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Handout B: Neither Snow Nor Rain

Neither Snow Nor Rain

Directions: Read the information below, then complete the chart on the following page with your group member(s). Examine the mail delivery problems presented and decide what the Post Office’s policy on mail delivery should be.

During the early colonial era, the delivery of mail was not a government function. The carrying of messages depended on the reliability of friends, travelers, merchants, sailors, and others. Some colonies established mail repositories in taverns. Local officials attempted to establish postal routes between cities. Most were inefficient and short-lived. Following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the United States Post Office was created by the Second Continental Congress under the direction of Ben Franklin. The secure transport of letters and intelligence was vital to the cause of liberty. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution would authorize Congress to “establish Post Offices…” and Congress enacted seven day mail service. George Washington stated that the post office was important for, “diffusing knowledge of the laws and proceedings of Government.”

As the United States expanded during the 1800s and population grew by the millions, mail was critical to commercial interests and dear to those who traveled West. In many places, post offices became gathering places for people to meet, exchange information and ideas, and share news from back home. The arrival of the mail was heralded by the mail wagon driver blowing a horn or trumpet as he came into town. So anxious were people to receive their mail that even during church services, men would jump out of the pews, run down the aisle, and head for the post office. There they would collect their mail, visit with each other and join in social activities such as a game of cards.

Ministers began to complain that the mail service was disturbing their Sunday services. Postmasters agreed to keep post offices closed until after church let out. However, they refused to stop the Sunday mail wagons as this would create too much of a delay in mail service.

Committees were formed in the North and South to demand that the government halt mail delivery on Sundays. Opponents argued that stopping the mail on Sunday would hinder the efficient distribution of the mail and harm the national economy. They also made the point that the discontinuing of mail delivery on Sundays would place the government in the position of establishing which day of the week constituted the Sabbath. The measure to end Sunday mail service ultimately failed in both the House and Senate.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Sunday mail delivery varied greatly depending upon demand. In order to balance the federal budget, President Taft ordered budget requests to be “cut to the quick.” The First Assistant Postmaster General stated that he thought Sunday service was not necessary except for special-delivery. Since then, local postmasters have decided whether the post offices would be open and if mail would be delivered on Sundays, thus saving elected officials from making this determination involving religious liberty.

(Fillable Chart in PDF)

Mail Delivery Problems

  • Unlike most Christian religions, many Eastern Orthodox churches in the United States celebrate Christmas on January 7th rather than December 25th. Christians are approximately 77% of the U.S. population. Should the Post Office suspend mail service across the U.S. on January 7th, December 25th, or both days?
  • Seventh Day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath on Saturdays. In Loma Linda, California, they make up half of the population. Should the Post Office suspend mail service on Saturdays in Loma Linda?
  • A Day of Thanksgiving was often, but not always, proclaimed by early presidents. Thanksgiving was made a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Should the Post Office suspend mail service across the U.S. on Thanksgiving?
  • Adherents to Judaism celebrate holy days such as Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Judaism is the religion of approximately 1.5% of the U.S. population, yet some areas of the country contain a large Jewish population. Should the Post Office suspend mail service on Jewish holidays where there is a large Jewish population?
  • The Holy Month of Ramadan is a time when Muslims fast during daylight hours to celebrate the revelation of the first verses of the Qu’ran, the holy Book of Islam. California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, and Maryland are states with significant Muslim populations. Should the Post Office reduce mail service in these states during Ramadan?