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Postmasters general, kings of political patronage?

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Newscom/File

(Read caption) In 1775, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general.

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It’s a government job that’s older than the Declaration of Independence. It’s been filled by powerful and important people – including the cleverest of the Founding Fathers. It’s a post that’s been crucial to America’s identity and economic growth.

It’s the position of (cue Sousa march music) the United States postmaster general!

Come back here – don’t go wandering off toward the “pictures of the week” page. Sure, you might think that running the Postal Service is sort of a downer today, given that it’s on track to lose $7 billion this year.

But before FedEx and e-mail, before proposals to can Saturday delivery and shut some post offices, the postmasters general were people of consequence. They were often among a president’s closest political and personal advisers.

They were even members of the cabinet – up there with the secretaries of State, Treasury, and so forth – for 142 years.

Why? Two reasons.

1. Prior to the invention of Twitter, the delivery of actual pieces of paper to your home or business was a very big deal.

2. The Postal Service was a huge job bank. Postmasters general were thus kings of political patronage – until civil service reforms ended 
that.

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