhesive postage stamps for nearly five years before authorizing their general use throughout the country! Incidentally, such private local delivery services grew rapidly, some having the semi‐​official approval of the Post Office Department or of the individual postmasters, and many issued their own stamps throughout the “stampless” period of the Government mail service.

A further example of the strange reluctance of the Government to issue its own stamps, is to be found in the fact that the postmasters of many of the larger cities promptly started issuing their own stamps as soon as the Act of 1845 setting the new 5c‐​10c rates went into effect. Thus the “Postmasters’ Provisionals” came into being,–and they are among the great rarities of philately today. The postmaster of New York was probably the first to issue this 5c stamp, although the postmaster of New Haven, Conn. Issued stamped envelopes about the same time. These were followed by many others, among them the stamps and envelopes of the postmasters at Baltimore, Providence and St. Louis. Such postal emissions were of course, intended for use only on letters originating in their respective cities, but it is interesting to know that the New York Postmasters stamps were sold to the postmasters in Albany, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and possibly elsewhere, with the approval of the Government as an “experiment” to test the practicability of the use of adhesive postage stamps! In view of the fact that the use of such stamps was rapidly becoming universal, the conservatism of our Government can only be described as amazing.

All this our friend Barnabas Bates used for his purposes,–continuously pointing out what both the Government and the people were losing as a result of the obstinacy and backwardness of the Post Office Department. A fine example of how Bates’ efforts were becoming better known is found in the New‐​York Commercial Circular of February, 1848, illustrated herein. This is a four page folded circular, which was mailed unsealed to a bank in Meriden, Conn. bears the circular postmark NEW-YORK 2cts (due) FEB. 21, in red, and also a little straight‐​line handstamp in black reading: New Tariff‐​Postage 2 cents. As the 2c rate for “drop” letters, circulars, etc. was provided for in the 1845 Act,–this rate was hardly “new” in 1847, but it may have referred to a new “Tariff of Duties” set forth inside the circular. Otherwise largely given up to lottery advertisements, there is a little financial news and then, under the heading “Postage Reform” appear this:

We extract the following from a letter recently published in the Journal of Commerce addressed to the Hon. J. M. Niles, chairman of the Post Office Committee, in reply to his bill, presented to the Senate in response to the recommendations of the Post Master General. The letter is from the pen of that zealous advocate of Postage Reform, Barnabas Bates, Esq., whose untiring exertions have entitled him to the appellation of the “Rowland Hill of the United States, and who appear “not weary of well doing” in a cause so essential to the public weal.

Mr. Bates says:–It give me pleasure to say that with many of your suggestions I fully accord, while at the same time, candor compels me to say, that there are others which, to say the least, are of a doubtful character, if not an injurious tendency.

The recommendation of a uniform rate of five cents for a letter weighing one third of an ounce to any part of the United States, is an important change, inasmuch as it approximates to a lower rate of postage, which we must finally have, in order to satisfy the public. This is a salutary change, and were it not that you recommend a reduction of the weight from half to one third of an ounce, would meet with universal approbation. Half an ounce is deemed a single letter in the English Post Office, and as it is the most convenient weight should not be disturbed.

The proposition to raise the postage “on newspapers not sent from the office or publication and on all hand bills and circulars printed or lithographed, to three cents” is in my opinion objectionable. I have never been able to see the propriety of making any distinction between printed matter. Why should a newspaper sent from one person to another be taxed doubly or trebly that which is sent from a publication office: or why should a printed open circular pay more than a large damp newspaper which is more than ten times its weight? All printed matter, whether newspapers, pamphlets, periodicals or circulars, should pay the same rate of postage per sheet: but if any distinction is made, the preference should be given to that sheet of the lightest weight.

The penal clause in your Bill, that “it shall not be lawful to deposit in any post‐​office to be conveyed in the mail, two or more letters directed to different persons, and endorsed in the same envelope or packet; and every person so offending shall forfeit the sum of ten dollars, to be recovered by action, one half for the use of the informant, and the other half for the use of the Post Office Department,” is very objectionable, for the following reasons.

