CHAPTER XIII. THE POST-OFFICE.
From sheer necessity some of the old hands are kept on when these changes are made. Were this not done, the work would come absolutely to a dead lock. But as it is, it may be imagined how difficult it must be for men to carry through any improvements in a great department, when they have entered an office under such a system, and are liable to be expelled under the same. It is greatly to the praise of those who have been allowed to grow old in the service that so much has been done. No men, however, are more apt at such work than Americans, or more able to exert themselves at their posts. They are not idle. Independently of any question of remuneration, they are not indifferent to the well-being of the work they have in hand. They are good public servants, unless corruption come in their way.
While speaking on the subject of patronage, I cannot but allude to two appointments which had been made by political interest, and with the circumstances of which I became acquainted. In both instances a good place had been given to a gentleman by the incoming President - not in return for political support, but from motives of private friendship - either his own friendship or that of some mutual friend. In both instances I heard the selection spoken of with the warmest praise, as though a noble act had been done in the selection of a private friend instead of a political partisan. And yet in each case a man was appointed who knew nothing of his work; who, from age and circumstances, was not likely to become acquainted with his work; who, by his appointment, kept out of the place those who did understand the work, and had earned a right to promotion by so understanding it. Two worthy gentlemen - for they were both worthy - were pensioned on the government for a term of years under a false pretense. That this should have been done is not perhaps remarkable; but it did seem remarkable to me that everybody regarded such appointments as a good deed - as a deed so exceptionably good as to be worthy of great praise. I do not allude to these selections on account of the political view shown by the Presidents in making them, but on account of the political virtue; in order that the nature of political virtue in the States may be understood. It had never occurred to any one to whom I spoke on the subject, that a President in the bestowing of such places was bound to look for efficient work in return for the public money which was to be paid.
Before I end this chapter I must insert a few details respecting the post-office of the States, which, though they may not be specially interesting to the general reader, will give some idea of the extent of the department. The total number of post-offices in the States on June 30th, 1861, was 28,586. With us the number in England, Scotland, and Ireland, at the same period, was about 11,400. The population served may be regarded as nearly the same. Our lowest salary is 3l. per annum. In the States the remuneration is often much lower. It consist in a commission on the letters, and is sometimes less than ten shillings. The difficulty of obtaining persons to hold these offices, and the amount of work which must thereby be thrown on what is called the "appointment branch," may be judged by the fact that 9235 of these offices were filled up by new nominations during the last year. When the patronage is of such a nature it is difficult to say which give most trouble, the places which nobody wishes to have, or those which everybody wishes to have.
The total amount of postage on European letters, i.e. letters passing between the States and Europe, in the last year, as to which accounts were kept between Washington and the European post-offices, was 275,000l. Of this over 150,000l. was on letters for the United Kingdom; and 130,000l. was on letters carried by the Cunard packets.
According to the accounts kept by the Washington office, the letters passing from the States to Europe and from Europe to the States are very nearly equal in number, about 101 going to Europe for every 100 received from Europe. But the number of newspapers sent from the States is more than double the number received in the States from Europe.
On June 30th, 1861, mails were carried through the then loyal States of the Union over 140,400 miles daily. Up to 31st May preceding, at which time the government mails were running all through the united States, 96,000 miles were covered in those States which had then virtually seceded, and which in the following month were taken out from the post-office accounts - making a total of 236,400 miles daily. Of this mileage something less than one-third is effected by railways, at an average cost of about six pence a mile. Our total mileage per day is 151,000 miles, of which 43,823 are done by railway, at a cost of about seven pence half-penny per mile.