« AnkstesnisTęsti »
places where private enterprise never could have established them, has been one of the means, how great and efficient let every one imagine, of extending the civilization and promoting the settlement of the country.
Yet it may be urged that the government may establish such post-offices as are necessary and lean still to private competition, to provide for such as can be managed better by private individuals than by the government.
The nature and objects of the grant are such that, had not its terms been sufficiently broad to vest an exclusive power in the general government, still they would have created a monopoly from the necessity of the case.
The risk of robbery and of frauds is such, such are the operations of all private enterprises, that it is impossible that the safety and convenience of the public can be answered in any other mode. The absolute necessity of an uniform, regular, simple, sure system, is quite as great as that the merchant's counting room should be opened every morning.
Men may exchange, barter, or pay in silver and gold as much as they please, yet the coining of money is held as an exclusive prerogative, because the safety and convenience of the people can not be secured in any other mode-only by hav ing coin of uniform and certain value, so as to be really current. This would be reason enough, were there no words of prohibition, for saying that coinage should not be open to private individuals. And for analogous reasons must the grant of the right to establish post-offices be held to be exclusive in its nature. The ancient acts that have been cited show, upon a very small scale, the nature of the evil, which would become intolerable in the midst of a country and a commerce so extensive as ours are at this day.
This argument might be pressed, and, if the question is ever to become a serious one, will justly be urged, and be found to be of controlling weight. As a mere question of expediency as to the means of securing a safe, sure, and prompt mode of supplying one of the necessities of the people, it will be found that the considerations already alluded to might, if the question were a new and open one, lead to the adoption of the very principle that is now acted upon. Analogous principles established a bank. Yet how much more clearly do these justify, under the express language of the Constitution, the exercise on the part of Congress, of the exclusive right of controlling the mails of the country.
Another consideration, scarcely less in importance, is found in the influence that is exerted, through the operations of the post-office department, upon the mind of the people. The human frame, deprived of a free and healthy circulation of the blood, plainly teeming with loathsome diseases, and sure of a life of pain and premature death, would not differ more from a healthy body than would this country differ from what it now is, had it never had the post-office department. Next to its churches and common schools, is it indebted to this for its intelligence, its national feeling and character, its friendly intercourse and sympathy, its unequalled enterprise and its prosperity.
But we cannot pursue this argument. In case the question were one of interpretation and the terms of the original grant did not imply the idea of an exclusive one, based upon different grounds indeed, but quite as much exclusive, notwithstanding, as the right to grant patents, secure copy-rights, to coin money, and more so than some others that have been exercised under the Constitution, then this argument would warrant a construction that should secure to the people, the existence of this department with its exclusive rights, as a thing made and established" for the people," and of which, because of its nature and mode of operation, the people must have control.
One other fact must be adverted to. If the contemporaneous and constant construction or exposition of the grant has decided that it was intended to be exclusive, the constant acquiescence of the whole body of the people in that exposition, the uniform action of all the branches of government certainly have placed the point beyond question, so far as any point can be settled by one long and uninterrupted acquiescence. It is not a little singular that "not a single public man" has ever questioned that the laws were constitutional, though they have been in force ever since 1789.
The position seems now to be taken, because it is a time of revolution, or at least, great change in the principles that govern the mail system, and because of new inventions, which have essentially changed the means of transporting the mails and of communicating intelligence between places distant from each other. Questions like this arise naturally enough; but, so far as a question of constitutional law is to be made, it must be decided not by the present state of facts, but by those that existed at the period when the Constitution went into force.
No argument against the monopoly can be drawn from the
idea that the prohibitions of the law "have been constantly violated, every day and every hour in the day," which has been clumsily suggested, more particularly as in the same breath it is urged that no one had any interest to violate them. The fact is that the same evils interfered with the Post-office under the Colonial governments as are now felt, and the acts are aimed against them.
If any conclusion were justly and legally to be deduced from the application of present facts to the old law of the Constitution, it would not be that the law must be sacrificed or its construction be varied, age after age, as the machinery and inventions of the age vary or improve, but rather that any new inventions for doing the old work, if of such a character as would throw it all into the hands of private speculators, destroy the mail of the country, and leave the people to such arrangements in such places as might be found profitable for speculation, should yield to the higher claims of the whole country. It might be claimed that, it being settled on the highest grounds and on mature consideration that the people must have this department under its supreme control, for safety, security, promptness, cheapness and universal operation, in the quickest and most unerring certainty, no invention, like that of the telegraph, for instance, should be allowed to be operated by private speculators in the shape of a monopoly, which should impede the operation of the post-office depart ment, or defeat the ends for which it is supported. The end is, to put all men on equal footing so far as the transmission of intelligence is concerned, and, for reasons vital to the public welfare, aim, as far as human power can effect it, to have it as free, as quick, as sure and as cheap as the light of day. The time may come when a free mail will be felt to be as necessary as free schools.
