Legalese — The Post Office

By U.S. Government, Post Office Department – U.S. Post OfficeHi-res scan of postage stamp by Gwillhickers., Public Domain,

The United States Post Office has been in the news a lot lately.  Wherever you stand on the matter, here’s some information you probably didn’t know about it: the post office is constitutional. 

The original drafters of the Constitution thought that a post office was so important that it made it into the main body of the Constitution.  It wasn’t an amendment, like free speech and voting rights.  It is right there in the very first article in the basic framework of how our country operates.  It was something everyone agreed upon right away that was fundamentally important. 

Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution lists powers and duties of the United States Congress, which is made up of the Senate and House of Representatives.  The first power listed, for better or for worse, is the “Power To law and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises.”  This makes some sense, since the primary basis for the American revolution was taxation without revolution – remember the Boston Tea Party, with all that tea being dumped into the Boston Harbor?

I’m not sure how the rest of them were ordered, but Clause Five of Section Eight allows for the coining of money and regulating its value, Clause Six allows for the punishment of counterfeiters, and Clause Seven allows for Congress “To establish To establish Post Offices and post Roads”.  That’s how important it is.  Right after having money, we have to be able to send mail.  It’s in the Constitution.

Of course, that’s 200 years before our ability to send an email or a fax, and 100 years, roughly, before we could even make a phone call, so sending a letter was our primary means of long-distance communication.  Still.  It was pretty darned important, and if you hold the Constitution in any kind of reverence, you have to recognize that.

You might think that because of things like email and faxes and competitors like UPS and FedEx that the post office is not as critical as it was in 1776.  In some ways, you’d be correct.  In others, you wouldn’t be.  The vast majority of Americans live in clusters, but there are many people who live in remote locations.  Those people are no less American than those who choose to live in cities.  Private businesses can choose not to deliver to routes that are unprofitable – at the bottom of canyons, or off in the middle of nowhere where there are no other customers around.  The post office can’t make that choice.  People who live in those  areas need life saving medications delivered, they need their social security checks delivered, and why shouldn’t they get birthday cards and census materials delivered to their homes just like the rest of us?  They are no less citizens for their remoteness.  After all, the very first clause of Section Eight says that Congress has to provide for the general Welfare of the United States, and it “shall be uniform throughout the United States.”  This means that the post office is never going to turn the profit that FedEx does because it can’t turn away unprofitable business. 

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only. All opinions are those of the author and not Monroe Local.

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