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The Resignation of House Postmaster James L. Wheat

October 01, 1890
The Resignation of House Postmaster James L. Wheat Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
William S. King served as Postmaster in the 37th Congress (1861–1863), when Frank Leslie’s Illustrated featured the Capitol Post Office in 1862.
On this date, the final day of the first session of the 51st Congress (1889–1891), House Postmaster James L. Wheat of Wisconsin resigned after an investigation determined that he had received kickbacks on a lucrative mail contract and listed a Government Printing Office employee on the Postmaster’s payroll whose salary instead went largely to Wheat’s son. Wheat’s patron, Representative Lucien B. Caswell of Wisconsin, tendered the Postmaster's resignation on the House Floor, moments before the Committee on Accounts reported its unanimous recommendation that Wheat be dismissed. The investigation—an election-year embarrassment for the new Republican majority under Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine—turned into a partisan dust-up when Republicans on the committee, having determined Wheat’s culpability, then unsuccessfully scoured the practices of his Democratic predecessor Lycurgus Dalton hoping to demonstrate that Wheat’s money-skimming had precedent (as Wheat had contended in testimony before the committee). The New York Times surmised that Wheat “seems to have lost no opportunity for making money out of his office. . . . The scandal has been made the greater by the futile effort to cover it up.” The Postmaster, an elected House officer for nearly 160 years beginning in the 1830s, oversaw mail operations in the Capitol Post Office and the delivery of the mail to individual Members and officers. The House Reform Resolution of 1992 (H. Res. 423, April 9, 1992), eventually abolished the office and reassigned its duties among other House officers and private entities.

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