1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Franking

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FRANKING, a term used for the right of sending letters or postal packages free (Fr. franc) of charge. The privilege was claimed by the House of Commons in 1660 in “a Bill for erecting and establishing a Post Office,” their demand being that all letters addressed to or sent by members during the session should be carried free. The clause embodying this claim was struck out by the Lords, but with the proviso in the Act as passed for the free carriage of all letters to and from the king and the great officers of state, and also the single inland letters of the members of that present parliament during that session only. It seems, however, that the practice was tolerated until 1764, when by an act dealing with postage it was legalized, every peer and each member of the House of Commons being allowed to send free ten letters a day, not exceeding an ounce in weight, to any part of the United Kingdom, and to receive fifteen. The act did not restrict the privilege to letters either actually written by or to the member, and thus the right was very easily abused, members sending and receiving letters for friends, all that was necessary being the signature of the peer or M.P. in the corner of the envelope. Wholesale franking grew usual, and M.P.’s supplied their friends with envelopes already signed to be used at any time. In 1837 the scandal had become so great that stricter regulations came into force. The franker had to write the full address, to which he had to add his name, the post-town and the day of the month; the letter had to be posted on the day written or the following day at the latest, and in a post-town not more than 20 m. from the place where the peer or M.P. was then living. On the 10th of January 1840 parliamentary franking was abolished on the introduction of the uniform penny rate.

In the United States the franking privilege was first granted in January 1776 to the soldiers engaged in the American War of Independence. The right was gradually extended till it included nearly all officials and members of the public service. By special acts the privilege was bestowed on presidents and their widows. By an act of the 3rd of March 1845, franking was limited to the president, vice-president, members and delegates in Congress and postmasters, other officers being required to keep quarterly accounts of postage and pay it from their contingent funds. In 1851 free exchange of newspapers was re-established. By an act of the 3rd of March 1863 the privilege was granted the president and his private secretary, the vice-president, chiefs of executive departments, such heads of bureaus and chief clerks as might be designated by the postmaster-general for official letters only; senators and representatives in Congress for all correspondence, senders of petitions to either branch of the legislature, and to publishers of newspapers for their exchanges. There was a limit as to weight. Members of Congress could also frank, in matters concerning the federal department of agriculture, “seeds, roots and cuttings,” the weight to be fixed by the postmaster-general. This act remained in force till the 31st of January 1873, when franking was abolished. Since 1875, by sundry acts, franking for official correspondence, government publications, seeds, &c., has been allowed to congressmen, ex-congressmen (for 9 months after the close of their term), congressmen-elect and other government officials. By special acts of 1881, 1886, 1902, 1909, respectively, the franking privilege was granted to the widows of Presidents Garfield, Grant, McKinley and Cleveland.