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The taxation of correspondence for the purpose of raising revenue reached its culminating point in the early years of the nineteenth century. So long as the struggle against Napoleon continued the nation bore its burden patiently; but when peace came and the commerce of the country increased as if by magic, while at the same time the use of machinery enormously increased the power and range of manufacturing industry, the demand for a cheaper and more general system of communication grew proportionately. It was so difficult, however, to transform a Postal Administration which had long been organised as a machine for raising revenue rather than as a means of meeting public requirements, that an almost revolutionary outburst of public opinion was necessary to secure the introduction of penny postage. Even then there was no history of the Post Office available for public information, and the Department was known only as it affected the daily life of each individual.
In 1844 attention was called in Parliament to the opening in the Post Office of letters addressed to Mazzini and his friends in this country under the authority of warrants from the Home Secretary, and a serious public agitation followed. As a result Committees "of Secrecy" were appointed by both Houses of Parliament to inquire into the authority for the practice and it became necessary to investigate its history. The control of Posts as a safeguard against foreign enemies and domestic agitation was, however, a principal object of the policy of successive Governments during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the inquiry practically became one into the history of the Post Office as a Department of the Government. The report of the Committee of the House of Commons gave a general sketch of the struggles for the control of the Post Office in the reign of Charles I. and under the Commonwealth, and this sketch was illustrated by an Appendix containing a large number of historical documents consisting of patents and warrants, proclamations and Acts of Parliament relating to the Postal Service, as well as numerous extracts from the journals of the House of Commons from the reign of Henry VIII. to the year 1837. This collection, which was chiefly compiled by Sir Francis Palgrave, then Deputy Keeper of the Records, has been the source from which subsequent writers upon the early history of the Post Office have drawn most of their materials. It is only in recent years that other sources of information have become available in the numerous calendars of State papers.
The first annual report on the Post Office in 1854 contained
a short general account of Post Office history. The report was signed by the late Duke of Argyle as Postmaster-General, but the historical portion is known to have been written by Mr. Scudamore, who afterwards became well known in connection with the transfer of the Telegraphs. In its compilation considerable use was made of the old books of Post Office accounts, dating from about 1677, which are still in existence. Mr. Scudamore, who was a contributor to Punch and other periodicals as well as an official, was a clever writer, and his sketch, although very brief, has been much quoted by later writers.
In 1864, Mr. W. Lewins, an officer of the Surveying Establishment of the Post Office, published Her Majesty's Mails, an octavo book of some 350 pages, which was designed as the first of a series of histories of the Government Departments. The other histories, if written, were never published. In this book considerable use was made of the report of the Committee of 1844, but Mr. Lewins had also collected a good deal of information from local histories and guides and directories as to early postal rates and arrangements. The chief part of the book is, however, occupied with an account of the penny post agitation and of the subsequent administrative changes, of which, to some extent, Mr. Lewins had personal knowledge. For instance, he was able to give particulars of the staff and organisation of the Post Office in his day, and to describe the growth of the railway travelling Post Offices and the establishment of the Post Office Savings Bank.
Nearly thirty years passed before the next attempt at a history of the Post Office was made. In 1893 Mr. Herbert Joyce, then Third Secretary of the Post Office, published The History of the Post Office from its Establishment down to 1836. Mr. Joyce was an official of long service, and probably his reason for stopping short before the introduction of penny postage was that his personal knowledge of the administration of the Post Office during his own years of service, and his training by the men who were responsible for that administration during the earlier years of the penny postage era, made it difficult for him to deal with the subject without touching on questions which seemed to him too confidential for public discussion. Besides this, the description of the various new branches of Post Office business, such as the Savings Bank, the Telegraph and Telephone Services, and the Parcel Post, all of which came into existence during his service, would probably have made his book too bulky. For the practical student, however, the fact that Mr. Joyce's history stops
short at the beginning of the period when Post Office administration began to have serious importance for the student of current social questions considerably detracts from its value, and one cannot but regret that Mr. Joyce, who must have known in relation to the Post Office so many of the things which are never written in histories, did not give us the benefit of his personal knowledge of the history of the Post Office while it was in the making. The preparation of this book had been a labour of love for many years, and a good deal of its contents were derived from an independent study of papers in the Record Office and in the archives of the Post Office, as well as from old Parliamentary printed papers. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Joyce gave no references to his authorities, and, owing to the absence of printed indexes and calendars of State papers, such as the modern student has at his disposal, the work of research among State records was a more difficult process than at present, so that Mr. Joyce necessarily missed a great deal of the material which is now available.
