A Postal Revolution and a Political Upheaval

The Post Office Espionage

In 1864 a problem arose between one particular newspaper, the New York World, and the Post Office Department. That summer, Manton Marble, the editor of the Democratic-leaning New York World accused the Department of distributing Republican newspapers before Democratic ones so the Republican newspapers would reach readers earlier. The Post Office Department firmly denied this accusation. The same editor denounced the Post Office via a series of editorials that he called “The Post Office Espionage,” stating that letters from Democratic officials were opened, read, and resealed by postal clerks in transit to their destinations.(1) As postal employees were forbidden to open mail without a warrant, this was a very grievous accusation that could have led to serious damage for the Department if true. Blair promptly made a statement that was published in the New York Times, defending the department’s honor:

I want this man [Marble] and every other man assured of our most active cooperation to prevent any abuse whatever of the mail system, and that we do not, as you know, permit any tampering with the mails, now, more than at any period. It is not because of its political effect I am sensitive about this charge. I do not believe it will affect a single vote. I am concerned only because it is a lie, calculated to injure my business as a carrier of letters for pay.(2)

Despite Blair’s response, Marble continued to insist that the mail had, indeed, been tampered with. He conceded that Blair himself may not have been responsible for it, but that either the Secretary of State or the Secretary of War had given the orders. Even if Blair had not been directly responsible for the interception, he would take the blame as the head of the Department, if it could not be determined which postal employees had intercepted the mail. The World editor suggested that Blair should resign immediately from his post because of this issue.(3) This much publicized happening was one more addition to Postmaster General Blair’s misfortunes, which seemed to be ever growing as his name was becoming a much talked about subject in the political sphere, and not out of praise, but criticism.

1) Ibid, 53.
2) Blair, Montgomery, “Alleged Post-Office Espionage”, New York Times, August 7, 1864, accessed on July 15, 2014.
3) Fowler, 53.