In these handwritten remarks from 1790, Postmaster General Samuel Osgood commented on legislation to establish a Post Office Department and roads to aid mail delivery. Osgood discussed problems with planned post roads and postage rates, suggested changes to the language of the bill, and identified larger issues like the integrity and trustworthiness of the mail system.
After the ratification of the Constitution, Congress had the power to establish post offices and post roads. In 1789, President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood the first Postmaster General under the new Constitution. By 1790, Congress was considering the bill to establish a Post Office Department and build roads for mail delivery on which Osgood commented. The House passed the bill on June 21, 1790, but the Senate opposed a provision that allowed newspapers to be mailed free of charge. Osgood wanted to keep newspapers out of the mail altogether because they were often damp and “there have been instances of the dampness of the news papers softening the wafers with which letters have been sealed, & inducing a suspicion that the Postmasters have opened the letters, for which they have been much abused. Such a suspicion might lead to serious consequences.” In July 1790, the Senate failed to pass the bill and further consideration was postponed. On August 4, Congress opted instead to pass a law temporarily extending the Post Office under previously passed legislation. Four years later, Congress passed legislation that permanently established the U.S. Post Office.
This document is an early example of what is now known as an “executive communication,” a category of records that includes reports as well as comments on and suggestions for legislation sent to Congress by federal entities. In current practice, the Speaker refers executive communications to the committee that has jurisdiction over the executive branch agency that originated the communication or its subject. Along with petitions and memorials, executive communications are a category of House records known as “official communications.”