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service rendered, or in other words “what the traffic will bear."
In the days of Charles II., when the only means of transportation were on foot or on horse-back, the postal routes of England were divided into two great groups, with a uniform rate of two pence up to eighty miles from London and three pence for greater distances.
A hundred and seventy-five years later, with the post-coach traversing the smooth roads of Telford and McAdam, and with the cost of distance practically annihilated, the rates were three or four times higher than in the olden time, and were carefully determined at so much a mile.
In 1695, the postage from London to Liverpool on a single letter was three pence; in 1813, it was
“In 1695, a circuitous post would be converted into a direct one, even though the shorter distance carried less postage ; in 1813, a direct post was being constantly refused on the plea that a loss of postage would result.”
The following rates were in force from 1812 to 1839 : four pence a single letter up to fifteen miles, five pence for twenty miles, eight pence for eighty miles, etc. For "double and treble letters," the rates were two and three times higher than the single rates, and for "ounce letters," four times higher.
The complications in postal rates were almost as bewildering as are the complications in freight rates to-day. There was hardly a town in the king
dom where accurate information could be obtained as to the rate on a letter addressed to another town.
The high charges forbade the use of the mails to the poor, hindered the development of trade and of commerce, and, in the end, greatly injured the postal revenue. In 1838, the net receipts were actually less than in 1815, although in the meantime the population had increased by some six million.
The postal laws of England were in perfect harmony with the rest of that system of class legislation which, as Thorold Rogers says, had been concocted for the purpose of cheating the workman of his wages, of tying him to the soil and of degrading him to irremediable poverty. On the other hand, the privileged classes sent their letters free. Franks were sometimes sold and were often given to servants in lieu of wages.
It was under these circumstances that Mr. Hill brought forward his apparently wild proposition. “What !” said the tax-gatherers, “ carry a letter a hundred miles at the same rate as for one mile ? Mr. Hill is mad; the idea is absurd; it is impossible.” But the tax-payers, the common people, those who bore the burdens of life, heard the reformer gladly. The project was hardly made public before it attracted great and hearty support. Petition after petition was presented to Parliament in favor of the scheme, and, in less than three years after its first promulgation it was carried into effect. Colony after colony, and state after state, followed in the wake of Old England. Rates were continually reduced and in nearly every instance the revenues, at the reduced rates, were greater than before the reductions."
If for a time the English Post-office proved an exception to the rule, the fact may be easily accounted for. Mr. Hill's opponents were, for several years, in charge of his scheme and they desired its failure. But, strange as it may appear, the potent influence against its immediate success was the railway. Instead of carrying the mails for less than the stage lines, railway managers charged very much more. They first drove off the stages and then compelled the government to pay two, three, and in some cases four times as much as the stages had charged for a similar service.
Some towns were long without ordinary postal facilities, owing to the high railway charges. The extravagant demands of the London and Southwestern Railway Company for several years deprived the town of Alton of the advantages of a daily mail. In not a few instances, the postal authorities were obliged to abandon the railway and go back to the post-wagon for the conveyance of the mails. In one case, where speed was not a matter of importance, Mr. Hill effected a saving of $4000, and in another case of $10,000 annually, by thus reverting from the locomotive to the horse, for the carriage of mail bags.
The following quotation from Her Majesty's Mails, by William Lewins, is of great interest in this connection : “The gain to the Post-office," says Mr. Lewins, “through railways is certainly enormous ; besides the advantage of increased speed, they make it possible to get through the sorting and the carrying of the mails at the same time, but here the gain ends; and the cost to the public of the service really done is heavy beyond all proportion. The cost of carrying the mails by coaches averaged twopence farthing per mile ; the average cost under railways (now that so many companies take bags by all trains) for 1864, averages sixpence a mile, some railways charging five shillings a mile for the service they render. The cost of running a train may be reckoned, in most cases, from a shilling to fifteen-pence a mile ; and thus the Post-office, for the use of a fraction of a train, may be said to be paying at the ratio of from fifty to two hundred and fifty per cent. in excess of the whole cost of running."
No wonder that there was a falling off in the net receipts of the English Post-office at the opening of the railway era. The wonder is that the “ Penny-Post” could have survived such exactions.
But the taxes imposed on our National Government, by the farmers of our post-roads, were even more exorbitant than those levied in England. Under the Act of July 7, 1838, the lowest compensation given to the railroads, for the transportation of the mails, was twenty-five per cent. higher than the highest compensation allowed to the old stage lines for a similar service, and this notwithstanding the fact that the cost of the service to the railroads was hardly a fiftieth part the cost by stage. The rates paid to the American roads were, in general, double the English rates, and the American PostmasterGeneral had no control of the running of trains, and therefore no power to determine when the mails should be delivered. Here are some of the figures given by Postmaster-General Wycliffe, in 1843: New York to Paterson, N. J., seven times a week by the old stage contracts, $800 a year ; by rail, six times a week, $1385 ; Buffalo to Niagara Falls, seven times a week, in each case, by stage, $572, by rail $1122 ; Springfield, Mass., to Albany, N. Y., six times a week, in both cases, by stage, $4762, by rail $10,000 ;—and the railways claimed still more.
Postmaster-General Cave Johnson, in his report of 1845, says : “Great and important advantages are enjoyed by citizens, by the reduction of the price of transportation, travel, etc., by the railroads, but they have universally increased the price of transporting the mails and, in some instances, to the extent of 200 or 300 per cent. above the former prices. It would be difficult to find a satisfactory reason for the difference in the price of transporting a thousand pounds of newspapers and letters, and a thousand pounds of merchandise, in the same car, between the same places and at the same time ; yet more than ten times probably is demanded in the one case than in the other.”