Mr. Joyce's work has since remained the standard history of the Post Office, but we have now another history produced by an American student. The writer is Mr. J. C. Hemmeon, and the book is published by Harvard University as No. vii. of its series of Economic Studies.1 Mr. Hemmeon tells us in his preface that his materials have been obtained from various libraries in America and at the British Museum. The work, therefore, does not go beyond the printed records which are available for all students ; but the study of these records has been very thorough, and their extent is, of course, much greater now than at any previous time, so that, even so far as the early history of the Post Office is concerned, the book is more complete than Mr. Joyce's work. We also have on every page numerous references to authorities. In particular, Mr. Hemmeon appears to have made very extensive use of the reports of Parliamentary C'ommittees and Commissions which touch on matters of Post Office history, and in this manner he has obtained a good deal of financial information, of which there was little in Mr. Joyce's work.
As Mr. Hemmeon writes for the information of the modern student, he naturally deals to a large extent with the recent history of the Post Office, and the greater part of his book therefore covers ground which was altogether excluded from Mr. Joyce's survey.
Also as a student he is free to discuss questions 1 The History of the British Post Office, by J. C. Hemmeon (Harvard University, 1912). Pp. xii +261. 8s. 6d. net.
which Mr. Joyce as an official left out of sight; such as, for instance, the relation between the staff of the Post Office and the State as an employer, the history of which is brought down to the issue of the report of the Hobhouse Select Committee in 1907.
For information as to the modern administrative changes in the Post Office, Mr. Hemmeon has relied chiefly on the annual reports of the Postmaster-General. These reports are easily available for students, but, nevertheless, it is convenient to have the chief results summarised in a brief and accurate form. In this way we get particulars of such subjects as the insurance and registration of letters, the express delivery service, newspaper postage rates, book or halfpenny post, pattern and sample post, postcards, parcel post, postal orders, Post Office Savings Bank, and annuity and assurance business. There are also separate chapters dealing with the Telegraph System of the Post Office, and the relations between the Post Office and the Telephone Companies, which are based chiefly on the reports of the Parliamentary Committees which have considered these questions. In dealing with these modern matters it cannot be said that Mr. Hemmeon has expressed any original views. For instance, in dealing with the telegraphs he stops short at the statement that their financial result has been unsatisfactory, without considering to what extent the indirect benefits of an extended telegraph system are a sufficient compensation for loss of revenue. The chapter on telephones also dwells chiefly on the restrictions placed on telephonic development as a result of the Government monopoly of telegraphs. The historical facts are, however, accurately narrated in a useful summary without any conscious intent to influence the mind of the reader.
Mr. Hemmeon gives a useful bibliography, and his book undoubtedly provides for students a more convenient and more complete summary of Post Office history than has hitherto been available, although his book cannot be regarded as a final and complete history of the Post Office. Even as regards printed books his studies have not been complete. For instance, he has overlooked such a book as Norway's History of the Post Office Packet Service from 1793 to 1815, and no use has been made of the earlier unprinted records of the Post Office which in recent years have been carefully gathered together in the Record Room at the General Post Office. A good deal of work also remains to be done by any enterprising student among the original papers in the Record Office, of which the published calendars necessarily do not give complete summaries.
A. M. OGILVIE
THE TAX EXPERIMENT IN WISCONSIN.
The experiment in income taxation that is now being made in Wisconsin is a crucial one in relation to the future of State and Federal finance in this important sphere. Wisconsin has for some years had the reputation of being one of the most progressive States of the Union in its fiscal administration, and it is not without significance that in this State also there has been the most marked movement away from the control by the amateur in taxation and so-called “practical man of commerce," which has in the result been so much discredited in America, towards a proper combination of academic and business elements, and a due infusion of inductive and scientific study in public affairs. Wisconsin, for example, has led the way in an interesting library and research combination between the State administration and the regular university routine, in which the resources and experience of each side are made practically available for the other. In this State, too, the prominence of a university representative, Professor T. S. Adams, upon the State Tax Commission is a notable feature. His efforts and those of Professor Delos Kinsman (author of the Income Tax in the Commonwealth of the United States) resulted in very important alterations in the original proposals for the new tax. When it is added that the administration is now in the hands of Mr. K. K. Kennan (whose valuable inductive study of forty systems of income taxation was recently reviewed in this JOURNAL), it will be seen that nothing that experience and study can suggest has been absent at the inception of the system. Indeed, the law is highly esteemed as the last word of wisdom and experience, and it is stated on all sides that any failure in the result must be due only to defects in administration. All neighbouring States are agog with attention, and will be ready enough to scrap their ineffective personal property taxes and follow the new system if it succeeds. Success will be a complete demonstration that personal property may safely be superseded by income as a basis of State taxation, and that a highly centralised administration is effective and economical.
The old system is not wholly abolished, but the “personal property” now exempted includes money and credits, stocks and bonds, personal ornaments habitually worn, household furnishings, farm, orchard, and garden machinery and implements; and the old limits of value for exemption of "one watch carried by the owner," and "pianos, organs, and melodeons," have gone. Farm animals