Tad DeHaven

If my inbox is any indication, a lot of Americans apparently believe that an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary to privatize the U.S. Postal Service. That is simply not true.

Article 1, Section 8 says that [The Congress shall have the power] to establish Post Offices and Post Roads. It does not say that the federal government shall have the exclusive power to deliver mail. Nor does it require that the mail be delivered by an agent of the federal government to every home in the country, six days a week.

In a 1996 Cato book, The Last Monopoly, James I. Campbell writes the following in a chapter on the history of postal monopoly law:

The U.S. Constitution, in 1789, authorized Congress to establish “Post Offices and post Roads” but, unlike the Articles of Confederation, did not explicitly establish an exclusive monopoly. The first substantive postal law, enacted in 1792, listed post roads to be established, reflecting the traditional concept of postal service as a long-distance transport. It authorized the Postmaster General to enter into contracts for the carriage of “letters, newspapers, and packets” but limited the postal monopoly to “letter or letters, packet or packets, other than newspapers.”

According to Campbell, the Post Office “first began delivery of mail to a small portion of the U.S. population” in 1863:

Until the Postal Act of 1863, the Post Office remained essentially a contracting office for intercity transportation services. In fiscal 1862, costs of intercity and foreign transportation constituted 63 percent of all expenses. Before 1863, intercity letters were either held at the destination post office for collection or delivered by a “letter carrier” who acted as independent contractor and charged the addressee two cents, one of which went to the Post Office.

Then there’s the issue of intracity mail delivery:

A person could drop letters at a post for delivery by a letter carrier within the same city, but that was a secondary service as far as the Post Office was concerned; even after the 1863 act, such “drop letters” were considered “not transmitted in the mails of the United States.”


Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).