Postal myths: #1 “It would take a constitutional amendment to eliminate (or privatize) the postal service”.


I got into a discussion on Facebook the other day with a reader who had repeated one of the most popular myths involving the US Postal Service- the idea that the USPS is established in the Constitution, and could only be dismantled (or sold off) by a constitutional amendment. It’s a comforting thought- unfortunately, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says so.

The postal service is one of the very few government agencies specifically mentioned (and authorized) in the document- that much is true- and that fact has given a great deal of agita over the years to free marketeers and tea party types. But if you actually read the specific article in question, you won’t find anything that establishes a postal service, or that requires Congress to establish one.

Here’s what the Constitution actually says in Article 1, Section 8

The Congress shall have Power To establish Post Offices and post Roads

That’s it! You don’t need to be a constitutional scholar, or even a lawyer to interpret that sentence- it’s very clear. Congress is not required to establish post offices. It merely has the power to do so if it chooses to. And it chose to do so in 1792 when it passed the “Postal Service Act”. That Act of Congress established the Post Office Department. All it takes to repeal an Act of Congress is another Act of Congress- not a constitutional amendment.

The same article of the Constitution also mentions the “Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings”. Under my friend’s creative interpretation of the Constitution, therefore, an amendment would be required any time the government decides to deactivate a military installation.

But wait! There’s more!

Take another look at that clause- it doesn’t say anything about a “US Postal Service”, or even a “Post Office Department”. It says “Post Offices”. So does that mean a Constitutional amendment is needed every time a “Post Office” is discontinued? Of course not.

The fact that the Constitution specifically mentions “Post Offices” does say a great deal about the importance the Founding Fathers attributed to the mail. It does not, however, guarantee the existence of the US Postal Service as it currently exists. That should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention: Congress made major changes to the service in 1970 and 2006, and it will surely do so again. Congress, not the Constitution, created the US Postal Service, and Congress can change or eliminate it. That’s not fear mongering- it’s reality. The current GOP run Congress, despite its right wing corporate agenda, has no immediate plan to eliminate or privatize the USPS, but it could do so. Clinging to a fictional constitutional protection is about as realistic as Linus clutching his security blanket- it may be comforting, but it won’t really protect you, or your job.

  • hollywood

    The GOP would do it in a second , but when rural America has to pay 5 times the rate as city people to get deliveries they will not be voting GOP anymore .

  • geo puharich

    Good…now maybe the same clear thought processes can be applied to the so called right to bear arms…it doesn’t say that except in the case of a national emergency to defend the country from foreign attack. It certainly doesn’t say that idiot Americans should be walking around armed all the time, much less with concealed carry permits. That’s just nuts.

  • Patrick

    Please correct your comments referring to me as your friend. I was polite and used no profanity yet you removed me from your FB page.
    Firstly, the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There is absolutely no way that Congress, the SCOTUS or even the POTUS can take away our right to keep and bear arms with just a swipe of a pen, even though “shall” is used in the sentence.
    Secondly, all road are now considered Postal Roads.
    Finally, I recognize that it is within your purview to control your site as you see fit but for you to post this story without allowing me to appropriately respond is cowardly and trifling.

    Patrick Gauthier

  • MrPolarBear

    I can only say that most every countries that has privatize their postal service has had the cost of mailing gone up and service gone down. As a matter of fact, I can’t find a single country in the world that does the amount of volume as the U.S. POSTSL SERVICE that does it cheaper. Take Canada for example. They privatized in the eighties. At the time. The rate of postage was equal…penny to penny…as the U.S. POSTAL SERVICE. Now to mail a one ounce letter in Canada cost a dollar. The U.S. POSTAL SERVICE does a two ounce letter for 49 cents. Twice the weight for half the price. Also Canada doesn’t deliver to every address in their country. If you live out in rural or small towns, you must drive to the major cities to get your mail. When Canada privatized their mailing service, guess who they hired…..the newly out of work government letter carries that had the experience. Then, they went on strike to make better wages than what they made while working for the Canadian government controlled postal service. Remember the UPS Strike some years ago? UPS makes more money than a U.S. POSTAL employee. U.S. Postal employees can’t go on strike since they work for the Government.

  • Postal Pete

    Everybody would pay at least 4 times more than they are paying now if Issa,Ryan Paul and the majority of the Repubs get their wish,a privatized postal service.And the PAEA means they can push the lie on the public that the USPS is losing in the billions every year and will need bailouts to keep going.

  • IIlIIl111

    Of course they’d all vote Republican again. You are talking about a bunch of gullible ignorant constituents who’d believe it lock stock and barrel when their local Representatives and Senators go on Fox News and blame the whole mess on Obama (or Hillary) and the Democrats……………..

