Establishing a System for the Long Run

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Post Office Act of 1792

The Post Office Act of February 20, 1792 defined the character of the young postal system. Spirited Congressional debate sought to separate old practices from the future purpose and direction of the postal service. Discussions examined issues of a free press, personal privacy and national growth. The act determined that the U.S. postal service would be self supporting, returning any profits to the national treasury.

Under the act, newspapers continued to have access to the mail at low rates, promoting the spread of information across the new states. To ensure the sanctity and privacy of the mails, postal officials were forbidden to open any letters in their charge except those that were undeliverable. As per Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress assumed responsibility to “establish post offices and post roads,” ensuring that mail routes would help lead expansion and development not just serve existing communities.