1. It is impossible to carry it into effect, without adopting a system of espionage, highly obnoxious to the public. Allowing half of the penalty to the Informant is calculated to encourage Postmasters and Clerks to pry into or break the seals of letters passing through the post‐​office, to ascertain their contents; for without this it would be impossible to detect the violation of this law.

2. It would be unjust to require the payment of more than the letter weights. Whatever may be the character of the enclosures, whether bank notes, bill to collect, or even letters to different individuals, if the legal postage is paid on the weight, why should the post‐​office interference. No injustice is done to the public, or the Post‐​office Department. The post‐​office has no more trouble because the envelope contains 2 or 3 letters addressed to the members of the same family, or to different individuals, than if it was a single letter addressed to one individual.

3. Limiting the franking privilege to members of Congress to “letters written by or addressed to them, and to documents printed by the order of either house of Congress,” is a good beginning towards abolishing the franking privilege in toto. This will prevent the mails being loaded down with Speeches, or at any rate the postage will have to be paid on them. I fear, however, that this clause will not pass, for many of the honorable members are very tenacious of retaining the franking privilege to the largest extent.

4. It is indispensable that the commissions of deputy‐​postmasters should be raised, especially in our large offices where so much labor is to be performed, and on which no commission is now received. You are well acquainted with the incessant labor of the Post‐​office, and that no persons in the public service are so poorly paid as the clerks in our large post‐​offices. Provision should be made by laws, or the commissions should be increased as you propose, so as to enable the Postmasters to pay their Clerks such salaries as are adequate to their talents and services.”

The combination of Bates’ hammering away through all the then available means of publicity, plus the alarming effectiveness of the competition of the private expresses and the authorizing the issuance of our first Government stamps, of 5c and 10c demoninations, was finally passed. The Act was to be in effect July 1, 1847, and it made illegal the use of any postage stamps for the transmission of mail not authorized by the Postmaster General. This ended the use of the various Postmasters’ Provisional stamps, and those of the remaining private expresses which operated between different cities,–although not those issued and used by the carriers delivering letters locally in the various cities. The Act did not make the prepayment of postage compulsory, nor did it reduce the rates, nor did it accomplish any of the other reforms so strongly urged by Bates,–who therefore continued his crusade without abatement.

It should be noted that it was in this period that the article in the New York Atlas, to which we owe much of our contemporary knowledge of Bates and his activities, appeared. Dated April 18, 1847 it was published only a month or so after the passage of the Act authorizing our first issue of Government stamps. It points out that notwithstanding the recently lowered rates of postage, that obstacles to the successful operation of the system had been imposed and that efforts were still being made to achieve a return to the former high rates of postage, even though predictions of its success had been more than realized. It then says that Mr. Bates is still laboring and will not be satisfied until our citizens “enjoy the privilege of as cheap postage as the subjects of Queen Victoria,”–and it lists his further objectives in postal reform. On July 1, 1846, another public meeting had been called by Bates, at which the new rates of postage adopted in the previous year were condemned as unsatisfactory. Demands were made for a uniform 2c rate, and the other reforms described were again endorsed. All of these efforts were beginning to coalesce by this time and organization of effort began to take place. Others interested in Bates’ efforts became enthused, and on May 26, 1848 “The New York Cheap Postage Association” was organized with the following officers:

  • James Brown, President
  • Barnabas Bates, Corresponding Secretary
  • Isaac Winslow, Jr., Recording Secretary
  • Lewis Tappan, Treasurer.

