Kummerfeldt, Irvan J.
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of Journalism
Postal service--Law and legislation--United States||Underground press--Censorship--United States
Some of the most liberal interpretations of the postal power have been in the area of radical political publications. The freedom to criticize the government is one of the most cherished tenets of a democracy and one which needs to be preserved in order to sustain that democracy. The post office began as a means of carrying communications and grew to become a powerful branch of the government with the ability to exclude certain matter from the mails. And with this growth came the power to censor. Since the post office's inception, publications have been granted cheaper rates. Publications were grouped under the second-class category and these lower rates became vital to the circulation of a publication and, hence, to its survival. Postal controls on the radical press were not tested until 1835 when an influx into the South of abolitionist literature prompted President Andrew Jackson to ask the postmaster general to withhold this literature from the Southern mails. The issue was debated in Congress and the resulting conclusion was that Congress did not have the authority to prevent circulation. As Thomas Cooley stated, the greater the grievance, the more likely men are to protest, and few situations test this hypothesis more than World War I. Courts frequently sided with the postmaster general's decision to exclude a publication or revoke its second-class privilege. The rhetoric of postal controls on radical publications was firmly established in the cases involving The Masses and The Milwaukee Leader. During the cold war, Communist literature flooded into the United States. The post office took it upon itself to protect Americans from this literature by refusing to deliver it or requiring an addressee to sign for it. An addressee asserted his right to receive his mail and the resulting case, Lamont v. Postmaster General, became a landmark. Does freedom of the press include the right of a publication to circulate through the mails? And, does the postmaster general have the knowledge to decide what constitutes a threat to the country? Recently, the postmaster general's decisions have been reviewed by a commitee of nine. Therefore, the decisions are not as arbitrary as they appeared to be during the World War I and Cold War periods.
Cobban, Deborah A., "Postal controls on the radical press" (1985). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 4450.
iv, 124 pages
Northern Illinois University
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