A Postal Revolution and a Political Upheaval

Money Orders

Blair worked to create programs that would provide better service for the public. This was the new money order service. Money orders enabled individuals to send money through the mail in the form of a prepaid check that the recipient could cash at his or her local post office. Blair’s main incentive for the program was to put an end to the mail robberies while making the transport of money to soldiers easier during war time.(1)

By the time Blair became postmaster general, he was inspired by the success Great Britain had already achieved in instituting a money order system. In May 1864, the U.S. system became a reality when Congress passed the money order bill into law.(2) Blair had been closely involved with the development of the bill, exchanging letters with senators and congressmen detailing his opinions of the bill’s progress while also requesting changes. For instance, in an 1862 letter to Congressman William G. Blake, Blair suggested: “[The money order system should] be restricted, in the beginning, to a small number of post offices, and the maximum amount of any money order should not exceed $30.”(3) In 1864, he wrote to Congressman John B. Alley, the Chairman on the House Post Office and Post Roads Committee asking for a change to the bill regarding his 1862 request of the cost of purchasing an order:

“…a fee of five cents for an order of ten dollars is not…an adequate compensation to the Department for the labor and responsibility involved in issuing and paying the same. And this objection is also applicable to change of ten cents for an order of twenty, and fifteen cents for an order of thirty dollars. I…therefore propose the following amendment to the bill in question…”(4)

His amendment requested that the charges should be raised to ten cents, fifteen cents, and twenty cents respectively.(5) Blair’s requests and suggestions were invaluable throughout the legislative process, giving another glimpse into Blair’s hopes that the department could balance serving the people with maintaining an efficient and cost-effective business.

The program became quite popular. In the early years of the service, it found the anticipated audience among soldiers receiving money from family during the Civil War and later was widely used by immigrants who used the service to send money back to family in their native countries. By 1909 the Department was able to report that “[the money order program] has grown to the proportions beyond the dreams of its most enthusiastic friends.”(6) Today, one of a myriad of options in the twenty-first century’s ever-changing and growing world of technology, money orders still move funds safely.

1) Kelly, 15.
2) Smith, 104.
3) Montgomery Blair, letter to William G. Blake, February 4, 1862, National Archives.
4) Ibid, letter to John B. Alley, February 3, 1864, National Archives.
5) Ibid.
6) Davis, 146.