This Association was apparently preceded by the formation of a similar one in Boston the previous year, and both serve to show that individual efforts were taking the form of the more powerful organized association of groups of people. The “Boston Cheap Postage Assocation” was headed by these officers:

  • J.W. James, Chairman of the Board
  • Joshua Leavitt, Corresponding Secretary
  • Charles B. Fairbanks, Recording Secretary
  • Otis Clapp, Treasurer

Here we must pause for a look at one of these Boston men,–Joshua Leavitt,–for he was another Bates! Born in Heath, Mass. On September 8, 1794, he had graduated from Yale College in 1814, and become a lawyer. In 1823 he began the study of theology and graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1825. We then find him in charge of the Congregational Church in Stratford, Conn., and we note that he became the author of various tracts, “readers” and the like while there. In 1828 he went to New York where he edited the Sailors Magazine, founded the first Temperance Society, was an anti‐​slavery leader, and became a magazine editor and newspaper publisher. By 1837 he was back in Boston, this time as a publisher. Note the background and record of the typical “reformer” of that day,–so similar to that of Barnabas Bates himself! On a visit to Europe in 1843 Leavitt observed the successful operation of Rowland Hill’s cheap postage system and upon his return he wrote about it for a Boston newspaper. He then immediately and vigorously espoused the cause in America. This writer cannot locate in the records where or when he met Bates,–but it was obviously ordained that two such kindred souls should meet and join forces. Leavitt was to outlive Bates by twenty years,–he did not die until his 79th year, in 1873,–but from some time in the middle 1840’s he worked hand‐​in‐​hand with him until Bates’ death in 1853. Leavitt was an earnest and powerful speaker, and like Bates he spoke on postal reform at every opportunity. He was also a prolific and forceful writer, and Hunts Merchants Magazine, The New Englander, the Massachusetts Quarterly Review, and the other periodicals of that time were seldom without an article on the subject written either by Leavitt or Bates. It appears that Leavitt was the first of two to write a pamphlet or book on the theme, for on April 26, 1848 by resolution of the Boston Cheap Postage Association, the publication of a pamphlet was authorized, entitled: “CHEAP POSTAGE, Remarks and Statistics on the Subject of Cheap Postage and Postal Reform in Great Britain and the United States,” by Joshua Leavitt, Corresponding Secretary of the Cheap Postage Association. As this pamphlet was afterwards used and referred to in many ways by Barnabas Bates, and as it set the key for nearly all contemporary writing on the subject, a few quotations from it will be of interest here:

For more than eight years the people of Great Britain have enjoyed the blessing of cheap postage…It is humiliating to think that while a system frought [sic] with so many blessings has been so long in operation and with such signal success as a financial measure in a country with which our relations are so intimate, I should now begin to prepare the first pamphlet for publication designed to give the American people full information on the subject; this publication being the first effort of the first regularly organized society, now just formed…The Postage Act of March 3, 1845, (in operation July 1) was called forth by a determination to destroy the private mails and this object gave character to the Act as a whole…”

The pamphlet then goes on to point out that the “great postage meeting in New York held in December 1843,” had asked for a uniform rate of 5c, but that the new law provided for both 5c and 10c rates, and failed to provide most of the other postal reforms so badly needed. Leavitt then refers to “Letter Postage Stamps for Prepayment,” and describes the English stamps and envelopes and also the canceling devices. He also refers to Elihu Burritt, the “Learned Blacksmith” in England, who had written a book in 1849 on “Ocean Penny Postage,” and Leavitt heartily endorsed the idea and urged it in America. He closed his pamphlet with a plea for a uniform rate of 2c for a letter, and 1c for a newspaper,–regardless of distance,–for the delivery of mail in large cities, and for the ending of the franking privilege.

This pamphlet was doubtless the inspiration for one by Barnabas Bates which promptly followed. Its title, in the florid form of the day, begins:

A Brief Statement

Of the

Exertions of the Friends



In the City of New York.


By Barnabas Bates

Corresponding Secretary of the New York Cheap Postage Association


New York.