  • A J Sharp

    True that we don’t​ need a constitutional amendment to abolish the post office. False that we can privatize the service without a constitutional amendment. When a power is reserved to the federal government or to the states by the Constitution a private entity cannot exercise that power. Therefore since the power to erect a post office is reserved to the federal government that closed would need to be repealed before a private entity would be allowed to do so. This is true even if the federal post office were abolished

  • postalnews

    Based on what? “Private entities” already operate as post offices across the country. The Constitution doesn’t define a post office or a post road- it just says that Congress has the power to establish them. It doesn’t say that they have to be “erected”, or run, by federal employees. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be- just citing the Constitution as written.

  • Daisy Simmons

    “So called” right to bear arms? The 2nd Amendment says NADA about “so called”.

  • postalnews

    Yup, so-called is right. You don’t have the right to have an RPG or a nuclear bomb.
    You shouldn’t have the right to own an automatic assault rifle either.

  • paulhoward

    It does not say the power to ‘erect’ a post office is reserved to the federal government. Tell that to UPS.

  • kareen01

    “In June 1788, the ninth state ratified the Constitution, which gave Congress the
    power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” in Article I, Section
    8. A year later, the Act of September 22, 1789 (1 Stat. 70), continued
    the Post Office and made the Postmaster General subject to the direction
    of the President. Four days later, President Washington appointed
    Samuel Osgood as the first Postmaster General under the Constitution. A
    population of almost four million was served by 75 Post Offices and
    about 2,400 miles of post roads.

    The Post Office received two one-year extensions by the Acts of August 4, 1790
    (1 Stat. 178), and March 3, 1791 (1 Stat. 218). The Act of February 20,
    1792 (1 Stat. 232), continued the Post Office for another two years and
    formally admitted newspapers to the mails, gave Congress the power to
    establish post routes, and prohibited postal officials from opening
    letters. Later legislation enlarged the duties of the Post Office,
    strengthened and unified its organization, and provided rules for its
    development. The Act of May 8, 1794 (1 Stat. 354), continued the Post
    Office indefinitely.

    The Post Office moved from Philadelphia in 1800 when Washington, D.C., became the seat of government. Two horse-drawn wagons carried all postal records, furniture, and supplies.

  • C M

    paulhoward how about i tel you how it works…UPS does not deliver mail it is ILLEGAL for anyone but the USPS to deliver mail. as a ups driver if i used a mail box to deliver something from the UPS system, the USPS has the right to take what i put in that box, and charge postage due. So yea your point is moot guy

    UPS and all other private companies in the united states and probably world can delay your parcel and not make service on it at their choosing they can open your parcel when they choose…the USPS on the other hand is required by law to make service on all of their mail and not to delay the mail (unless for safety reasons) or face criminal penalties and they need a warrant from a judge to open your mail.

  • paulhoward

    I don’t think you understand my comment.

  • sparkysdad

    The main financial problem with the post office operations is its pension plan. The pension plan which we used to call a “Defined Benefit Program” is a plan usually designed to benefit management that defined how much a pensioner gets. It is handled by WATCH OUT — actuaries who try to “guess” what the future needs will be. these plans went obsolete back in the seventies as the actuaries, especially in Jimmy Carter’s years of rampant interest raises, required more and more funding to keep up with the rules. In 1982 most were converted to “Defined Contribution plans”. In these plans each pensioner has an account in their name. It operates much the same as the 401K’s do now. At retirement how much the person gets depends on how much is in the account. The difference with the 401K’s is that the deposits were made by the employer. There may have been a way that the worker could add to that.
    They blame the postal worker’s union for the problem. all that was required is for the congress to state the system be changed for NEW employees to a defined contribution or 401-K. Existing workers would remain on the old plan till retirement. The cry was that the postal union opposed this idea. I don’t believe the post office employees are allowed to strike, but even if they do have the right,the gov’t should have let them strike; it wouldn’t have lasted long. Just a bunch of wussie Congress people as usual.

  • nedcline

    Most people do not know what the second Amendment is even referring to. The amendment was written because at the time we had no standing army or referred to as a militia; therefore, in order to fight against foreign invaders the government would need armies and those were called citizen armies and they obviously needed to be armed. The second amendment was written so that the government could call on teh citizenry to fight wars and defend this country. Most people already were gun owners. They needed their guns to hunt for food becasue they didn’t have the local grocery stores as we enjoy today. The foreign refers to countries such as, at the time, Germany, France and Spain and the Domestic refers to England.

  • Aaron Lavender

    he would have if you said USPS instead of UPS.

  • paulhoward

    But that would not have been what I meant. UPS delivers lots of things including mail – just not to the USPS mailbox.

  • Shawn

    Whoever wrote this post is an idiot

  • Deu Tschland

    Nah, they would still vote for Republicans and find a way to blame it on Democrats.

  • Steve Justis

    So if U.S. Congress established the U.S. Post Office, how can a single President determine to abolish it?