Monopoly is a term which cannot justly be applied, in its odious sense, to the action of Government. The power now exercised by the post-office department is not one held for its own emolument or the benefit of the Government, to the exclusion and prejudice of private individuals, in order that, and because the State should make the money that is to be made, rather than private men or companies, but as a sacred trust reposed there, for the very reason that it is of such vital moment that no men or companies ought to make money out of it, it must be surely, safely, promptly, universally done, as no men or bodies of men would or could do it. The whole body
of the people retains it, to prevent monopoly, the only forms of monopoly that ever need be feared. Were any one now allowed freely to transact any mail business, it would not be long before private enterprise, capital, personal or corporate influence, the various things that affect all trades, and others more dangerous and obvious that would be peculiar to this, would be in operation in their full force. Then there would be monopolies. Now, whilst our Government is not above the people, but of the people and for them, it is rather a universal participation in what is of such universal concern that all should share and sustain it alike, and no man be allowed to make a gain out of what must be the loss of some one or of the whole of the people. If the people do not yet feel that all means for transmitting intelligence ought to be open equally and freely to all, they do see that the freest and cheapest postage pays the best, and that they alone can secure that by keeping it in their own control.
It is very likely, if not sure, that the post-office system in this country has many defects. It may be that money is not always well charged or spent; that the true principles on which the tariff of postage is charged, or the departments sustained and conducted, are not known or acted upon. But is it safe to throw up the matter, now that the light is dawning upon us, and leave it all to those who will, for the sake of making money, attempt to effect what we come so near to accomplishing? Will not the people take care of themselves? The matter is, in fact, one for legislation under the Constitution. The people only need to use the powers which they possess, rightly and prudently. They need not abandon the right, if it is not well used; surely not, because it is seen to be of such transcendent interest that a body of men should open a door for a new trade that, in its extent, would rival some of the great branches of commerce. If this were made free, and became an established line of business, and were subject to the same influences that are seen to operate in other affairs, and no other peculiar ones, trade must soon die, and the people themselves sink. But there are also peculiar dangers. The nature of the system is such that to make mail carriage free to all persons, would be to destroy its best features; its safety, promptness, and universality. This would tend to a monopoly of the benefits of using the mail. There would be danger, too, as in all trades, of a monopoly of the profits of the mail in the hands of a few, which, every day's experience shows, even free com
petition cannot counteract. The results to society are too plain. The ultimate result must be suicidal to the system itself.
One other consideration should be adverted to. If the laws of Congress are unconstitutional, then many acts that have been done are unlawful. Even the judgments of the courts will be overthrown. In questions of mere law, where rules have been long settled and acquiesced in, such results furnish just grounds for refusing to change. But in questions of constitutional law, these considerations have yet greater force, for the action of government not only settles the law, but is itself the interpretation of the Constitution.
The result is that Congress has an exclusive right to the control of the mail: first, because such was the thing granted; second, because such was the contemporaneous interpretation of the grant, and it has ever since been so understood; third, if this were not so, that Congress has, by an uninterrupted and uniform, as well as an unquestioned course of legislation, settled that the exclusiveness of the power granted is necessary to render it of any practical value; and, having the power granted, and, with that, all means necessary for the exercise thereof, it has decided that the entire control of those means is necessary to support the right granted; and that this is a matter entirely within legislative discretion and not open to the revision of any other branch of the government, but only of Congress itself.
In relation to the States, it is to be remarked that they could not have intended to reserve to themselves the power to establish post-offices, whilst by the Constitution, they deprive themselves of the power to make compacts with each other, which would be necessary to establish any system or useful line of posts under their control.
Such seem to be the principles directly applicable to the present postal system. Were they less plain, other powers of Congress, that are undoubted, might be held to require that it should control the mail carriage of the country, as a necessary incident. Suppose there were no such department in this country, and in some other country one were invented, then might not Congress establish it here, to regulate commerce? Surely, a thing can hardly be named more vital to its existence. If it could establish the thing, and a monopoly were necessary to its existence, could it not create an exclusive right? If it were a mere question of support, it might be otherwise. Could a man establish a light-house on his own