Wm. C. Bryant & Co., Printers, 25 Pine and 18 Nassau Street


An illustration of the full title page of this now rare pamphlet appears herein, which the writer had photographed from the copy in the New York Public Library. The close relationship of Barnabas Bates and Joshua Leavitt, and of the New York and Boston Cheap Postage Associations will be observed by referring to this illustration, for it will be seen that this pamphlet also included the contents of the one written by Leavitt and published in Boston earlier in the same year! Bates’ “Brief Statement” occupies 26 pages of the combined pamphlet while Leavitt’s “Remarks and Statistics” takes up the remaining 52 of the total of 78 pages. In Bates’ portion he repeats much of Leavitt’s arguments, and he tells of the first public meeting ever held in favor of cheap postage in the United States, in the Merchants Exchange, New York, on November 24, 1843, and of those which followed on January 18, 1844 and February 13, 1845. He then describes many of his visits to Washington, D.C., his difficulties with Congress, and finally of the founding of the New York Cheap Postage Association on May 26, 1848. The Leavitt contribution is of course, practically a reprint of his Boston pamphlet referred to earlier herein, wherein the British system is held up as a model and many statistics of its successful operation are given.

About this time, it appears that Bates turned over the writing chore largely to Leavitt,–although we do find an occasional article from Bates’ pen in later publications. But Leavitt was definitely the better writer of the two, and along with others who joined the cause later Bates was apparently glad to be relieved of at least most of this burden. We find Leavitt writing for The New Englander of January 1, 1848, commenting bitterly on the Act of 1845, as follows:

***The new bill was first introduced into the Senate, by the chairman of the committee on the post‐​office, Mr. Merrick, of Maryland, as was avowedly aimed chiefly to crush the private mails–the relief of the people being entirely a secondary matter. There was one senator alone, who seemed to enter into the true spirit of the reform–Mr. Simmons, of Rhode Island, unfortunately no longer a public man. Mr. Niles, of Connecticut, was strongly in favor of it, and by his experience as a former Postmaster General, was enabled to render essential service in effecting some valuable changes in the transportation of the mails: but the state of his Health disabled him from taking the lead. After much debate, in which the chief display was of the little pains our legislators take to make themselves acquainted with facts and principles on a new subject, the bill was carried in the Senate, establishing a uniform rate of Letter postage, at five cents per half ounce, irrespective of distance.

When the bill came to the other house, it was so violently opposed, that there was at one time hardly a hope of its being passed at all. One of the chief objections to it, was that it would break up nearly every stage route at the South, because stage‐​coaches there are only kept up by the exorbitant sums they receive for carrying small mails that might better be carried on horseback. At length, however, it was literally forced through the house, chiefly by the bold and determined spirit of George Rathbun, of New York: but not until a tool named M’Dowell, of Ohio, had adroitly slipped in an amendment, imposing double postage on all letters carried over three hundred miles. This bill, thus damaged, reduced the average rate of postage from fifteen cents to seven and a half, and established the capital principle of charging postage by weight, and not by the number of pieces of paper a letter may comprise. This was, indeed, a great step towards simplification: although the bill contained many provisions that were vexatious and troublesome both to the people and to the department. All the complication of machinery was preserved, with additions involving both expense and perplexity. Probably few acts have ever been passed by Congress, including so many incongruities and absurdities. Still it was a relief.

But, as if to defeat if possible the hopes of the people, the new administration, then just coming in, consigned the management of the post‐​office to one of the most pertinacious opponents of the reduction–a man who had spared no pains to defeat it, and who had boldly predicted its failure. And in his first report to Congress, after a trial of only one quarter of a year, he did his best to restore several of the worst features of the old system, under the pretext that the new system had already failed. Fortunately, the condition of Congress renders it almost as difficult to repeal a good law, as it was to pass it; and hence our reduced postage has remained untouched, although it must be admitted that all the legislation since has been to increase the burden of postage. At length, however, the increase of correspondence has been such, by the end of the second year, as almost to restore the former income of the department from letter postage, and we are surprised that the Postmaster General himself is not already a convert to cheap postage, and desirous of securing to his administration the glory of a still farther reduction.

