An argument about how Americans used the Post Office in the nineteenth century that intrigued me was the passage regarding transient newspapers, defined as “journals posted by someone other than their publishers.”
“Despite their shortcomings as media of interpersonal expression, transient newspapers in the pre-1845 era were temptingly inexpensive stand-ins for costly letters. The difference in price was sufficient to induce many postal users to see how far the might stretch the epistolary powers of a printed journal. A common, illegal practice of marking newspapers with personal information reflected popular perceptions of both the suitability and the limitations of newspapers as correspondences and called into open question the proposes of the nation’s growing postal system.”
I found this argument intriguing for two reasons, the first of which is why were letters so much more expensive than newspapers to mail? I did a little research and found newspapers did not account for as much of postal revenue as I originally thought. Excerpts from Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse documented that: “In 1832, newspapers generated no more than 15 percent of total postal revenue, while making up as much as 95 percent of the weight.” Historian Richard R. John stated: “on a typical day…the incoming mail at the Washington post office contained one tidy packet of letters and twenty-one enormous sacks of newspaper, each of which weighed between 150 and 200 pounds. No other class of mailable items enjoyed such favorable rates.” Postmasters were to charge letter rates for any newspapers containing, as Henkin wrote, “some cabalistic mark on the margin or the wrapper of a newspaper.” I could not understand why newspapers, clearly the bulkier items, would cost so less. By far the funniest form of “cabalist concealment,” as Henkin refers to it, was found in the New Orleans Picayune “in which a milliner sent a paper from New York to Boston addressed to John Garigo Smith. The fictitious middle name…was an acronym for “Goods All Received in Good Order.” These clever ways of circumventing costly letter fees illustrated clearly that many people in the country (not just merchants) were eager to communicate with one another.
According to Henkin: “Transient newspapers continued to flow through the mails after the reductions of 1845, but not in the same proportions and not with the same function.” In addition, “after 1845, most mail was measured by the indifferent criterion of weight, rather than by an assessment of the kind of text it was or the number of pages it comprised.” This brings up the second reason I was intrigued, as the author doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of a legislative explanation for the reduction. It is clear that he is focusing more on the social aspects of this phenomenon, as “Americans were demonstrating social uses of the mail that had little to do with the printing industry.” What were the dynamics behind important postal reforms? Were these reforms because of the social changes or did the social changes bring about the reforms?
 David M. Henkin, The Postal Age (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 43.
 Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 47.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 51.
 Ibid., 51.