A Postal Revolution and a Political Upheaval

International Mail

In 1861, when to Blair entered office as the Postmaster General, the system of sending mail to countries outside of the United States was complicated and unorganized. Different countries charged different postage rates, so the cost of sending a letter to Great Britain was different than sending a letter of the same size to Costa Rica. Additional difficulties arose when mail had to be transported through multiple countries prior to reaching its destination; each country that a given piece of mail went through would charge for postage. This meant that the cost of a letter sent to Greece from the United States varied depending on the six possible routes it could be sent through.(1) This situation led to grossly unequal postage rates and a growing amount of frustration and confusion regarding the issue of international postage.

In response to this growing need for a more universalized system, First Assistant Postmaster General John A. Kasson suggested to Blair that an international conference be called to formally assess the current situation regarding the international post, and then to move forward with plans to improve the system. Blair responded quickly to this request and in time, a conference was called. The Paris Congress assembled in the summer of 1863; representatives from fifteen countries came together to discuss the possibility of universalizing postage.(2) While nothing permanent was established at the Paris Congress, certain rules were agreed upon. However, despite the fact that some progress was made in Paris, Blair’s pursuit for a Universal Postal Union was not realized until 1874, ten years after he had resigned from office. Although not accomplished during Blair’s time in office, he had heavily influenced the process: “The reports of the Postmaster-General in the years 1894, 1896, and 1897 frankly give Blair recognition for his conception of the movement that developed in the Postal Union.”(3) While Blair did not have the same direct influence in the creation of the 1874 Universal Postal Union that he did in the institution of money orders, free delivery, and railway mail, his name still bears weight in association to the Universal Postal Union because of his influence in the very early planning stages of the system. It is arguable that, without him, the idea for the Universal Postal System would not have been conceived in the time that it was, potentially leading to years of stagnant progress in the realm of international postage and a very different, more complex system than the one that was eventually established in 1874.

1) Moroney, 27.
2) Montgomery Blair, “Report of the Postmaster General,” 6.
3) Smith, 109.