But do as he may, it is evident that cheap postage has stood the test in this country, so far, under the awkward experiment made, as to remove all apprehension of a return to the old and barbarous system. And there are many indications of a desire among the people for further improvement. Under these circumstances, it is quite important to elucidate the principles on which such a reform should be based, to learn the rules by which it should be governed. And here we have a mine of research opened to us in the investigations which preceded and the results which have followed the British system of postage. We know that an impression has been taken up, that Rowland Hill’s, or the British system, is not adapted to this country. But we shall show on an examination of the principles and results of that system, that it is even more appropriate to the circumstances of our own country than of Great Britain, and that is adoption here could not fail of producing still more wonderful results.

***This subject of distances is the great sticking point in American minds, in applying the results of the British system to our own country; We therefore present it in another point of view. Suppose the government first to establish a mail between two of the cities, say Boston and New York, such a mail being required by the wants of the people of those two towns, without reference to any places beyond. For the same reason, you afterwards establish a mail between New York and Philadelphia, solely to accommodate the correspondence between those two places. Then you find that Boston and Philadelphia also have occasion for correspondence with each other. It is easy to see that it would cost no more to carry the mails than it did before, because the weight of the letters is of no moment. In like manner, you may extend mails from point to point to any extent, provided each separate route is itself a productive one; at is, if the route furnishes letters enough to support itself. In this way it is proved that it makes no assignable difference in the expense to the department, whether a letter is carried from Boston to New York, or from Boston to New Orleans.

***We should like to show in some detail, the advantages of a strictly uniform rate of postage, from the great simplicity which it would give to the keeping of accounts. It would save the services of at least one half or the clerks in the accounting bureau of Washington. It would save one or more clerks in the post‐​office so easy and simple, that it might be done by some plain mechanic or some dealer in small wares, who could be well paid for the trouble with a far less sum than country postmasters now receive. It would close the door against innumerable frauds. By introducing small stamps for postage, and having all letters pre‐​paid, the mails would be relieved of a large share of the dead letters now so burdensome.

This was followed by an article in the same publication in April of the same year, entitled “The British System of Postage” and in July, “Our Post Office.” In December, 1848, the Massachusetts Quarterly Review carried an article by Leavitt,–“Cheap Postage,” and others in other publications appeared so often as to cause wonder as to why the editors continued to accept them! Present‐​day propaganda is no more thorough than was that of the “friends of cheap postage” one hundred years ago!

In 1849, a very thorough and capable study of the financial angles of the subject appeared over Leavitt’s name in Hunt’s Merchants Magazine under the title “The Finances of Cheap Postage.” In it he pointed out that in 1839, the last year of the former high postage rates in Great Britain, there were 76 million letters mailed, gross receipts were £2,390,763, and the cost per letter was 2/1.562 while in 1848, at the new low rates there were nearly 347 million letters mailed, gross receipts were £2,192,478, and the cost per letter was but 0/3.838. He then says it “proves without question that cheap postage is as practicable here as there.” In the same magazine, in October, Leavitt wrote an article on “The Moral and Social Benefits of Cheap postage is no longer an experiment; its success has justified the anticipation of its promoters and silenced the cavils of incredulity.” (!) He complains, however, that “the people at large have hardly begun to be impressed with the real value of cheap postage,” and says that the formation of societies in Boston and New York in the previous year was for the purpose of “awakening the public mind to the greatness of the loss which our country is suffering every year that we remain without cheap postage,” and that “cheap postage on newspapers has made us a newspaper‐​reading people; cheap postage on letters would make us a letter‐​writing people.” He dilates further on the benefits of greater letter writing including even the claim it would reduce the divorce rate! We then find our indefatigable author writing for Hunts Merchant Magazine in January 1850 on “The Practical Working of Cheap Postage” in which he urges prepayment of postage and urges that stamps be made more easily available and says “In curious contrast with this is the mode now in us…You find them for sale nowhere but at the post office, and at the post office…You must go round by the back way through an obscure door, up a narrow winding stairway into a lobby having several doors, and when you find the one leading to the cashier’s room you may enter there and be allowed to purchase stamps!” There were many more articles, those mentioned herein were selected because of the passages quoted and to give the reader an idea of the temper of them all.

