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A Letter from Donna

Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Johannes Vermeer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

A Letter from Donna
by Donna Miller
(read by Lynn Boitano)

Dear Book Byte fans,

This is the first time for me to review a book for Book Byte. I am sitting at my kitchen table writing to you while my cat, Kitten, tries to take my pen away.

The book I read is “How the Post Office Created America” by Winifred Gallagher. I want to quote from the book by Charles William Eliot and revised by President Woodrow Wilson that sums it up nicely.

Messenger of Sympathy and Love
Servant of Parted Friends
Consoler of the Lonely
Band of the Scattered Family
Enlarger of the Common Life
Carrier of News and Knowledge
Instrument of Trade and Industry
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance
Of Peace and Goodwill Among Men and Nations

Our country’s first post office was located in a tavern in Boston. It was a small service that mainly had just letters coming from across the ocean. The service was meant to bring in revenue for the king. They charged high fees which only people using this service were the wealthy. These businessmen and lawyers had no other way to conduct their business affairs or transfer money. So, if you were not one of the wealthy people you had to count on friends to deliver messages.

In the early 1700’s we had few roads and the ones we did have you could only ride a horse, no carriages. A letter sent from Boston to Virginia took at least a month. The post offices in the taverns were where you would go to pick up your mail, there was no home or business delivery. And the people at the tavern expected you to share your letters. They were hungry for any news.

At this time in America’s history, we did not consider ourselves as Americans, but citizens of England and our capitol was London.

As our roads became better and there was an increasing amount of published information available, the colonies grew closer to each other and regarded the information on fellow colonist as much more important than news of Europe.

Britain was very self-involved at this time and paid little attention to America. This went on for about a century. The difficulty of trying to communicate across the Atlantic helped the colonist to become very self-reliant.

We hated the high cost of postage.

Here comes the taxation without representation that we all know about. The patriots Adams, Henry, and Jefferson had joined committees of correspondence in order to exchange information and ideas concerning the growing political crisis. They feared the Crown’s Post. The patriots desperately needed their own secure independent communication network. By Christmas 1775 the Crown’s mail service was out of business.

The establishing of a national post was essential to our union. Washington and other founders believed that the success of our risky experiment, that would be democracy, required a postal system the likes of which the world had never seen. For thousands of years both knowledge of state affairs and mail networks had been only for a few privileged people. The United States as an infant was based on an idea that if this was going to work, the people had to know what was going on.

As you see with the infighting with the Federal Government and the States today you can imagine how difficult getting these new states to work together on roads and various problems could be, everyone wanted their way.

By the time Jefferson left office in 1809, we had almost 2,300 post offices and 36,000 miles of routes. The Postal Act set off the greatest explosion of newspapers in history. The Post Office Act also took a tough stance on any interference with the mail. You could get a death sentence for stealing mail. The Act also reinforced our right to free speech.

Just 17 years after Benjamin Franklin became our first Postmaster General it would become the federal government’s biggest, most important department.

It helped the United States to become the world’s most literate, best informed country within two generations.

Thank you for traveling along with me on the first part of our Post Office’s history.

The cat is tired so we are off to bed.

Sincerely,
Donna Miller

P.S. Happy Reading

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