Here's Why The Creation Of The Post Office Was So Controversial

It is perfectly reasonable to blame the banal marketing of Silicon Valley for people's inability to differentiate a new way to add middlemen into their lives, and the creation of a truly radical space. Next to the public library, the birth of the post office dramatically usurped the foundations of how people access information.

In the nineteenth century, various nosy gentlemen expressed concern about the propriety of women being able to retrieve their post without supervision. In Lapham's Quarterly, Angela Serratore quotes one person's column about the newly-constructed post office in New York City: "[She] has the privilege, if she chooses to exercise it, of her own private box or pigeon-hole at the post-office of the town where she resides, where she can have her letters addressed, and whither by a 'Ladies Entrance' she can resort when she pleases and unlock her box from the outside, and take away her letters without observation." It must be reiterated, the tone with which this piece was written emphasizes that this was a bad thing. Essentially, of a male guardian could not control the letters a woman receives, it was believed, her all-important virtue could be compromised. 

Here, then, is the radical point of a public postal service: Anyone can send and collect a letter, in a space uncontrolled by private hands. Such a freedom, as Serratore notes, inspired in men visions of unspecified but certainly illicit pleasures, which reads more as a fear of losing control than anything else.

A different controversy about similar dynamics

Today, the post office is questioned not in the name of virtue of decency, but professed expediency. 

In April, according to Government Executive, the United States Postal Service requested the $75 billion it required to continue functioning due to the coronavirus pandemic. House Democrats okayed it, but President Donald Trump refused to sign off. According to Politico, he demanded, instead, that the post office start charging more: "The post office, if they raised the price of a package by approximately four times, it would be a whole new ballgame. But they don't want to raise it because they don't want to insult Amazon, and they don't want to insult other companies, perhaps, that they like." Publications like Quartz speculate this is simply Donald Trump trying to hurt Jeff Bezos in retaliation for the negative coverage he receives in The Washington Post, which Bezos owns.

American Prospect offers a different perspective on the post office's struggles, though. Pointing to the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which deliberately handicapped the Postal Service in favor of FedEx and UPS, David Dayen redirects the blame towards an obsession for privatization: essentially, certain political figures pretend to care about the efficiency of a public service, which they've intentionally hobbled, and use that as a cover to cannibalize it and earn more money. While the 19th century controversy revolved around the power and privacy of women, today's rich would do away with the public service that connects America.