It’s important to know why the post office was created in the first place and why, even as our world changes, it remains crucial to American citizens.
The United States Postal Service has been in the headlines recently as talk of a largely mail-in presidential election has surfaced. Some Americans argue that mailing in a ballot is the only safe way to go about voting, what with the COVID-19 pandemic that began earlier this year, while others believe sending votes through the mail isn’t safe, and the system won’t be able to handle the influx.
Additional concerns about corruption and rigging of what has widely been considered one of the most important elections in history have also been voiced. When the United States was just starting out as a country, the post office was created with the approval of the Postal Service Act.
Congress and the government knew that unity between all states was important to help the country start off on the right foot, and the postal service would facilitate communication between them all. As our country has changed and developed, especially as we have become more focused on technology and the digital world, so has the role of the USPS. And, with a global pandemic and an approaching election, we have seen the post office come to the center of attention like never before.
The Founding of the USPS
Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers, wore several hats in the 1700s. He was a politician, newspaper editor and printer, inventor of the bifocals and lightning rod, and the founder of several organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin helped establish the foundation of the country, and was a supporter of the post office, even before the United States won its independence from Great Britain.
During the Second Continental Congress, a meeting of some of the most influential and powerful men in politics, Ben Franklin was appointed as the first postmaster general in the U.S.’s history. Before that, in the early eighteenth century, Franklin had similar responsibilities in Philadelphia and knew how to apply his experience to the national level.
Franklin was strongly in favor of unity between the colonies, and later the states, and he knew a system that allowed for packages and letters to be sent, especially in crises like the Revolutionary War, would help family members and fellow Americans in various areas of the country stay in touch.
The Pony Express
During the 1800s, one of the United States’ biggest goals was westward expansion, fueled by the ideology of “manifest destiny”, which stated that the country was destined to have all the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. With a larger area of land to cover and a growing population in the nation, the post office and its services had to expand. Although the Pony Express only ran for about a year, it greatly reduced the time it took for mail, telegrams, and other messages to get from coast to coast.
The Pony Express allowed for California and the western settlers to be connected to where most of the United States’ population resided in the east. However, even though the Pony Express eased communication and transportation, it was a huge financial investment, and the system could not be paid for longer than a year. And, faster ways of getting telegrams to and from people were being developed.
But, the system still significantly impacted the future of the USPS and proved that services for nationwide communication would be imperative. Additionally, the Pony Express became associated with life on the frontier and encouraged more and more Americans to migrate west and settle in California.
The Post Office’s Role Today
In today’s world, with a click of a button, you can have everything from a DVD to birthday presents to the newest cell phone shipped right to your doorstep. Companies like UPS and FedEx have been independently delivering online orders for decades without the post office’s involvement, and Amazon has recently begun delivering their own products, too, instead of relying on the USPS.
However, the service is still delivering the majority of letters, bills, pamphlets, and other packages that are mailed from person to person. The COVID-19 pandemic forced Americans who would typically shop in-person to browse online, whether it was clothes, cleaning supplies to combat the virus and even groceries. In order to keep people safe, as well as entertained in self-isolation, the post office and other shipping companies had to work overtime. People’s spirits needed to be kept high, and mental health was a big topic of discussion, so letters and packages being sent through the mail from family members and friends helped to make everyone a little bit happier.
The USPS, FedEx, Amazon, and UPS have received more orders during the pandemic, but have remained efficient, and have worked hard to get everyone what they need. More recently, the post office is becoming embroiled in political conflict. The presidential election is just a few months away, and many Americans don’t feel comfortable voting in person like they typically would.
Mail-in ballots have been teased as the best idea, but a lot of people oppose this idea and worry about the reliability of the postal service. It seems inevitable that some ballots will be lost in the mail-after all, ordinary packages and envelopes are misplaced every day-, so supporters of a largely mail-in election want further funds and resources devoted to the USPS to try to prevent this issue.
The post office has come to the forefront of the news today for reasons that could never have been predicted when the United States was just getting started. From Benjamin Franklin to the Pony Express, to pandemics and presidential elections, the post office has played and will continue to play, a crucial role in our country.