  • postalnews

    I’m afraid you’re wrong. Congress has the right to establish post offices. There is no further guidance in the Constitution as to what constitutes a “post office”. Your interpretation of the Constitution is fascinating, but obviously flawed- thousands of post offices have been “erected” by private entities without a constitutional amendment.

    There are also thousands of contract post offices nationwide that provide postal services as private for profit businesses. Again, Congress didn’t have to amend the constitution in order for those offices to be established, even if they took over for a discontinued federally operated post office.

    Bottom line: Congress established the post office- it can abolish, privatize, modify or re-imagine it by a simple Act of Congress.

  • postalnews

    He can’t. What he can do, however, is put the USPS out of business by refusing to approve relief for the damage done by the COVID-19 crisis. If the USPS is unable to continue paying its employees and contractors, it will not be able to continue.

  • Steve Justis

    Vermont’s congressional delegation supports the USPS. I’ve signed numerous petitions supporting the USPS. Many groups are requesting money to help USPS. (Plus I spend as much as I can to support Joe Biden & down’ballot candidates). What’s most effective?

  • Canadarago

    UPS delivers mail through the US Postal Service. UPS Mail Innovations provides presort, zone skipping and remail services but eventually that mail is handled by USPS.

  • corvus1970

    Exactly. UPS does NOT do last-mile delivery of “mail”. That is handled by the USPS.

  • EdG1955

    No private entity has signage on its building proclaiming itself a Post Office or US Post Office.

  • postalnews

    Not true- there are still many privately operated “post offices” operated under contract with the USPS- some are contract post offices, some are community post offices. They are not staffed by postal employees.

  • EdG1955

    OMG!! You’re right!! And there are contractors driving mail routes wearing USPS clothing!! And driving vehicles with USPS logos!! How did you get to be so smart??

  • NCSilverBear

    If the President threatens to “cut funding to the USPS” so it can no longer function, isn’t that clearly an intention to do what ONLY Congress can do: close the Post Office? 2nd: When did the President get the power to appoint the Post Master General?

  • Art Anthony

    Everything your said has to do with semantics. In the court of law (in this case Supreme Court) it will be defined and carried through accordingly. According to the previous section 7 “Every Order, Resolutions, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary. . . shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives. . . that means every order. Every!

    Sorry. Good try!

  • Wal Forester

    Thje postal service receives no tax funding form the United States government and is totally funded by the postage it charges.

  • Wal Forester

    Congress confers on the USPS monopolies on the delivery of first‐​class mail (letters under 13 ounces) and standard mail (bulk advertising items). The agency also has a legal monopoly on access to mailboxes. That’s it. Congress can also privatize the USPS. It needs no Constitutional amendment.

  • Wal Forester

    …shall not be infringed.

  • postalnews

    Still trying to translate “Everything your said has to do with semantics”.

    Quoting the Constitution is a bit like quoting the Bible- you can’t just cut out random words and paste them together. You have to include the rest of the sentence or paragraph to make any sense of it.

    The sentence fragment you quoted is from a section that deals with the treatment of bills passed by both houses, but vetoed by the President. You cut out the gist of the section.

    Here- read the whole thing and then explain what on earth it has to do with the article you’re supposedly commenting on:

    Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

    Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

  • postalnews

    In response to your other two questions- the President does not have the power to appoint the PMG. He does have the power to appoint the Board of Governors, and he was apparently able to convince them to select his mega campaign donor to the job,

    And the answer to your third question is, obviously, yes. But who’s going to do anything about it?

  • Redah

    Jim Ignatowski’s taking the written driving test from a classic 1979 “Taxi” episode: “What does a yellow light mean?”
    What does the word ‘shall’ mean?

    Expressing a strong assertion or intention. “they shall succeed”

    Expressing an instruction or command. “you shall not steal”

  • seaofglass

    39 U.S. Code § 101. Postal policy
    U.S. Code
    The United States Postal Service
    shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the
    people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the
    Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to
    bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary,
    and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt,
    reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall
    render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.
    The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services
    to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not
    self-sustaining. No small post office shall be closed solely for
    operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities.

  • seaofglass

    Congressional law does guarantee the existence of the US Postal Service as it currently exists. Actions taken that make war and oppose the current laws are unlawful.

  • seaofglass

    Quoting the Constitution is nothing like quoting the Bible. Jesus said “go and sin no more. You wont see that in ecclesiastical doctrine any more. Quoting USPS congressional law in a judicial setting is easier. All the laws on the books in question are congressional laws concerning US Postal Service. Breaking those laws is a criminal act.

    The United States Postal Service, an independent establishment of the executive branch. Wall street types have been making war with an independent establishment of the executive branch (USPS) for a long time. What is new? The attack on the hard working employees of an independent establishment of the executive branch (USPS) and the public they serve.

  • USN70

    As do most, if not all Presidents. Democrat and Republican.

  • Beverly Cooper-Wiele

    “…well-regulated militia…”