Once again this “pressure group” won another partial victory. The only postal legislation enacted after the Act of March 3, 1847 by which our first stamps were authorized, was that of August 14, 1848 when the rate between the East and the Pacific Coast was set at 40c, with 12 ½ c. charged on letters between points there. On September 27, 1850 these rates were extended to include the newly acquired territories of Utah and New Mexico. However, the Act of March 3, 1851, effective June 30, for the first time really lowered and extended our postal rates. They were set at 3c per half ounce up to 3,000 miles when pre‐​paid, 5c when collect, and 6c for over 3,000 miles prepaid, 10c when not prepaid, and 1c for “drop” or local letters. A new issue of stamps was authorized under this Act, the 1c, 3c and 12c stamps being issued on July 1, 1851 but the 5c and 10c stamps were not issued until several years later. The 3c, 6c and 10c stamped envelopes,–our first stamped envelopes,–were authorized by the Act of August 3, 1852, and were placed on sale July 1, 1853. Still, the final objectives of the campaign for cheap and uniform postage had not been achieved, and the effort to reach them,–and the other postal reforms so long sought,–continued. In November, 1851, we find Barnabas Bates himself writing an article in Harpers Magazine stating that it is “now upward of 11 years since the writer commenced advocating postal reform and cheap postage.” He tells of the success of this “partial reduction,” in rates, and calls for a uniform rate of “2c prepaid.” He objects to the four new rates instead of one single rate, and calls the ocean postage rates of 24c and 29c enormous and burdensome, pointing out that they represent “half a week’s wages” for an immigrant servant girl writing home, and a day’s work for a “poor man in the country!” He again calls for free delivery of letters in all large towns and cities, “prepayment of postage entirely by stamps,” abolishing the franking privilege, the establishment of money orders, and objecting to the political aspects of the post office problem he says: “It was a great and fatal mistake to make the Post Master General a member of the Cabinet”(!). In the meanwhile Barnabas Bates kept busy with other phases of the campaign. He was clearly a devotee of publicity and his campaign was much the same as those of today where every device to obtain the value of repetition of an idea is called upon. He enlisted the aid and sympathy of men in all walks of life, and of business men who would gain from lower postage costs were among those of course…In the early 1850’s he persuaded many business firms to use slogans advocating postal reforms,–particularly the prepayment of letters. Sending of letters collect had always been the custom, and business firms obviously preferred to see the law changed so that mail would have to be prepaid. The slogan “to encourage the cheap postage system we prepay all letters. P.D. & Co.” is handstamped in red on the back of a folded letter consisting of a bill of Phelps, Dodge & Co. of New York, dated July 31, 1851. The little oval seal reading “Prepay Your Postage” is impressed on the flap of an envelope sent from New York, postmarked “United States Express Mail,” August 31, 1852,–both missives being prepaid with 3c stamps of the 1851 issue. Another step forward resulted, for on March 3, 1855, effective April 1, an Act was passed requiring the prepayment of all postage which after January 1, 1856 had to be prepaid by stamps. A slight step backward was taken then also, for that law raised the postage rate on letters going over 3,000 miles from 6c to 10c the half-ounce,–the higher rate applying almost solely to mails from the East to points on the Pacific Coast which then were chiefly sent on the long route via the Panama Isthmus. One more new service was provided by this Act,–that for the registration of valuable letters for an additional fee of 5c.