President George Washington created the United States Post Office Department on February 20, 1792, by signing the Postal Service Act.
The Act provided for the establishment of Post Roads, authorized the Postmaster General to establish contracts with persons establish post offices and deliver mail along those roads, enacted a fine of $100 for persons who obstructed the delivery of mail (only $10 for recalcitrant ferrymen), and specified the rates that the Postmaster and his deputies should charge for transport:
“For the postage of every single letter, to or from any place by land
not exceeding thirty miles, six cents; over thirty miles, and not exceeding sixty, eight cents; over sixty miles, and not exceeding one hundred, ten cents; over one hundred miles, and not exceeding one hundred and fifty, twelve cents and a half; over one hundred and fifty miles, and not exceeding two hundred, fifteen cents; over two hundred miles, and not exceeding two hundred and fifty, seventeen cents; over two hundred and fifty miles, and not exceeding three hundred and fifty, twenty cents; over three hundred and fifty miles, and not exceeding four hundred and fifty, twenty-two cents; and to or from any place by land, more than four hundred and fifty miles, twenty-five cents; and every double letter shall pay double the said rates; every triple letter, triple; every packet weighing one ounce avoirdupois, to pay, at the rate of four single letters for each ounce, and in that proportion, for any greater weight.”
A $300 fine and a six-month prison sentence were imposed for tampering with the mail. The act also stated that those who robbed mail carriers or post offices “shall, on conviction thereof, suffer death.”
The Continental Congress enacted America’s first postal laws in 1775. William Goddard, a Patriot printer of the Pennsylvania Chronicle, became frustrated that his paper was not delivered promptly by the royal post and that readers could not quickly inform him by mail of matters the paper should cover. So he laid out a plan for the Constitutional Post before Congress in October 1774. Congress acted on it after the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Ben Franklin, an ardent supporter, was named the first Postmaster General.