twenty years previous to Rowland Hill's reforms by a stationary revenue. The following table will show the gross receipts, the charges of collection and management, and the net revenue (omitting fractions of a pound) of the post office of Great Britain. We give the figures for the year ISOS for the purpose of comparison.
|1815–16||2,193,741||594, 0 45||27||1,599,696||19,552,000|
Before passing to the reform of 1839 we have to revert to that important feature in postal history-the interference with correspondence for judicial or political purposes. We have
Zizigf' already seen (1) that this assumption had no parlialnwrfereme mentary sanction until the enactment of the 9th of with Com” Queen Anne; (2) that the enactment differed from the spondencm royal proclamations in directing a special warrant for each opening or detention of correspondence. It is a significant gloss on the statute to find that for nearly a century (namely, until 1798 inclusive) it was not the practice to record such warrants regularly in any official book.1 Of the use to which the power was applied the state trials afford some remarkable instances. At the trial of Bishop Atterbury, for example, in 1723 certain letters were offered in evidence which a clerk of the ost office deposed on oath “ to be true copies of the originals, which were stopped at the post office and copied, and sent forward as directed.” Hereupon Atterbury asked this witness “ if he had any express warrant under the hand of one of the principal secretaries of state for opening the said letters." But the lords shelved his objection on the grounds of public inexpediency. Twenty-nine peers recorded their protest against this decision.” But the practice thus sanctioned appears to have been pushed to such lengths as to elicit in April 1735 a strong protest and censure from the House of Commons. A committee of inquiry was appointed, and after receiving its report the house resolved that it was “an high infringement of the privileges of the Commons of Great Britain in Parliament that letters of any member should be opened or delayed without a warrant of a principal secretary of state.”
Sir Rowland Hill's Reforms (1836–1842).
Rowland Hill's pamphlet (Post Office Reform) of 1837 took for its starting-point the fact that, whereas the postal revenue showed for the past twenty years a positive though slight diminution, it ought to have showed an increase of £507,700 a year in order to have simply kept pa.ce with the growth of population, and an increase of nearly four times that amount in order to have kept pace with the growth of the analogous though far less exorbitant duties imposed on stage-coaches. The stagecoach duties had produced, in 1815, £217,671; in 1835 they produced £498,497. In 1837 there did not exist any precise account of the number of letters transmitted through the general post office. Hill, however, was able to prepare a sufficiently approximate estimate from the data of the London district post, and from the sums collected for postage. He thus calculated the number of chargeable letters at about 88,600,000, that of franked letters at 7,400,000, and that of newspapers at 30,000,000, giving a gross total of about 126,000,000. At this period the total cost of management and distribution was £696,569. In the tinance accounts of the year (1837) deductions are made from the gross revenue for letters “refused, missent, redirected,” and the like, which amount to about £122,000. An analysis of the component parts of this expenditure assigned £426, 517 to cost of primary distribution and £270,052 to cost of secondary distribution and miscellaneous charges. A further analysis of the primary distribution expenditure gave £282,308 as the probable outgoings for receipt and delivery, and £144,209 as the probable outgoings for transit. In other words, the expenditure which hinged upon the distance the letters had to be conveyed was 1 Report of Secret Committee on the Post Office (1844), p. 9. Lords' Journals, xxii. 183-186; State Trials, xvi. 540 seq. £144,000, and that which had nothing to do with distance was £282,000. Applying to these figures the estimated number of letters and newspapers (126,000,000) passing through the office, there resulted a probable average cost of 84 of a pennyfor each, of which 28 was cost of transit and 56 cost of receipt, delivery, &c. Taking into account, however, the greater weight of newspapers and franked letters as compared with chargeable letters, the apparent average cost-of transit became, by this estimate, but about 9, or less than 1 of a penny.
A detailed estimate of the cost of conveying a letter from London to Edinburgh, founded upon the average weight of the Edinburgh mail, gave a still lower proportion, since it reduced the apparent cost of transit, on the average, to the thirty-sixth part of one penny. Hill inferred that, if the charge for postage were to be made proportionate to the whole expense incurred in the receipt, transit and delivery of the letter, and in the collection of its postage, it must be made uniformly the same from every post-town to every other post-town in the United Kingdom, unless it could be shown how we are to collect so small a sum as the thirty-sixth part of a penny. And, inasmuch as it would take a ninefold weight to make the expense of transit amount to one farthing, he further inferred that, taxation apart, the charge ought to be precisely the same for every packet of moderate weight, without reference to the number of its enclosures.
At this period the rate of postage actually imposed (beyond the limits of the London district office) varied from 4d. to 1s. 8d. for a single letter, which was interpreted to mean a single piece of paper not exceeding an ounce in weight; a second piece of paper or any other enclosure, however small, constituted the packet a double letter. A single sheet of paper, if it at all exceeded an ounce in weight, was charged with fourfold postage. The average charge on inland general post letters was nearly gd. for each. It was proposed that the charge for primary distribution-that is to say, the postage on all letters received in a post-town, and delivered in the same or in any other post-town in the British Isles- should be at the uniform rate of one penny for each half-ounce-all letters and other papers, whether single or multiple, forming one packet, and not Weighing more than half an ounce, being charged one penny, and heavier packets, to any convenient limit, being charged an additional penny for each additional half-ounce. It was further proposed that stamped covers should be sold to the public at such a price as to include the postage, which would thus be collected in advance? By the public generally, and pre-eminently by the trading public, the plan was received with favour. By the functionaries of the post office it was denounced as ruinous and visionary. In 1838 petitions poured the House of Commons. A select committee was appointed, which reported as follows:—
The principal points which appear to your committee to have been established in evidence are the following: (1) the exceedingly slow advance and occasionally retrograde movement of the post office revenue during the . . . last twenty years; (2) the fact of the charge of postage exceeding the cost in a manifold proportion; (3) the fact of postage being evaded most extensively by all classes of society, and of correspondence being suppressed, more especially among the middle and working classes of the people, and this in consequence, as all the witnesses, including many of the post office authorities, think, of the excessively high scale of taxation; (4) the fact of very injurious effects resulting from this state of things to the commerce and industry of the country, and to the social habits and moral condition of the people; (5) the fact, as far as conclusions can be drawn from very imperfect data, that whenever on former occasions large reductions in the rates have been made, these reductions have been followed in short periods of time by an extension of correspondence proportionate to the contraction of the rates; (6) and, as matters of inference from fact and of opinion-(i.) that the only remedies for the evils above stated are a reduction of the rates, and the establish» ment of additional deliveries, and more frequent dispatches of letters; (ii.) that owing to the rapid extension of railroads there is an urgent and daily increasing necessity for making such changes; (iii.) that any moderate reduction in the rates would
3 Post Opice Reform, 27 seq.