Today, the Franklin Half Dollar Coin remembers when the Continental Congress agreed to begin the colonies’ own postal service on July 26, 1775.
From the Post Office Clerk periodical of August 1913:
Postal Service’s Anniversary Day.
Founded 138 Years Ago and Helped to Unify American Colonies.
Franklin First P. M. G.; Salary, $1,000 a Year.
July 26 was the 138th anniversary of the founding of the United States post service, and although no formal celebration is to be held by the Post Office Department, those employees who remember the date are thinking of the contracts between the postal service then and now.
It was July 26, 1775, almost one year before the independence of the colonies was declared, that the freedom of the postal service was asserted.
Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General, and he received a salary of $1,000 a year.
The first postal line under independent supervision was from Falmouth, in New England, to Savannah, Ga.
The British service existed in the colonies from 1692 to 1775. It consisted of one line paralleling the coast with branches few and far between.
This service was administered by private parties under grant from William and Mary, and then directly by the British government.
Spied on the Mails.
These crown Postmasters had, or at least they exercised, the right of “spying” upon the mails entrusted to their care. This made it difficult and dangerous for the liberty-loving colonists to communicate with each other.
The zealous representatives of England also professed to exercise a supervising care over the newspapers which were printed in the colonies, and made arbitrary rules and regulations against those who were too liberal or outspoken in their expression of condemnation of things as they then were and who dared to urge the liberty and independence of the colonists.
Some papers were shut out of the mails and some were forced to tone down their utterances. A pound sterling was demanded to carry 250 papers 130 miles.
The Post Office led in the unification of the colonists.
Paul Revere was the confidential post rider of Massachusetts.
The tea party in Boston Harbor would have been but a neighborhood affair but for the agency of the Post Office and the patriotic publishers who spread the news up and down the Atlantic coast.
The postal service did more than any one other agency to unify and unite the colonies.
It brought their interests and endeavors to a common meeting point.
It brought the leading men and women to know and exchange ideas one with another.
Printing presses were established about the same time that the postal service was begun in America.
Postmasters enjoyed the privilege of sending their mail free of postage, so most Postmasters became publishers.
In this way the news of the doings of the various jealous colonists was disseminated and the opinions of these early Postmaster publishers were given wide circulation.
It added an incentive to trade and intercourse.
By making the colonists acquainted it dissipated jealousies.
The growth of the Post Office from the humble beginning of a sturdy carrier from New York to Boston loaded with “divers letters and small portable packages” (you see they had parcel post even in those days), solidified the colonists and made their independence possible.
Maryland Editor Its Father.
There was one intrepid editor who refused to be either bribed, bulldozed or put out of the business of urging freedom for the colonies.
He insisted that Magna Charta gave him the right to use the facilities afforded upon equal terms.
When his papers were refused the mails he set about establishing what he called “a constitutional American Post Office.”
He issued a circular July 2, 1774, announcing his plan, and went about the colonies soliciting support.
Committees were appointed and subscriptions of money secured, Postmasters designated, riders secured and service established, which was instantly patronized.
Crown post riders found the roads unsafe and resigned.
Goddard was printer of the Maryland Journal, printed in Baltimore, and by the early part of 1775 he had thirty offices and nine post riders, covering the territory from Massachusetts to Virginia, including Georgetown-on-the-Potomac.
So runs the story till we arrived at the great day of American postal history.
Goddard’s was a private service, operated in opposition to the still existing British service. Goddard had declared his desire to have the Continental Congress assume charge and administer this service for all the people.
The Continental Congress took the matter up and appointed a committee composed of Mr. Franklin, Mr. Lynch, Mr. Lee, Mr. Willing, Mr. Adams and Mr. P. Livingston, who brought in their report July 25, 1775.
The report was taken up and considered the next day, July 26, 1775, when it was resolved, “That a Postmaster General be appointed for the United Colonies * * * salary of $1,000 per annum * * * that a line of post be appointed from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia * * * that postage rates shall be 20 per centum less than those appointed by parliament.”
The record of the Continental Congress on that day, postal independence day, then closes with the unanimous election of Benjamin Franklin, to be Postmaster General.
So Franklin, who had been deposed by the British from this very post, was placed in charge of a constitutional American Post Office for the United Colonies almost one year before the Declaration of Independence.
The Franklin Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the Post Office Clerk, circa 1913.