occasion loss to the revenue, without in any material degree diminishing the present amount of letters irregularly conveyed, or giving rise to the growth of new correspondence; (iv.) that the principle of a low uniform rate is just in itself, and, when combined with prepayment and collection by means of a stamp, would be exceedingly convenient and highly satisfactory to the public.”
A bill to enable the treasury to establish uniform penny postage was carried in the House of Commons by a majority of 100, and became law on the 17th of August 1839. A temporary office was created to enable Rowland Hill to superintend the working out of his plan. TheNature of Reforms. Erst step taken was to reduce, on the 5th of December 1839, the London district postage to rd. and the general inland postage to 4d. the half-ounce (existing lower rates being continued). On the 10th of January 1840 the uniform penny rate came into operation throughout the United Kingdom-the scale of weight advancing from rd. for each of the first two half-ounces, by gradations of zd. for each additional ounce, or fraction of an ounce, up to 16 oz. The postage was to be prepaid, and if not to be charged at double rates. Parliamentary franking was abolished. Postage stamps were introduced in May following. The facilities of despatch were soon afterwards increased by the establishment of day mails.
But on the important point of simplification in the internal economy of the post office, with the object of reducing its cost without diminishing its working power, little was done. The plan had to work in the face of rooted mistrust on the part of the workers. Its author was (for a term of two years, afterwards prolonged to three) the officer, not of the post office, but of the treasury. He could only recommend measures the most indispensable through the chancellor of the exchequer. It happened, too, that the scheme had to be tried at a period of severe commercial depression. Nevertheless, the results actually attained Results. in the first two years were briefly these: (1) the chargeable letters delivered in the United Kingdom, exclusive of that part of the government correspondence which theretofore passed free, had already increased from the rate of about 75,000,000 a year to that of 196,500,000; (2) the London district post letters had increased from about 13,000,000 to 23,000,000, or nearly in the ratio of the reduction of the rates; (3) the illicit conveyance of letters was substantially suppressed; (4) the gross revenue, exclusive of repayments, yielded about a million and a half per annum, which was about 63% of the amount of the gross revenue in 1839. These results at so early a stage, and in the face of so many obstructions. vindicated the new system.
Seven years later (1849) the 196,500,000 letters delivered throughout the United Kingdom in 1842 had increased to nearly 329,000,000. In addition, the following administrative improvements had been effected: (1) the time for posting letters at the London receiving-houses extended; (2) the limitation of weight abolished; (3) an additional daily despatch to London from the neighbouring (as yet independent) villages; (4) the postal arrangements of 120 of the largest cities and great towns revised; (5) unlimited writing on inland newspapers authorized on payment of an additional penny; (6) a summary process established for recovery of postage from the senders of unpaid letters when refused; (7) a book-post established; (8) registration reduced from one shilling to sixpence; (9) a third mail daily put on the railway (without additional charge) from the towns of the north-western district to London, and day mails extended within a radius of 20 m. round the metropolis; (10) a service of parliamentary returns, for private bills, provided for; (11) measures taken, against many obstacles, for the complete consolidation of the two heretofore distinct corps of letter-carriers-an improvement (on the whole) of detail, which led to other improvements thereafter.
Later History (1842–1905).
When Sir R. Hill initiated his reform the postmaster-general was the earl of Lichfield, the thirty-first in succession to that office after Sir Brian Tuke. Under him the legislation of 1839 was carried out in 1840 and 1841. In September 1841 he was succeeded by Viscount Lowther.
In the summer of 1844 the statement that the letters of Mazzini, then a political refugee, long resident in England, had been systematically opened, and their contents communicated to foreign governments, by Sir James Opening and Detention of Letters. Graham, secretary of state for the home department, aroused much indignation. The arrest of the brothers Bandiera, largely in consequence of information derived from their correspondence with Mazzini, and their subsequent execution at Cosenza made a thorough investigation into the circumstances a public necessity. The consequent parliamentary inquiry of August 1844, after retracing the earlier events connected with the exercise of the discretional power of inspection which parliament had vested in the secretaries of state in 1710, elicited the fact that in 1806 Lord Spencer, then secretary for the home department, introduced for the first time the practice of recording in an official book all warrants issued for the detention and opening of letters, and also the additional fact that from 1822 onwards the warrants themselves had been preserved. The whole number of such warrants issued from 1806 to the middle of 1844 inclusive was stated to be 323, of which no less than 53 had been issued in the years 1841–1844 inclusive, a number exceeding that of any previous period of like extent.
The committee of 1844 proceeded to report that “ the warrants issued during the present century may be divided into two classes -rst, those issued in furtherance of criminal justice . .; end, those issued for the purpose of discovering the designs of persons known or suspected to be engaged in proceedings dangerous to the State, or (as in Mazzini's case) deeply involving British interests, and carried on in the United Kingdom or in British possessions beyond the seas .... Warrants of the second description originate with the home office. The principal secretary of state, of his own discretion, determines when to issue them, and gives instructions accordingly to the under-secretary, whose office is then purely ministerial. The mode of preparing them, and keeping record of them in a private book, is the same as in the case of criminal warrants. There is- no record kept of the grounds on which they are issued, except so far as correspondence preserved at the home office may lead to infer them. . . . The letters which have been detained and opened are, unless retained by special order, as sometimes happens in criminal cases, closed and resealed, without affixing any mark to indicate that they have been so detained and opened, and are forwarded by post according to their respective superscriptions.”
Almost forty years later a like question was again raised in the House of Commons (March 1882) by some Irish members, in relation to an alleged examination of correspondence at Dublin for political reasons. Sir William Harcourt on that occasion spoke thus: “This power is with the secretary of state in England In Ireland it belongs to the Irish government .... It is a power which is given for purposes of state, and the very essence of the power is that no account [of its exercise] can be rendered. To render an account would be to defeat the very object for which the power was granted. If the minister is not fit to exercise the power so entrusted, upon the responsibility cast upon him, he is not fit to occupy the post of secretary of state.” The House of Commons accepted this explanation; and in view of many grave incidents, both in Ireland and in America, it would be hard to justify any other conclusion.
The increase in the number of postal deliveries and in that of the receiving-houses and branch-offices, together with the numerous improvements introduced into the working economy of the post office, when Rowland Hill at length obtainedIncrease in Postal Business, 1839–1857. the means of fully
carrying out his reforms by his appointment as secretary
- Hill, History of Penny Postage (1880), appendix A (Life, &c., ii. 438). Part of the strenuousness of the opposition to this measure arose, it must be owned, from the “high-handedness” which in Sir R. Hill's character somewhat marred very noble faculties. The change worked much harm to some humble but hardworking and meritorious functionaries.
- Ricordi dei fratelli Bandiera e dei loro compagni di martirro in Cosenza, p. 47 Paris, 1844).
- Report from the Secret Committee on the Post Office (1844), p. 11.
- Ibid., pp. 14–17.
- Hansard, Debates, vol. cclxvii. cols. 294–296 (session of 1882).